Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to delve back into birtherism — on CNBC and on the day he is rolling out an economic plan — has struck a nerve with responsible GOP officials and insiders. Two prominent governors have now gone on record with Right Turn to express their displeasure. This is especially noteworthy since neither has endorsed a candidate. It is the heart and soul of the GOP that has them fretting.
The actual question and answer from Perry’s interview with John Harwood come across as simply weird:
Q: Why did you choose to keep the birther issue alive?
RICK PERRY: It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, Donald [Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little bit and say “Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.” I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a frequent mention for the VP list and the governor of a critical swing state, told Right Turn exclusively through his spokesman: “The governor has always been clear on this matter: The president was born in the United States and any suggestion that he wasn’t is an unnecessary distraction from the important issues facing our nation.”
McDonnell is a careful politician who has pledged not to endorse before the end of the Virginia legislative session. But the message is unmistakable: Knock it off. You’re hurting the party.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who also has yet to endorse and hosts the first contest in the nomination process, seems to share that view. His spokesman told Right Turn: “The governor believes this is an issue that was put to rest long ago. I do not believe the average Iowa caucus-goer shares these views.” In other words: This is not the way to dig out of single digits in a state in which you need to do very well.
Huffington Post’s Sam Stein is reporting that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has also spoken out against the birtherism nuttery.
A number of GOP staffers and national operatives on Capitol Hill (none of whom have endorsed or are associated with any other campaign), in state houses and elsewhere have expressed to me how distressed they are at this turn of events. One Republican on the Hill in a prominent member’s office termed the reaction to Perry’s dive into nuttery “a disheartening disappointment, a total disgrace.” The reaction ranged from amazement to disgust. It is not a sentiment followed by comments like “And so we need to nominate Herman Cain,” or “and so Mitt Romney is the default.” What is telling is that this a simple and near uniform expression of dismay.
Perry has played with fire and gotten burned. The question is whether he can convince voters and donors that he’s not, quite frankly, a buffoon.