Government & Politics

Could ‘Trumped’-up birther campaign be a secret deal with Dems?

A billboard on I-10 near Roanoke, Louisiana, asks drivers, ”Where’s the Birth Certificate?” The reference here is to President Obama, part of a long campaign to spread doubts about his citizenship. Many on the political right buy into the idea that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii. They insinuate that he’s something strange, something scary, a Kenyan Muslim, perhaps, out to destroy the Land of the Free. Apparently they believe – or, in any case, want others to believe — that Obama, as a newborn Manchurian Candidate-to-be, somehow arranged to have birth notices placed in Hawaiian newspapers, so that he could grow up and become the first black president of the United States.

These claims have been thoroughly debunked, yet somehow the non-controversy persists among so-called “birthers.” Where is the birth certificate, they ask. A copy is on the internet. But that’s not good enough. They want to hold it in their hands and squint real hard at it, and only then will they be satisfied that Obama is a United States citizen.

Strike that. Birthers will never be satisfied. Even if the document passed their amateurish  scrutiny, eventually they’d realize that anyone capable of a lifelong conspiracy that placed him in the Oval Office would also have the means to create a perfectly counterfeit birth certificate. So the “controversy” must move on to the next level. Perhaps next year I-10 billboards will ask, “Where’s the 5th grade report card?”

These aren’t honest queries aiming for “truth.” They are expressions of circular (and hateful) beliefs. Birthers operate much like the Creationists who say they want science classes to explore the “controversy” surrounding evolution. Their skepticism is other-directed. It never circles back to call their own weird creed into question and the dogged distrust of science that comes with it. They doubt the things that cause them to doubt — and nothing else. It’s a way of avoiding psychic friction, and preserving the soothing beliefs in which they have become invested. It’s fake curiosity, and exemplifies a profoundly anti-intellectual approach to life.

Then again, no one ever said intellectual vitality had to overlap with effective political mobilization. (Actually, I suppose Plato said that. But since I’ve never seen his birth certificate, I can’t put much stock in his views.)

In the corner of the birther billboard I saw, there was a web address for World Net Daily, which is an online clearinghouse for the latest birther non-news. Normally I’d dismiss such far right nuttiness, but two recent developments make this much more interesting.

The first is that Donald Trump recently decided to resuscitate the birther nonsense, putting it front and center as he muses about running for president in 2012. Trump was immediately rewarded with huge media attention, and then surprisingly high poll numbers among GOP voters. (In the past Trump indicated he is pro-choice, for universal healthcare and open to higher taxes. But apparently those aren’t deal-killers for Republicans if a candidate is brave enough to question Obama’s citizenship.)

Clearly The Donald knows his base. Take a look at this Politico report:

Donald Trump’s birther crusade could be a boon in Iowa… a new poll shows.

A whopping 48 percent of Iowa Republicans said they don’t believe that Obama was born in the United States, according to the automated survey by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling out Tuesday. Another 26 percent said they weren’t sure whether or not the president was born in America as the Constitution requires to be eligible to serve in the nation’s highest office.

Trump has driven the widely discredited “birther” issue into the national spotlight as he flirts with an entry into the White House race, placing at the front of the pack in several national polls.

So three quarters of GOPers in the first caucus state are open to this birther hoo ha? That amazes me. While it’s hard to see Trump winning the Iowa caucus, he might do surprisingly well. And if he doesn’t win the nomination, he said he might run as an independent in the general election.

The Times Picayune reports on the second development that makes this resurgent birther issue interesting:

A pair of Republican state lawmakers have filed legislation to require future presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship by providing “an original or certified copy” of their birth certificate in order to qualify for the Louisiana ballot.

House Bill 561 by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, appears to be the latest attempt to capitalize on the widely discredited theory, popular in some conservative circles, that President Barack Obama was not born on American soil.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, would require candidates who want to appear on presidential primary or general election ballots to include an affidavit attesting to the candidate’s citizenship that would be accompanied by a birth certificate “that includes the date and place of birth, the names of the hospital and the attending physician, and signatures of the witnesses in attendance.”

Governor Bobby Jindal’s spokesman says that, although Jindal believes the President is a citizen, the Governor will sign the bill. At least fifteen other states have birther bills making their way through legislatures. This week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer surprised many when she vetoed similar legislation. Jindal seems unconcerned about appearing even less statesmanlike and polished than the often-mocked Brewer.

