Republicans denounce the ‘Obama is a Muslim’ rumor? Gimme a break

     Republican presidential contenders from left: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham Jr. (R-S.C.), and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie (AP Photo, file)

    Republican presidential contenders from left: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham Jr. (R-S.C.), and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie (AP Photo, file)

    At last count, five Republican candidates have taken the high road to rebuke Donald Trump. They think it’s just awful that Trump failed to refute the dolt who called President Obama a non-citizen Muslim. They say it’s outrageous that Trump would allow such a lie to fester among the citizens of this great nation.

    Gimme a break. It has long been standard Republican practice — dating back at least five years — to nurture that lie, knowing full well that The Base embraces it.

    I kept that in mind this weekend when I heard all the tut-tutting rebukes – from Jeb Bush (Obama “is born in the United States, he’s a Christian”) and Marco Rubio (the non-citizen Muslim rumor “is not true, the president has made very clear what his faith is”) and Lindsey Graham (“President Obama, I don’t question his faith, I don’t question his patriotism, I don’t question his origin of birth”) and Chris Christie (“The president’s a Christian, and he was born in this country”) and John Kasich (“the president is an American, I believe the president is a Christian”).

    And at least three of those guys — Rubio, Christie, and Graham — said that Trump had a responsibility to fact-check the town-hall fool in real time. Christie said: “If somebody at one of my town hall meetings said that, I would correct them. … I would have said, ‘No, listen, let’s clear some things up for the rest of the audience.’ I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that.” And Graham said: “I’ve had this happen to me in Iowa, where a guy usd the N-word and it was very derogatory towards President Obama and Muslims. And I said, ‘I am not seeking your vote.’ … You are not responsible for what the guy says, but you are responsible for how you respond.”

    All this high-minded talk almost brings a tear to the eye … except for one fundamentally inconvenient truth:

    The big reason why 43 percent of Republicans currently believe Obama is a Muslim — a hefty hike from 2010, when a mere 31 percent of Republicans said Obama was a Muslim — is because Republican leaders refused to disabuse their followers of that tired falsehood. Put simply, the leaders didn’t lead.

    When that Pew poll was released in 2010, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell was asked about it on “Meet the Press” — “As one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, do you think you have an obligation to say to [the 31 percent] of Republicans in the country … who believe the president of the United States is a Muslim, ‘That’s misinformation?'” McConnell’s response was less than tepid: “The president says he’s a Christian, I take him at his word.”

    The high-road response, the moral response, would’ve been something like, “It’s categorically false to say that Obama is a Muslim. It’s shameful to circulate that falsehood, and leaders like myself have a responsibility to call it out.” Instead, McConnell knew darn well that The Base wasn’t inclined to take Obama’s word for anything.

    Six months later, in February ’11, John Boehner did a similar dance. On “Meet the Press,” he was told that nine of 25 Iowa Republicans, in a Fox News focus group, had called Obama a Muslim. He was pointedly asked, “As the speaker of the House, as a leader, do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?”

    His response: “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. … The American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can’t — it’s not my job to tell them.”

    Actually, back then, Boehner and his fellow leaders were trying very hard to tell the American people what to think — telling them, for instance, that Obamacare was a job-killing train-wreck catastrophe — but apparently they didn’t believe it was their “job” to forcefully enlighten their loons and liars about the president’s religion and citizenship. They probably figured that, hey, if The Base wanted to believe the worst about Obama, then fine, because maybe ignorance would pay off at the ballot box.

    And when the Republican leaders were busy playing that cynical game, Donald Trump was already taking full advantage. On Fox News, in 2011, he said that, OK, maybe Obama does have a U.S. birth certificate, “but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim.” No Republican leader uttered a peep of protest — not just because Trump was a mogul who just seemed to be playing at politics, but because the leaders thought it was politically smart to let the lies fester.

    By the way, candidate Trump is still at it. Yesterday he was asked, hypothetically, if he could ever support a Muslim president; his response: “Some people have said it already happened.” Point is, Trump’s poisonous ‘tude didn’t come out of nowhere; he’s merely the party’s demon spawn, acting out the party’s worst long-indulged impulses.

    And as for Jeb Bush and the others who have tried to mop the slop by pointing out that Obama is an American Christian … that’s what constitutes a “moderate” stance in today’s GOP.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal