At a campaign event in Michigan today, Romney made a joke referencing birtherism — a joke that also served as a dog-whistle to conservatives who still question President Obama's origins. "I love being home," Romney said, "in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born ... No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised." The crowd laughed and cheered, while the press reportedly gasped.
Romney has never flirted with birtherism before (aside from his close relationship with the world's leading birther, of course), so his comment today was probably just an off-the-cuff quip that slipped out before he could really consider the consequences. Indeed, this is the explanation the campaign has gone with so far, according to Buzzfeed:
A campaign aide told BuzzFeed, on condition of anonymity, that Romney did not plan the birth certificate joke in advance, and that it was an "off-the-cuff reference to him being a homegrown guy of Michigan" that was wrongly interpreted by the press.
An adviser also clarified, lest there be any doubt that Romney is not a birther. "The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States," Kevin Madden told Buzzfeed.
Nevertheless, as we saw with the Republican reaction to Joe Biden's "chains" comment from last week, Obama and his allies are doing their best to pummel Romney for his (apparently) unintentionally provocative line, as a statement from the Obama campaign attests:
Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them. It’s one thing to give the stage in Tampa to Donald Trump, Sheriff Arpaio, and Kris Kobach. But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina later sent a fund-raising e-mail which called on supporters to "take a moment or two to think about that, what he’s actually saying, and what it says about Mitt Romney. Then make a donation of $3 or more to re-elect Barack Obama today.”
Obama's own Twitter feed even got in on the action:
Our take: Gov. Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 24, 2012
In short: Expect Team Obama to make enough hay out of Romney's ill-conceived joke to feed Rafalca for a lifetime.
Update: Romney tells CBS News's Scott Pelley that he was simply injecting "a little humor" into the campaign.
Don't you people like humor (about the president being an illegitimate usurper of the White House)?