It’s been a full day since the White House released President Obama’s long form birth certificate, and prominent Republicans are coalescing around a few recurring notes in their reaction.
Responses for the most part fall into two broad, sometimes overlapping, themes in which Republicans either accuse President Obama of taking too long to put the birther nonsense to bed or suggest he’s exploiting the issue by even addressing it.
While speculation around Obama’s legitimacy occurs almost exclusively in conservative circles — reaching a high point in recent weeks amid Donald Trump’s birther campaign — a number of mostly mainstream Republicans characterized Obama’s statement as a smokescreen that distracts from various other topics.The most oft-quoted example came from Sarah Palin who tweeted: “Now, don’t let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?” referring to a rare press conference from the Federal Reserve chairman.
Palin was joined by a number of establishment Republicans, such as RNC chair Reince Preibus who said in a statement that “Unfortunately [Obama’s] campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our No. 1 priority - our economy.” A spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) took a similar tack, telling FOX News that “if the White House press secretary says that this is a sideshow, why aren’t we treating it as such and dealing with the bigger issues.”
In a slight variation on the same theme, some prominent Republicans declined to fault Obama directly for releasing the birth certificate, but insisted that their only interest was the economy. Mitt Romney, for example, tweeted that “What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan.” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who had previously sent Obama a personal letter requesting his birth certificate, offered no direct reaction to the President’s decision in a statement to TPM in which his spokesman said he was “focused on creating jobs for Georgians.”
But some, especially Republicans who had played footsie with birthers in the past, were hailed the release, and several took potshots at the President for not making his long form certificate available sooner — eliding the fact that the President had released his official Hawaii birth certificate years ago.
“All I would say is, why did it take so long?” Newt Gingrich told TPM yesterday. “The whole thing is strange.”
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), who told a radio station last year he did not know if the President was a citizen, said in a statement that the birth certificate was “two years overdue.”
A spokesman for Rep. John Carter (R-TX), who sponsored a bill in the House to require candidates produce a birth certificate, told TPM that “the Congressman is disappointed that the president took so long to do so when he could and should have done so up front when the issue was first raised.” Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), another sponsor of the bill, told TPM that it was “truly distressing that the administration would wait so long to release such an important piece of documentation,” and said it confirmed that legislation was needed to address the issue.
Of course, the grand uniting theme is that Obama can’t win — either he blew it by showing his birth certificate and feeding the media frenzy further or he screwed up by doing it too late to stop birther rumors from taking hold. That’s the popular line in mainstream Republican circle, however. In the fever swamps that produced the smear in the first place the default reaction is a predictable scramble to rally behind newer and even more convoluted conspiracy theories.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.