The Hill reports on Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona’s confession to NBC News’ Chuck Todd regarding the years of speculation about President Barack Obama’s American citizenship–part of a combination of factors that resulted in massive electoral gains for Republicans during the time Obama was in office:
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in an interview broadcast Sunday said he wished the Republican Party had stood up to birtherism…
“Well, I do think that we’ve seen more people ready to stand up. And I wish that we, as a party, would have stood up, for example, when the birtherism thing was going along. A lot of people did stand up but not enough,” Flake told Todd.
Flake said the birther movement, a conspiracy theory that claimed former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, “was particularly ugly.”
President Trump had promoted the theory for years, before rejecting it during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The belief among the low-information American right that President Obama was not an American citizen persisted throughout Obama’s entire presidency, and even persists today despite President Donald Trump’s renunciation of this false story (of which Trump himself was a prime mover). Obama’s citizenship has been exhaustively researched and proven time and time again to be completely legitimate, with claims to the contrary being found not just meritless, but contemptible–and unvarnished racism easy to see right beneath the surface in every single case.
But of course it worked. The massive electoral gains Republicans enjoyed at every level from 2010 onward were undeniably boosted by the racist backlash against President Obama. Obamacare, the 2009 economic stimulus–nothing that Obama actually did as President can fully explain the landslide election in 2010, which set the stage for subsequent years of GOP dominance of Congress. Not to mention the improbable election of Donald Trump in 2016.
The thing is, nobody wants to admit the role of racism against Obama in the GOP’s rapid recovery of power after the nadir of 2008. Certainly not today, now that “birtherism” has been totally discredited by all but the most willfully ignorant. Even many Democrats seem reticent to go there. But in 2010 and again in 2012 as the whisper campaign raged against Obama’s re-election, Republicans freely exploited and benefited from the color of the President’s skin.
In 2012, Rep. Mike Coffman was recorded telling an Elbert County Republican Party crowd, “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.” When audio of these comments surfaced, a public-relations nightmare ensued that ended with Coffman making a series of progressively more sincere-sounding apologies as the damage became clearer. Fortunately for Coffman, his weak 2012 opponent was unable to capitalize on the debacle and he survived. The moment he did, Coffman’s phalanx of staff and surrogates busily set to work declaring this “gaffe” to be “old news.”
Obviously, today’s Mike Coffman would never say what Coffman said in 2012. But whether or not Coffman’s many apologies are legitimate or contrived, whether Coffman really meant the unambiguous things that came out of his mouth in 2012 or he “misspoke,” is something individual voters will evaluate in whatever present context it is presented. That’s a nice way of saying that Coffman’s 2012 “birtherism” could come back to haunt him anew at any time. For our part, we’re inclined to believe that people generally say what they mean–and attempts to put unambiguous statements back in the proverbial bottle are usually the product of damage control, not sincere contrition.
Just remember everybody, racism isn’t cool! At least not anymore.