President Obama could not have scripted these developments any better. Between Trump’s bloviations and the enactment of silly birther bills, it virtually guarantees that a stupid non-issue will become a significant campaign storyline. Republican candidates will have to address it, and take a position on the President’s citizenship, which has already been documented and certified. National Republican Party bigwigs do NOT want that. They want their Republican candidates to feed off the, um, grassroots passion of the birther issue without having to publicly acknowledge it. If they do so, then they’ll either alienate part of their base, or become a national media laughingstock. And now, because of these stupid birther laws, there will be the heightened “drama” in 2012 when candidate Obama qualifies in states like Louisiana. Will there be birther protests? Will Republican candidates disappoint their primary voters by declaring the obvious — that Obama is an American?

These dynamics shape up so well for Obama, I’m tempted to wonder if he and Trump didn’t make a secret deal for The Donald to run as a spoiler candidate, inject this idiotic birther nonsense into the GOP primaries, and then run as an independent in 2012, leaving the GOP field in disarray. Truly, who benefits the most when news coverage shows crowds of Obama opponents ignoring issues of substance and instead yelling, “Where is the birth certificate?”

Again, note Trump’s previous moderate-liberal views and also note that the poll in the Politico story was done by a Democratic firm. Is a backroom deal so unthinkable? Trump can’t lose — he gets to promote himself around the country before negotiating a new TV contract with network honchos at NBC. And Obama gets a third-party candidate who might draw a weird coalition of moderate Republicans and rabid birthers to split the anti-Obama vote in the general election. Even if Trump doesn’t have the stomach to run, he will have elevated the birther issue in ways uncomfortable for the GOP.

Now that would be a pretty devious collusion, and infinitely more probable than this Kenyan-Manchurian Candidate nonsense. I can’t help wondering if the real Manchurian Candidate, the fake right-wing zealot secretly scheming to elect an apparent foe, might not be Trump himself.

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About Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and the Federal Flood he helped create the Rising Tide conference, which grew into an annual social media event dedicated to the future of New Orleans.

  • Medium Jim


    It’s my understanding Hillary Clinton planted the birther story during the 2008 primary.

    There are many folks on my side of the aisle who believe The Donald is a Democratic shill. Dems have a history of running shill candidates. I don’t have the link, but it happened in 2010 somewhere in the Carolinas. Nothing would better ensure Obama’s re-election than Trump’s candidacy as an independent. MJ

  • Thanks for the comment!

    As for HC “planting” the birther story. Ha! That seems to be the excuse du jour among thoughtful conservatives, embarrassed by the persistence of the birther movement on their side.

    No, sad to say, the fact is that “birther” claims about Obama were circulating on fringe conservative sites and in chain emails amongst conservative circles way before Hillary panicked after the Iowa caucus. It is pretty hilarious to think that Clinton covertly fanned some rumors as she was desperately trying to win the Dem primaries in 08– to no effect among Dem primary voters– yet somehow conservative GOPers suddenly adopted the story hook line and sinker. “Well if the Hillary campaign sort of implied it, I guess we better believe it against all available evidence!” That’s just hilarious to me. Hillary, the bete noire of conservatives for nearly 20 years, is the trusted original source for the birther nonsense.

    If the Dem shill you’re referring to is Alvin Greene from SC– if anything, he was a GOP plant.

  • Taiji

    First for the record it is my belief that Obama is a US citizen born in the Aloha state. Now to the larger point, the actual showing of the paperwork. To get a job in the US almost everyone has to show that they are eligible for the job that they meet the requirements for it the proper documentation diplomas from Medical or law school or even a BA in Philosophy, and a social security number and if foreign born proper certification of a work visa. I do not think that it is inappropiate to ask a presidential canidate to “prove” that they are qualified for the job. These canidates release much more intimate details about their lives from health and doctor checkups, to their 1040 tax forms showing their financial health; neither of which are required to do so. While this whole birther issue is a tempest in a teapot of little real issue it would have been nice for the canidates to have to prove to at least the election commission that they meet the legal requirements to hold the job.

    In my twisted answer seeking mind I can see two plausible reasons for why he has not (neither of which is that he is a Kenyan Kommie Kanidate) First is that he saw this a a way to draw out the crazies and let them chew on the carpet foaming at the mouth on a non issue so that for the better part of the “normal” electorate the crazies’ canidate seems that more unreasonable (if the crazies support that other canidate they must be secretely a bit unhinged as well) The seccond is that He didnt want to cause his mother who was dying of cancer (I believe) any more grief concerning the issue (maybe his father was a sore subject, or she didnt put any name down as the father etc) Either way who cares. I will say that I am fine with any state requiring Presidential Canidates to prove that they are eligable to hold the office. Though I am reminded of the partisan flare up and the butt biting around the two terms for a president law.

