Karl Rove's Half Right on Donald Trump and the Birther 'Trap'

Trump is dragging the GOP into a trap, but not of Obama's creation.

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I suggested Tuesday that Donald Trump’s increasingly flamboyant embrace of birtherism might be a sign that his candidacy was hatched in a dark corner of the Democratic National Committee in an effort to force Republican presidential candidates to take clear positions on the “issue” and either look crazy or risk alienating the party’s fringe-base. Apparently Karl Rove and I are thinking alike ( I’ll take “sentences I never thought I’d write” for five hundred, please, Alex).

Appearing on the O’Reilly Factor on Wednesday night (after Trump had already been on, sputing the birther cant), Rove said that Trump’s birtherism is a “mistake,” that it won’t endear him to (what O’Reilly characterized as) the “right-wing base of the Republican Party,” and that Trump is merely falling into a “trap” set by the insidious Barack Obama. Rove told O’Reilly:

The right-wing base of the Republican Party--I'm part of that right-wing base--is not in love with the issue of birthers. I mean, there is an element inside the Republican Party and outside the Republican Party that's fallen in love with this. But the vast majority of Republicans and the vast majority of Americans accept that he's a U.S. citizen and capable of being president. And this is a distraction. [...]

This is a mistake. It will marginalize [Trump]. And he's falling for Barack Obama's trap. Barack Obama wants Republicans to fall into this trap, because he knows it discredits us with the vast majority of American people when they do.

One notable difference between Rove’s conspiracy theory and mine: He presumably actually believes his. He’s right about one thing: It’s a distraction in the sense that it’s nonsensical. But it’s not a distraction caused by Barack Obama. It’s caused by Republicans who buy into it and pols who are willing to use that gullibility to their advantage. In point of fact polls have shown that “the vast majority of Republicans” in fact do not accept that he’s a U.S. citizen. Most prominent GOPers prefer the wink, nod, and dog-whistle approach to dealing with birthers but that sort of subtlety either eludes Trump (I know, I know--Trump lacking subtlety may seem shocking) or doesn’t suit his publicity-seeking needs. [ See editorial cartoons about the GOP.]

As I argued Tuesday Trump’s “embracing the issue” ( as he put it on MSNBC this morning) becomes a serious issue for serious GOP presidential candidates because it forces them to address it. And--Rove and his ilk notwithstanding--that's not simply because the allegedly liberal mainstream media pushes it. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Tuesday night and, as Think Progress reports, “Hannity used the first third of his interview to discuss President Obama’s birth certificate,” specifically citing Trump’s touting of the issue. [ Check out a roundup of political cartoons about the Tea Party.]

Trump is definitely dragging the GOP into a trap, but it’s one of their own making, not Obama’s.