You might think that President Obama’s comfortable reelection last month would put an end to the Republican birther conspiracy. But if you do, you don’t know Arizona Republicans.
The latest battle for the movement that believes Barack Obama is ineligible to be President was fought Monday at the state’s Electoral College vote, where a trio of Republican electors — including state GOP chair Tom Morrissey — once again raised concerns that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake during the electoral college vote.
They were rebuffed by other Republicans in the room, including Gov. Jan Brewer. National Republicans have also distanced themselves from the birther movement. But in Arizona, the birthers aren’t going quietly, even if they do recognize that they are going.
Morrissey, the leader of the Republican Party in Arizona and a former Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal for the state, tried to present his concerns over Obama’s eligibility as something other than birtherism.
“My issue isn’t whether he was born here,” he told KFYI radio in Phoenix Monday. “I have questions [about Obama’s longform birth cerfiticate]. … You know, I have a law enforcement background. I come at this with a little different perspective. It just doesn’t ring right with me.”
Morrissey said he had “a sacred trust as an elector” to raise questions about Obama’s legitimacy on the day electors officially voted. “I don’t want to be soapy about it, but I do have that and I think I have the right to raise that question,” he said.
After other electors smacked down Morrissey’s concerns at the meeting, voting continued. Where the birther fight goes now isn’t exactly clear, but it’s fair to say its remaining fans aren’t letting it go just because Obama won a second term, no matter what people across the country might think.
Another of the electors who raised concerns, Gila County GOP chair Don Ascoli, told TPM on Monday he’s used to being on the losing end of the birth certificate fight. But even if he’s going down, he said, he’s going down swinging no matter what the cost to his party or his state’s reputation.
“Yeah, some people are going to say, ‘Oh, those stupid Arizonans, there they go again,’” Ascoli said in an interview. “But, you know, I’d rather be right than popular.”
Ascoli accepts that public skepticism over Obama’s birth certificate is waning, even in GOP circles. But he blames that on a media that’s “in the tank” for Obama and won’t take on the current president the way it did Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon. In fact, Ascoli says he’s not a birther. He just thinks the longform birth certificate released by Obama in 2011 is a fraud and wants to see the real one.
In continuing to push the conspiracy that Obama has hid his real birth certificate all the way to the electoral college vote for his second term — which the president won by a comfortable margin — Ascoli, and the other electors that shared in the concerns over Obama’s birth certificate were keeping alive an Arizona tradition. The state has been a hotbed of birtherism since the start of the movement and still boasts the movement’s most prominent elected official defender: Sheriff Joe Arpiao. Brewer had to veto a birther bill passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature last year. And back in May, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said it was possible Obama backed off and apologized for embarrassing the state. Obama appeared on the Arizona ballot (he lost the state to Mitt Romney by a large margin), and Ascoli said Bennett was one of the Republican officials to disagree with the birther objection Monday.
But despite the fact that even some of his state’s Republican leaders have distanced themselves from birtherism, Ascoli says he’s speaking for the majority of his state’s GOP.
“I know this, I share the actual beliefs of many of the people who voted for Romney,” he said. “If you were to take a poll of Republicans in the state of Arizona, the majority would say they question the legitimacy of Barack Hussein Obama. That’s my belief. I’ve never taken that poll, but I believe the majority would say that.”
Ascoli said he was prepared to be one of the few Arizonans willing to say what the rest of the state’s Republicans are thinking, even if that means the rest of the country looks down their noses.
“If we’re redneck cowboys not in sync with the rest of the country, I guess we are,” he said. Still, he acknowledged that he may be going down with the ship on this one.
“It does look like it’s a losing battle,” Ascoli said.
Still, with people like Ascoli and Morrissey around, it seems likely some remaining birtherism will remain in GOP politics, despite what that might mean for the national party. Besides, Ascoli said, the Republicans in Washington, DC are far more dangerous to the party’s reputation these days.
“If there ain’t significant noticeable, short term cuts, it could damage the party much more than my speaking out about Obama’s legitimacy,” he said of the fiscal cliff talks. “It turns out that no matter what we do here in Arizona, one or two bills back there or conversations back in Washington can change everything down here.”
Listen to Morrissey’s interview with KFYI: