GOP Strategists Using “Birthers” in High-Risk 2012 Election Ploy?
There once was a “suppositious” prince whose birth guaranteed the end of an English royal dynasty – and 324 years later, political strategists hope the same scenario might help bring down the President of the United States, or, at least, help some at-risk Republican members of Congress survive electoral challenges in 2012.
June 10, 1688 – James Francis Edward Stuart is born in the bedroom of an English palace, with dozens of courtiers and attendants watching the delivery of the son of Queen Mary of Modena and James II, King of England. The birth of a royal heir in that era was always a public event, the witnesses essential to proving its lineage.
Yet across the nation, an inflamed citizenry readily accepted rumors that the infant was not, in fact, born in the palace, was not in fact a legitimate successor to the Crown – but was, instead, smuggled into the Queen’s delivery bed, hidden inside a bed warming plan. The Catholic King’s Protestant enemies, fearful of a successor raised in the Catholic faith, enraged by the monarch’s efforts to undermine the Church of England and impose absolute rule upon the nation, set upon a relentless campaign to smear the infant as “other.”
Eventually, the campaign succeeded. King James’ son-in-law, William of Orange (as close to royalty as there was in the Netherlands of that era), brought the King’s Protestant daughter Mary to England, forcing James II to abdicate and flee to the protection of King Louis XIV in Paris. The couple became co-rulers King William III and Queen Mary II of England.
The monarchy, rather than continuing as an absolute authority in the land, became a Constitutional Crown answerable to Parliament.
Now, in a bizarre irony, enemies of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, attempt to modernize the story of the “suppositious” crown prince. The “birthers,” lately but prominently led by real estate tycoon Donald Trump, ardently portray President Obama as “other,” deny the legitimacy of any documentation of his birth in Hawaii, and claim he was smuggled into the United States from Kenya.
Across the nation, an inflamed citizenry readily accepts rumors that the infant was not, in fact, born in the U.S., and thus is not in fact a legitimate occupant of the Presidency.
Adamantly, as the enemies of King James II denied the word of witnesses of the prince’s nativity, the “birthers” deny the evidence of witnesses who grew up with the toddler and later boy and young man in Hawaii, deny the value of newspaper birth announcements, deny even the official certification of the President’s birth.
They circulate false claims of millions spent to suppress the “truth,” trumpet fabricated stories about relatives of his Kenyan father claiming they saw Obama delivered in that African nation, and cite other alleged “evidence” to disavow any possibility of the President’s native-born citizenship.
Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich expanded the discussion by commenting darkly that the President does not share the values, principles and perspective of a native-born American. The image offered is that of the “other,” alien and suspicious, possibly even hostile to the very founding concepts of the United States.
This is a smear campaign that began before the President was elected. It gained volume and vehemence once President Obama took office, driven by not only bitter partisan opposition to a moderate Democrat holding the office, but also in some parts by religious bigotry – a segment of the “birthers” as well as other partisan opponents claim Barack Obama is a Muslim – and by blatant racism.
A substantial majority of Americans reject the attacks on the President’s legitimacy as at minimum foolishness, and at worst a dangerous argument employed by extremists who might choose violence to act out their feelings. Americans who regard the entire “birther” movement as political idiocy believe that its virulent re-emergence ahead of the 2012 presidential campaign is more likely to damage the Republican Party than help it.
But the “birther” movement is a kind of political conspiracy. As the enemies of James II did with their malicious rumor-mongering, the “birthers” hope to harden its adherents’ hearts and expand doubt about the President enough to cement an implacable opposition. The intent, with President Obama as it was with King James II, is to displace him from office.
If the “birthers” are successful in cementing opinion as well as affecting less-durable attitudes, the movement may guarantee any opponent of the Democratic President as much as 25% to 30% of ballots cast in 2012. In addition, the movement may be able to successfully emplace bedrock of votes for members of Congress who without the controversy might be at risk.
There are, of course, many other issues apart from the President’s place of birth. And some Republican officeholders in 2012 will be vulnerable because of their extreme conservative position on birth control, abortion, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, elimination of other popular Federal departments and programs, and severe cutbacks in unemployment, among other things.
However, the “birthers” could deliver the margin needed to allow those vulnerable Republicans to defend their seats in the House and Senate. The appeal is basic – if the President is not defeated for re-election, at least pen him in with unwavering Republican opposition in Congress. To voters who have been conditioned to despise the President, this approach has great potential to override their other reasons for voting against some Republican incumbents.
Whether using the “birther movement as a long-term political strategy will succeed is hard to project. In the mid-Spring of 2011, the heat of the debate is waning. Public support for the arguments of “birthers” has peaked, while other controversial positions of Congressional Republicans appears to be damaging support among more moderate Republican and independent voters.
Rumors about a “suppositious” prince played a key role in driving King James II from the throne in 1688. Republican strategists hoping to use rumors about a “suppositious” President take a high risk in duplicating the feat in 2012.