Amid continuing signs that Donald Trump is indeed serious about running for President, new polls suggest that bitherism is now mainstream in the Republican Party.
It could prove to be a double edged sword.
[Be sure to also read Taylor Marsh’s post on TMV: 2012: Donald Trump and a little Inside Political Baseball.]
No matter who the GOP candidate is, if it turns out Barack Obama is defeated on poor performance as President, inept handling of the economy, mismanagement of wars, spending, the deficit or other matters it would be one thing. But if it turns out that he’s defeated by the mantra of birthers essentially calling him illegitimate it could usher in a new era of not just legitimized paranoia in American politics (if it works, it’ll be done again and again), but mega-polarization. Any victory based on a bogus and successful attempt to delegitmize Obama by pandering politicos and demonizing talk show hosts would be considered illegitimate by those who vote against a Republican candidate.
A truism of American politics: the desire to reject someone of an opposing party or ideology is now so profound that Americans will gladly grab onto a repeated assertion even if it is filled with holes and resembles intellectual swiss cheese. If a celebrity they like or a talk show host who has become like a trusted friend who they listen to or view for hours each day repeats something over and over again, it becomes a new reality.
In the end, will the GOP pick up the birther ball and officially run with it? Or is it preaching to the choir in a way that prospective choir members who don’t yet belong to their choir will be repelled and opt to go elsewhere? That’s becoming the prevailing question in American politics — despite so many serious issues on many other fronts.
So far the conventional wisdom a la George Will and most pundits has been a)Trump won’t run b)Trump can’t get the nomination c)the birthers are a fringe element. But each of these assumptions appears flimsier with each passing day.
A lot of eyebrows are now being raised over this new new CBS News/ New York Times poll:
A quarter of all Americans incorrectly think President Obama was not born in the United States, according to a new CBS News/ New York Times poll.
Among all Republicans, 45 percent believe he was born in another country, as do 45 percent of Tea Party supporters, the poll shows.
This means this is NOT a fringe element believe anymore. It is mainstream in the party’s mainstream.
While 25 percent of all Americans in this new poll say Mr. Obama was born outside the U.S., 57 percent correctly said he was born in the United States. Another 18 percent said they did not know where he was born. Among Republicans, 33 percent said Mr. Obama was born in the U.S., and 22 percent said they did not know. Thirty-four percent of Tea Party supporters said the president was born in the U.S., while 21 percent said they didn’t know.
And Obama? He’s dismissing the birthers as a joke:
Last night in Los Angeles, Obama spoke with donors about the early days of his 2008 campaign, back when “the prospect of electing a Barack Hussein Obama to the Oval Office was slim.”
“None of you asked for my birth certificate,” Obama said. “It was a complete leap of faith.”
If you doubt the prevalence of birtherism, or if you suspect that beliefs about President Obama’s birthplace are simply being confused with uncertainty, this poll from CBS and The New York Times may convince you otherwise…
This poll appears reliable. CBS/NY Times polls are conducted by CBS’s polling unit, a respected and nonpartisan entity. Some birther polls have come from left-leaning pollsters, like the since-discredited Research 2000. More recently, Fox News released one conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic pollsters. But if you’re skeptical about the methodologies employed by Democratic firms or Fox News, it’s tough to impugn CBS. This poll is based on a sample of 1,224 adults nationwide interviewed live by phone April 15-20, with a +/- three percent margin of error, and a higher margin of error for oversampled partisan subgroups….
….The “no” population is not inflated. CBS does not press respondents who say they don’t know or don’t have an opinion, as some pollsters do. CBS accepts uncertainty as a response, and we should take the comparative “no” and “I don’t know” populations as legitimate.
There’s an argument to be made that, for people who haven’t looked into Obama’s birthplace, being uncertain is totally reasonable. If a pollster calls asking where Obama was born, and one hasn’t read anything about it, what else can one say, other than “How should I know?”
Asserting positively that Obama was born outside the U.S. is different. And among the 534 Republicans in CBS’s oversample group, more of them held this opinion than either of the two alternatives.
