So what’s up with the free pass Mitt Romney is getting on prominent supporter Donald Trump’s loud-and-proud birtherism? I have a theory.
Romney will collect big bucks today at a Donald Trump-hosted fundraiser in (where else?) Las Vegas. The Romney campaign is even using Trump’s celebrity status for low dollar fundraising, raffling off a chance to dine with both Romney and the Donald. Unfortunately for Team Romney, Trump’s favorite topic (well, after Donald Trump) is his belief that President Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible for the office he currently holds. This theory is so hoary and eye-roll inducing as to not merit serious comment, but its simple demolition by Hot Air’s Allahpundit on Friday night is still worth a read.
The media loves them some Trump birtherism, and this is a political problem inasmuch as, as Allahpundit notes, if the news cycle is devoted to the president’s birthplace, it isn’t focused on the soft economy. And that has been the tenor of coverage (including in this space) regarding Romney and Trump: analysis of the political implications of Donald the distraction. Conservative commentator George Will had a memorable turn of phrase discussing the issue on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, calling Trump a “bloviating ignoramus.” But the politics of Trump is an indirect problem for Romney.
It isn’t a direct problem, yet, which is the mystery. Trump is repeatedly suggesting that the president is not only engaged in a monstrous conspiracy which includes both lying to the American public and suborning the government of Hawaii to pass off forged documents as official ones, but also has illegally seized control of the highest office in the land. So why isn’t Romney quizzed more about whether he approves of Trump’s birtherism?
As Greg Sargent and Steve Benen noted on Friday, when Hilary Rosen questioned Ann Romney’s work experience, it was the focus of an extended media feeding frenzy despite the fact that Rosen had no formal role with the Obama campaign and that the campaign immediately and loudly denounced her comments. The difference, I think, is that the media takes Hilary Rosen (serious commentator, veteran political figure, longtime Washington mover and shaker) more seriously than it takes Donald Trump (serious self-promoter, veteran reality TV show host, longtime clown).
On the one hand it’s understandable why the media doesn’t take Trump the pol seriously. It’s not clear, for example, whether Trump is actually a birther or has just seized, again, on a topic that keeps him in the public eye (all publicity being good publicity). Beyond that no one thinks that, whatever words might pass from Romney’s mouth in praise of Trump, the candidate or his team take the reality TV star seriously in terms of policy. Trump is a sideshow and the media treats him as such.
But inasmuch as Team Romney is benefiting from his celebrity in terms of both primary campaigning as well as fundraising (and, perhaps, benefiting from his fringe, conspiracy cred with winger voters) it is bringing that sideshow into the circus. Romney ought to be forced to be clear about his views on Trump’s birtherism.
The former Massachusetts governor was in fact asked about Trump's views on Monday, and he pointedly refused to repudiate them. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in," he told reporters. I’m not of the opinion that political candidates are responsible for every unhinged comment some random supporter makes. But this isn't a throw-away comment from a stray supporter. When the candidate is busy embracing that supporter closely enough to make gobs of money off of him, and when the supporter’s fringe views are his favorite topic of conversation, it’s a legitimate line of inquiry, and one for which he should be forced to come up with a better answer.
Exit question: Four years ago if Senator Obama had enlisted and fundraised with a celebrity who told anyone who would listen that George W. Bush only won re-election in 2004 because he had secretly reprogrammed Deibold voting machines to steal Kerry votes, would he have gotten the same treatment from the media?