On Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer became the highest-ranking Republican official to confront the matter, vetoing legislation to require presidential candidates to show a birth certificate or other document, such as a circumcision record, to prove eligibility.
The move by Brewer came as real estate mogul Donald Trump has successfully elbowed his way into the top tier of GOP presidential hopefuls largely by questioning whether Obama was born in the United States.
Brewer’s assessment that the bill was “a bridge too far” followed statements in recent days by other senior party officials and strategists who sought to put distance between the GOP and the birther movement — some more bluntly than others.
Karl Rove, the former George W. Bush strategist who advises the pro-GOP group American Crossroads, went on Fox News on Friday night to declare that Trump was “off there in the nutty right” and was a “joke candidate” for making Obama’s birthplace a centerpiece of his possible candidacy.
Likely GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty also have said in recent days that Obama was born in the United States.
Pawlenty even turned the matter into a stump-speech punch line. “Now, I’m not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate,” Pawlenty told a tea party rally over the weekend in Iowa. “But when you look at his policies, I do question what planet he’s from.”
The renewed effort to tamp down birtherism underscores a view held by many establishment Republicans that the conspiracy theorists make up a small subset of the party base and risk turning off swing voters more interested in jobs and economic concerns.
The new chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, Ryan Call, said Tuesday that “getting distracted” with questions about Obama’s birth certificate “does a great disservice to the real challenges that our country faces.”
Some strategists say the issue helps Democrats paint the GOP as extreme or fringe.
Obama told ABC last week that the issue “creates, I think, a problem for [Republicans] when they want to actually run in a general election where most people feel pretty confident the president was born where he says he was, in Hawaii.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he views Brewer’s veto as a concession that the birther movement has backfired on Republicans.
“What they meant as a negative ended up being a huge miscalculation because it rallied the very elements in society — from women to blacks to Latinos — who have always had to fight for recognition as equal citizens,” he said in an interview. “A lot of people see it as racism. Even when you achieve what people felt was unachievable, you still have to prove you are qualified. That’s how a lot of us read it.”