  • The idea that Trump is a shill to help Obama win is much more plausible than the idea that Obama is not eligible to serve because he is a secret Muslim born in Kenya.

    Of course, on the ballot we vote for electors and not for the Presidential candidate directly. So I wonder how that impacts Crowe’s bill.

  • Al Frankenstein

    I don’t know of ANYTHING that has been conclusively “debunked”. The document on the internet is NOT his birth certificate. If Barry Soetoro would produce a REAL birth certificate, then ALL of the “birthers'” claims could EASILY be debunked once and for all. Aside from the birth certificate issue, why does no one from his administration address the issue of Barry is using a Social Security number set aside for applicants in Connecticut while there is no record he ever had a mailing address in the state.

    In addition, the records indicate the number was issued between 1977 and 1979, yet Obama’s earliest employment reportedly was in 1975 at a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream shop in Oahu, Hawaii.

    There are TONS of questions about this man and his past that I’d like to have answered. I’m not convinced of anything yet, other than the fact that he is a complete idiot.

  • Steve

    Here’s the link to a clearly fabricated report and a number of photos of Obama’s birth certificate produced by what can only be seen as an Obama front group called “” that is, based on my research, part of the larger Annenberg Public Policy Madrasah. Truly frightening.

  • Medium Jim

    Erster:, hardly a mouthpiece for conservative ideology (quite the contrary), coincidentally ran the following story this morning tracking the birther ‘myth’ back to Democrats, and more specifically HC. Take it for what it’s worth.

  • Taiji– it’s been a while. Good to hear from you. Don’t be a stranger. Speaking of butt biting, what was that goat delicacy you once tried?

    MJ– While I’d dispute that Politico, on the whole, is any further left than moderate right, Ben Smith is at least partially correct in his research in saying that the HC campaign circulated (pre-existing) proto-“birther” emails in early 2008. Those various chain emails, with claims doubting Obama’s citizenship, patriotism…etc…. were already festering on email chains in 2007. These were coming from fringe and conservative-leaning people… I know, because I received many of them.

    HC’s idiotic campaign supporters decided to perhaps edit and hone them, but they were basically touting what was already out there on the far right, in a disgraceful attempt to scare white Dem primary voters into voting for Clinton. They didn’t invent the claims about Obama not being an American. HC’s campaign already did the oppo research on the matter, came up snake eyes, but winked as their supporters fanned the flames of the non-issue by darkly intoning that “Obama isn’t fully vetted.”

    Now, if you want to say that HC’s lovely PUMA brigades honed and then midwifed (pun!) the birther issue unto a larger scale, I’ll buy that. The fact is that Dems overwhelmingly rejected the nonsense in the primaries, yet over three years later 2/3 to 3/4 of GOPers (and likely an even higher percentage of Tea Partiers) are open to some strain of birtherism, as Al Frankenstein amply demonstrates.

  • “, hardly a mouthpiece for conservative ideology (quite the contrary)”

    Get f***ing real, yeah I know, it’s a common knowledge that Mike Allen’s father was a socialist, but… Oh wait a second, Mike Allen’s father was a John Bircher, but, somehow, that’s not common knowledge. Hard to see a liberal slant at Polico aside from that.

    Mark, if you’re going to go around talking smack about about PUMA’s, I’m going to ask for some kind of mea culpa about your assertions/assurances about Obama and Social Security. I think you said he was just creating separation and playing to win; he must be playing to win in 2012.

    As far as the main topic goes, I have trouble believing that Trump would be so strident in his criticisms of Obama as “the worst president ever” if he were just putting forth the birther nonsense to help Obama.

    Also, what’s important about Trump’s previous moderate/liberal views is that he’s changed them. That indicates two things to me. The first is that the Tea Party movement, or at least the conservative grass roots revival, was never primarily about fiscal conservatism. At least, Donald Trump doesn’t think it was. The second is that Trump is making a serious effort to woo conservative voters, so we can at least assume that his charade of a campaign, or talk of a campaign, will be around for a while.

  • Mark Moseley

    BSJD: Thanks also for chiming in.

    Let me amend my earlier comment a bit. “HC campaign circulated” should be “HC campaign supporters circulated”. Also, when I talk about HC’s “idiotic supporters” I meant a fraction of them– nor did I mean to generalize about the PUMAs role.

    Now, I don’t mind getting taken to task for things I write. Lord knows I do it to other pundits/pols, and have rarely tasted the medicine myself.

    So I don’t have a problem with criticism, and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to apologize or retract a statement I made, if I thought I should.

    So here’s the notorious claim I made in a post back in 2008.

    “Do you think Obama creating separation between himself and other candidates on Social Security had anything to do with Iowa’s geriatric caucusing base?”

    Now, without rehashing it all, I believe you could charitably interpret my point as being that Obama’s rhetorical “separation” between himself and HC and JE in Iowa was larger than his actual policy differences. The reaction on the left, however, was surprisingly intense (sort of like after BO’s “I wanna be like Reagan” statement). It occurred at a particularly crucial time in the campaign, and, as a fan of BO, I responded with a little passion of my own (which I had been keeping mostly under wraps for the previous year). I didn’t mean to imply that the “separation” BO created was ENTIRELY a campaign artifice to win Iowa. BO may well of been to the “right” of HC on SS (it was hard to tell, both were quite vague) but I think BO made a point of repeatedly emphasizing that “separation” so much on the campaign trail so as to differentiate himself from HC. The difference– I still maintain– was small, as progressive darling John Edwards himself would note before the SC primary.

    Now, honestly, I haven’t followed BO on Social Security that closely. From what I’ve seen, when he hasn’t been vague, he’s been all over the place. He appoints a commission, is not thrilled with their results, reiterates his campaign policy that SS needs some tweeking (better now than later), then implies he’s open to raising SS tax… etc

    I guess what I’m getting at, is– did I miss Obama clearly and definitively “breaking faith” with SS, in an outrageous way, that would’ve been totally unthinkable in an HC or JE Presidency?

    I guess I would need a specific example or two from you, first, before I make a mea culpa and say– “Wow, was I wrong about Obama! I thought he was repeatedly emphasizing a small difference about SS mostly as a political maneuver, but in fact he was really expressing his true intention to reconfigure SS in a substantially un-progressive and harmful way.”

    I’m not trying to come off as glib or cute. I honestly am not sure Obama’s overall record on SS is so poor– compared to HC or JE in the same situation– that it’s obvious that I erred badly in 08, when I minimized whatever real SS policy differences there were between Obama and Hillary and Edwards.

    Maybe I’m totally out of touch on this. But I must ask a little more info from you before I can provide a mea culpa.

  • saintlywife

    Two weeks ago, I had to purchase a long-form copy of my birth certificate from the Louisiana Dept of Health in order to correct a DOB error at the SS office.

    It’s funny how my LONG FORM BIRTH CERTIFICATE contains only the signature of the Registrar of Louisiana, does not list my father’s place of birth (“Unknown, LA”) and lists my mother, who along with her twin brother was born in Lafayette, as being born in Lake Charles, LA.

    Of course, as a natural citizen of both the US and Louisiana, none of this should matter at all.

    HOWEVER====if one is going to “try” to claim that Obama is not a “natural citizen” because his Certificate of Live Birth only gives the same information with the same number of people who sign that certificate as I was given by the LA Dept of Health…. well, that kind of sums everything up.

    Would I, a White Woman be given that same scrutiny???

  • “Would I, a White Woman be given that same scrutiny???”

    I don’t know saintly wife, do you have a foreign sounding last name that even sounds like a sworn enemy of the U.S.? Was one of your parents a foreign national? Was that parent followed by a foreign stepparent whose native country you spent of your childhood in? Don’t get me wrong, the birther nonsense is nonsense, but knee-jerk charges of racism make it easier for race baiters to deny more serious charges, IMO.

    If I remember correctly, the last white Democrat in the White House was accused of being a murderer and a rapist.

  • sobieski

    Yaknowwhat, I know I’m a little late to the party on this but….

    Congress had a hearing on McCain’s birthplace and whether it met the definition of natural born…

    The same thing occurred with another prior president, Chester Arthur…

    Bush handed over his military records, and his transcripts were released…

    Kerry handed over his military records, medical records and transcripts…

    Clinton’s ROTC records and transcripts and Gore’s too were released…

    Frankly I think this whole thing is over people feeling like the Constitution is being disregarded and exerting control over presidents or possible future presidents.

    Personally I’d say require all candidates to produce birth certificates (there’s an age requirement in the Constitution too, folks), college transcripts and any military or selective service records, and some kind of resume before being allowed into any debates, or onto state ballots, or something like that. Everybody would play by the same rules. But that would have to be done moving forward. really I still don’t see the big deal about any of this.