The question of whether President Barack Obama was born on U.S. soil will have zero impact on the 2012 campaign but could significantly damage Republicans’ prospects for retaking the White House if it lingers. That was the consensus analysis of more than a dozen experienced GOP political strategists, consultants and operatives who were interviewed Wednesday within an hour of Obama going on national television to publicly release the long-form version of his birth certificate.
These Republicans were nearly unanimous in their desire to see the issue permanently put to rest because they fear it could make the party seem too extreme.
“It doesn’t affect 2012. The economy is what will matter,” said one Republican operative affiliated with a prospective presidential candidate.
A second GOP operative, who also might land on a presidential campaign this cycle, added, “Having this issue go away helps any Republican candidate and the party as a whole.”
The Republican operatives include strategists tied to possible presidential candidates and advisers to House and Senate candidates whose races could be swayed by the White House contest. Almost all believe the Republicans have an opportunity to seize the upper hand given the slow economic recovery, persistent unemployment, rising gas prices and anxiety over the federal deficit.
But they worry that any attention given to the birth certificate issue could paint the Republican Party as out of touch and extreme, making it anathema to independents and swing voters while protecting Obama from the glare of what they view as troubling economic indicators that should sink his re-election bid.
One Washington-based Republican strategist who advises Congressional candidates said no issue could be of less relevance in the upcoming campaign.
“The whole question — and that word gives the whole bizarre thing too much credence — has never mattered to any swing voters in any election,” this strategist said. “And, it won’t.”
Dave Gilliard, a Republican consultant based in Sacramento, Calif., argued that the GOP presidential field needs to stay focused on “kitchen table” economic issues. “Legitimate GOP presidential contenders need to pound away on the spending and debt, gas prices, and most of all the economy, which is an albatross Obama cannot escape from,” he said.
The matter seems to have catapulted potential celebrity candidate Donald Trump into the forefront of the 2012 presidential discussion, while doing wonders for Trump’s initial support with GOP primary voters. That’s despite his recent support for high-profile Democrats and vague positions on key Republican issues. Trump, making a political swing in New Hampshire on Wednesday, took credit for forcing Obama to release his birth certificate. He also began pressuring the president to make public his college transcripts, something Obama has previously declined to do.
But many in the Republican political class remain unimpressed. More than one GOP operative interviewed for this story referred to Trump as a “nut.” Just about all who discussed the birth certificate issue said the matter is unlikely to reach beyond the party’s “black helicopter” crowd, voters who they said are unlikely to accept Obama’s birth certificate as legitimate documentation.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.