The conventional wisdom continues to be “ahh, Trump isn’t serious it’s all publicity” and/or that the Democrats must be smiling. For instance, Michelle Goldberg, in a must-read piece on The Daily Beast begins:
There probably are some politicians who are very nervous about the fact that Jerome Corsi’s new book, Where’s the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President has already rocketed to the top spot on Amazon weeks before its publication date. None of them are Democrats. Throughout the last two years, the conservative movement has mainstreamed once-fringe elements, encouraging ever more outré speculation about our president and his origins. Now the Republican Party has a birther problem it can’t control.
She notes that the latest paranoia theme is a reverse paranoia: that somehow DEMOCRATS are the ones pressing the birther issue. (And pizza is great diet food). She correctly notes:
But it was the Drudge Report, not liberal cable stations, that was hyping Corsi’s work Thursday with an “exclusive” titled, “Book to Reveal Obama’s True Identity?” Nor was it liberals who’ve made Corsi a star of the Tea Party circuit. And it certainly wasn’t the left that made the Arizona legislature pass a bill requiring presidential candidates to produce long-form birth certificates, or, failing that, two or more other documents such as hospital birth records and circumcision papers. While Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he’ll sign similar legislation if it gets to him. Birther bills are pending in a number of other states, including Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana. In Indiana, the bill would put governor Mitch Daniels, a likely presidential candidate, in a tough position, forcing him to choose between catering to the Republican base and preserving his reputation for sanity.
The conservative movement has long believed that major institutions of mainstream American life—the media, the courts, science and academia—are irredeemably corrupted by liberal bias. It has responded by creating its own, alternative reality, ideologically consistent but full of falsehood. For years, the Republican Party has benefited from a base sealed in an epistemological bubble. Now it’s finding out that when you encourage people to cut themselves off from reality, you can’t always dictate when it’s time to let in a little bit of truth.
CNN’s Gloria Borger warns that Trump could bankrupt the GOP:
Even so, there are some Republicans out there who would like to have a real debate with Obama about things called issues. And, for them, the Trump birther nonsense is worrisome for the party’s prospects. Why? Because this is a conversation Republicans are having with each other, not the country.
“Anybody who believes the guy (Obama) wasn’t born in this country is already voting for us,” says another GOP strategist. “This takes the whole Republican discussion out of the mainstream.”
Karl Rove, who knows how to win elections, is clearly miffed, calling Trump’s bid a “joke.” “If he wants to base his entire campaign upon whether or not Barack Obama was really born in the United States, that’s his privilege. I just think that’s a losing strategy.”
Indeed, recent CNN polling shows that 74 percent of independent voters believe that Obama was born in the United States. Presumably, the birther issue is not among their top concerns.
In the meantime, the president gets to spend the next 18 months talking to independent voters — which is where the election will be won or lost. And instead of focusing on jobs and the economy, Republicans are sadly engaged in a circular and distracting rant, speaking to no one but themselves.
No matter how this all turns out, Trump will hit the big casino. But he could bankrupt the GOP first.
And Trump? He’s not only seemingly sucking up all the air among GOPers but he’s sucking the media coverage away from the previous media fascination…Sarah Palin. Nate Silver studied media coverage and:
During the month of November 2010, Ms. Palin’s name retrieved 777 hits, according to this technique. That represented just over half of the 1,533 citations for all 23 candidates combined.
So far this month, however, Ms. Palin has accounted for just 124 hits out of 1,090 total, or roughly 11 percent. Instead, her place has been taken by Mr. Trump, who has accounted for about 40 percent of the coverage…
…The decline in media coverage for Ms. Palin tracks with a decline in her polling numbers. Whereas she was pulling between 15 and 20 percent of the Republican primary vote in polls conducted several months ago, she’s down to about 10 percent in most surveys now.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, whose media coverage has increased exponentially, has surged in the polls, and is essentially in a three-way tie for the lead with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee over an average of recent surveys.
