President Obama’s surprising decision to release his long-form birth certificate and attempt to personally end the debate over the so-called “birther” issue made for good theater. But was it smart politics? And will it, in the end, make any difference?
Opinions on that matter differed wildly Wednesday—and from both sides of the partisan divide. For every strategist who said that Obama was smart to take on the controversy head on, others said that the president had erred in using the prestige of his office to personally address a cable-news-driven media controversy grounded in rumor and innuendo.
Here are a few samplings:
Republican strategist John Feehery of Washington:
“This is not a good issue for the president. It undermines his authority, and it fires up his opposition. It is bottoms for him that he hasn't put it to rest.”
Former Clinton White House crisis-management expert Lanny Davis:
“It's a shame that the media made it necessary, but the reality is he needs to put it to rest at least among the 90% non-whacko population. It’s such a silly issue that even Donald Trump takes it seriously.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, via Twitter
“What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan.”
Republican strategist Rob Stutzman of California:
"It is absurd and embarrassing that we have such a vacuum of substance that a carnival barker like Trump can actually elevate this issue to the level that the president finally had to confront it,” he said. ““But I think it was a clever tactic by the White House. Releasing the certificate draws sympathy to president from swing voters and further defines elements of the GOP as, frankly, whacky.”
Vanderbilt University political scientist John Geer
“Obviously, President Obama has been listening to all these theories knowing full well where he was born and the evidence to document it. With Donald Trump and others fueling these fires of late, it was a growing distraction. It was simply time to put an end to it. This move is also a shot across Trump's bow, since he had thrown in with the birthers,” he said.
“With the number of tough issues facing the country, it is time for serious people to get to work on fixing those problems. And now Trump does not look like he is part of that conversation. Serious members of both parties understand the need to avoid such silliness and work toward real solutions to these difficult problems. It is adult time in America.”
Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky of New Jersey:
“When I saw it, I thought I was living in Bizarro World. [Obama’s] not going to satisfy the lunatics,” she said. “In one fell swoop, he almost legitimized Donald Trump’s rantings. From a truly strategic point of view, it would have been more helpful for the president to be the one serious person in the political discourse these days. The more Trump talked about the birthers, the better Trump was doing with the GOP base, and the more independents were moving away from the Republican Party.”
"From a political persepective, it infringes on the dignity of the office," she said. "Now there's no question that's off limits."
Democratic pollster Paul Maslin of Wisconsin:
Attacks on the president's legitimacy "is all race, pure and simple,” he said. The White House decided to put this out now, he said, because "the national press is a bunch of crack addicts, and Donald Trump just opened up a new rock house. I think Obama just decided to kill this thing once and for all."
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee
“This issue is a distraction. Our economy is strained from out of control deficits, debt, and unsustainable entitlements. The president ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy, working with Republicans and focusing on the long-term sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Unfortunately his campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our number one priority – our economy.”
Democratic strategist Sarah Flowers of Washington:
“This puts the Republican Party on the spot. It will show who is in charge of the Republican leadership --the extremes of their party or will they actually work with the president on passing a budget that deals with our growing debt? I suspect that the division in the Republican Party is too deep and that Republican leadership will continue to let this silliness distract from the real work that needs to be done."