Perry's Birther Flirtation

How Goodhair resurrected and abandoned a myth for electoral ends

President Obama's certificate of life birth. Why are we still arguing about this (other than because it benefits some people's political aspirations?)
President Obama's certificate of life birth. Why are we still arguing about this (other than because it benefits some people's political aspirations?)

Is Gov. Rick Perry a Birther? That is irrelevant. What is more pertinent to his attempts to claim that he is presidential material is that he was prepared to play Birther for a few days, then drop it when it became politically uncomfortable.

After subtly threatening to unleash a new Nixon-style Southern Strategy, Perry pulled a record-breaking u-turn on his Birther flirtation. on Sunday, he told Parade that he had been dining with Donald Trump and he was not sure either way. By Wednesday, it was not an issue and why was everyone talking about it?

Maybe because on Monday he admitted to the press that it was pure campaign maneuvering, that the issue was a "fun" way to poke President Obama. Forget that it plays to overtly racist impulses, it was "a great distraction." So isn't the big question, what was Perry hoping to distract people from?

What may be most telling is how quickly current and former conservative Republican governors did a rapid and unified "Dude! Not Cool!" As former chair of the Republican Governors Association, figures like Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Terry Brandstead of Iowa should be firmly in his corner. Instead, they sent a very public note of caution. Hilariously, even Trump saw the dangers. Conceding the political reality of Birtherism, he told the New York Daily News that it is "good for (Perry) in the Republican primary (but) I don't necessarily know if it's good in the general election."

So Trump just admitted that Perry was playing with general election fire for primary advantage? Hard to see who would be more insulted by that: Birthers, or people who accept the reality that Obama is as American as Perry.

Here's a quick timeline in quotes:

Oct. 23

"I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue."
–Perry to Lynn Sher at Parade Magazine

Oct. 24

"It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, Donald [Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little bit and say 'Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.' I don’t have a clue about where the president, and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it."
– Perry to John Harwood at the New York Times

Oct. 25

"I’ll cut you off right there."
– Perry to Jim Acosta of CNN when Acosta asked him about his Birther flirtation

"Look, if this election is about Barack Obama's policies and the results of those policies, Barack Obama is going to lose. Any other issue that gets injected to the campaign is not good for the Republicans"
– Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to the National Press Club, as reported by Sam Stein at Huffington Post

"The governor believes this is an issue that was put to rest long ago. I do not believe the average Iowa caucus-goer shares these views."
– Iowa Governor Terry Branstead to the Washington Post's Right Turn blog

"Republican candidates should categorically reject the notion that President Obama was not born in the United States. It is a complete distraction from the failed economic policies of the President."
– Former Florida Governor Jed Bush to the Washington Post

Oct. 26

"[Perry] declined to address that issue Tuesday, but in today's interview with Al Ruechel and me he made clear that he no longer thinks it's a good issue to keep alive. He declared that he has no doubt Obama is an American citizen."
– Adam C. Smith of the St. Petersburg Times teases Sunday's interview with Perry

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