A Pew poll released yesterday, which asked voters which Republican candidate they’d heard the most about, found Mr. Trump’s name mentioned far more often than any other. The voters in Pew’s survey passed this quiz with flying colors: so far this month, Mr. Trump has in fact received as much coverage as the next six candidates combined.
It fits in with America’s highly rewarded culture of outrageousness. Over the top celebrities, politicians, old media types, new media types, talk show hosts, partisan ideologues…all learn there are followers, audiences, readers and highly paid speaking engagements if they indulge in bombast and conflict. And bombast is T-r-u-m-p.
As to why Mr. Trump has surged when other candidates haven’t, I’m mostly agreed with David Frum’s thesis: he’s run as a populist, and that’s something that suits the mood of Republican primary voters. Mr. Trump — who may be as skilled an entertainer as he is a businessman — has been surprisingly adept at playing the part, in contrast to some other candidates whose efforts have fallen a little flat.
But there is something more here too: voters do not like being told what to do. While they may well consider factors like “electability,” they need time to come to those conclusions on their own, rather than being given a list of “serious” candidates from Washington columnists. Mr. Trump clearly has some vulnerabilities — his negatives are much higher within his own party than those of his counterparts — but a great number of Republican voters are dissatisfied with with their choices, and he may represent something of a protest vote against the choices the Republican establishment deems to be acceptable.
And what about Trump’s threat that he could run as an independent?
As I’ve noted on this site and noted extensively in my Cagle.com column on Trump’s political surge, Trump’s embrace of birtherism rules him out as a candidate that many independents could support. And it’s a pity given his background.
John Avlon looks at those issues and whether Trump could run as an independent in this CNN column which needs to be read in full. Here’s the beginning of his piece, which needs to be read in full:
But Trump has already burned his bridges with most independent voters by choosing to go full “birther” and pander to the far-right wing of the GOP.
It’s a shame because in his purely CEO persona, Trump could have mounted a semi-credible independent campaign. Look at what Ross Perot was able to accomplish with such an appeal nearly 20 years ago or what Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done in New York to date.
An independent candidate running on a proven record of executive leadership, job creation and improving American competitiveness could be a serious presidential candidate this time around. Especially because a new Washington Post/ABC poll shows that 41 percent of American voters now identify as independents. We are the plurality and provide the balance of power in any election.
Independent voters tend to be closer to Republicans on economic issues and closer to Democrats on social issues. In other words, they are fiscally conservative but socially liberal. They hate hyper-partisanship and special-interest gridlock in Washington, and they have been deficit hawks since at least the days of Pero
And the ending:
Trump has debased himself and any ideas he had of a political career with the serial idiocies he’s articulated in this flirtation with a presidential campaign.
Of course, there will be a cadre of political consultants who encourage him to run because they see dollar signs in their eyes, not because they are thinking of the good of the republic. This is predictable but pathetic.
Independent voters are now the largest and fastest-growing segment of the electorate. At the end of the day, we decide which party will win control of Congress or which candidate will win the presidency. But a candidate who panders to the extremes and parades his own irresponsibility cannot assume that he’ll win independent votes just because he slaps the independent label on a self-funded candidacy.
A credible independent candidate needs to be a consistent advocate for the principled positions independent voters care about — reducing the deficit and debt while combating hyper-partisanship.
Trump made a decision to enflame polarization in the pursuit of self-promotion. As a result, he sacrificed his right to be taken seriously as well as any claims he had to represent independent voters credibly in the 2012 election.
And that’s the issue:
Trump cannot present himself as representing independent voters.
He can — given these polls — correctly say there is interest in the Republican party for birtherism.
He can correctly present himself as representing the country’s talk radio political culture and the reality show political culture.
He can correctly represent himself as the epitome of the pandering politician who will use any issue he can to whip people up and get attention to achieve his own — Donald Trump’s — personal goals.
And, most assuredly, he can correct represent himself as a someone who rather than trying to appeal to the best instincts in Americans and trying to unite them is appealing to the worst instincts in Americans — and is dividing them.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.