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Paul Ryan's GOP Prays for People's Prejudices

March 4, 2016

To his great credit, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has dealt with the large "Birther" crowd in his Republican Party by sending copies of President Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate to his conspiracy-minded constituents. But when it comes to Birther-in-Chief Donald Trump and his support from former KKK Imperial Grand Wizard David Duke, Speaker Ryan was more than a little disingenuous to complain that "this party does not prey on people's prejudices."
After all, Ryan himself hasn't shied away from the dog whistle when lecturing about "makers and takers" turning "the safety net into a hammock" in "our inner cities." More embarrassing, his Louisiana colleague Steve Scalise isn't just the House Majority Whip (you can't make this stuff up), but once boasted that he was "like David Duke without the baggage." Worse still, as growing numbers of Republicans followed Donald Trump in doubting Barack Obama's well-documented birth in Hawaii, the GOP's best and brightest--including Ryan's 2012 running mate Mitt Romney--refused to denounce the bigots in their midst.
Consider, for example, Ryan's predecessor John Boehner (R-OH). In February 2011, the new Speaker of the House told NBC Meet the Press host David Gregory, "I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian, I'll take him at his word." But when Gregory pushed him to accept the "responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance," Boehner repeatedly refused.

David, it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people...Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can't -- it's not my job to tell them.

Boehner's right-hand man, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), used the same dodge to help fan the flames of the Fox News crowd. That January, Cantor told NBC's Gregory that he would not speak out against those "who think that his [Obama's] birth certificate is inauthentic."

GREGORY: Will you call that what it is, which is crazy talk?
CANTOR: [laughs] David, you know, a lot of that has been an issue sort of generated by not only the media but others in the country. Most Americans really are beyond that and they want us to focus--
GREGORY: Is somebody who brings that up engaging in crazy talk?
CANTOR: David I don't think it's nice to call anyone crazy, OK?

While Cantor ultimately acknowledged, "I think the president is a citizen of the United States," the 2012 Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney casually played the Birther Card as well.
As a quick backwards glance shows, it wasn't just Romney surrogates like John Sununu wishing "this president would learn how to be an American." On July 17, 2012, Mitt got in on the act, too, telling listeners that "his course is extraordinarily foreign." Two days later, Romney repeated the charge in response to the growing outcry about his mystery tax returns, shockingly low tax rate and private equity parasitism:

"This idea of criticizing and attacking success, of demonizing those in all walks of life who have been successful, is so foreign to us we simply can't understand it." {Emphasis mine.]

When Governor Romney wasn't accusing the President of the United States of being "extraordinarily foreign," he was providing aid and comfort to conservative fabulists claiming they could prove it. After all, Mitt Romney didn't just refuse to repudiate his Obama birth certificate fraud Donald Trump. Truth be damned, Romney suggested, instead arguing that cobbling together a majority--any majority--was what his candidacy was all about:

"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," Romney said. "But I need to get 50.1% or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."

Among those "good people" were Romney's five sons, the same ones Mitt boasted in 2007 said "showing support for our nation" by "helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president." The Five Brothers also regurgitated the Birther lies vomited forth by the likes of Limbaugh, Trump and Romney campaign traveling companion Jerome Corsi. When Tagg Romney wasn't joking about "taking a swing" at President Obama, his brother Matt got laughs from New Hampshire Republicans when he brushed off requests for his father's secret tax returns this way:

"I heard someone suggest the other day that as soon as President Obama releases his grades and birth certificate ...then maybe he'll do it."

While he later apologized on Twitter ("my bad"), there was no need for Matt to say sorry to dad. After all, in August 2012 Mitt Romney himself told an audience in Michigan:

"Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born," the GOP hopeful told the crowd. "Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born at Harper Hospital. No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know that this is the place that we were born and raised." {Emphasis mine.]

Those Michigan Republicans laughed and cheered. And within three years, they were doubtless lining up to behind Donald Trump. In May 2015, a PPP poll found that "Trump Supporters Think Obama is A Muslim Born in Another Country":

Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump's supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he's a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was...
Trump's beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate. 51% overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That's less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.

As we fast-forward to Super Tuesday 2016, Donald Trump is expected to win a near-sweep of the GOP primaries across the nation. And Speaker Paul Ryan is left to pledge his support to the Republican nominee, no matter how abhorrent he may find him:

"Today I want to be very clear about something, if a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games, they must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people's prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln."

Sadly for Paul Ryan, the party of Lincoln died 50 years ago. With its warm embrace of states' rights, nullification, secession, slavery-free Confederate History Month, and draconian voter ID laws, Paul Ryan's Republican Party prays for people's prejudices.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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