Rick Perry may or may not believe in evolution, but his position on whether President Obama was born in the United States has evolved pretty rapidly since Sunday, when he revealed some surprising birther inclinations to Parade, of all places. Here’s how his answers changed over the course of the week:
Sunday: In a Parade interview, Perry said “I don’t know” when asked if Obama’s birth certificate is real and “I don’t have a definitive answer” when asked if Obama was a natural-born citizen.
Monday: Perry told CNBC’s John Harwood, that “it’s a good issue to keep alive” and “I don’t have a clue about where the President — and what this — birth certificate says.”
Tuesday: Perry told a CNN reporter that the birther issue is “one of the biggest distractions that there is going.”
Today: Perry told the St. Petersburg Times, “I don’t think I was expressing doubts. I was just having some fun with Donald Trump.” Asked to clarify whether he has any doubts about Obama’s birth, Perry says, “I have no doubt about it.”
His furious backpedaling notwithstanding, it doesn’t really matter what Perry says now. The damage is done. He has repeatedly questioned whether Barack Obama is a legitimate occupant of the White House. He flirted with a conspiracy theory that was debunked once and for all six months ago and to which only the crankiest of cranks continue to subscribe. Perry may have hoped that expressing a vaguely birtherish position on Obama’s origins would ingratiate himself to a certain type of conservative voter, and he might have been right about that. But he totally miscalculated how doggedly the media would pursue this story, as well as the backlash he would receive from the GOP Establishment, which, along with many Republican voters, values electability above all else. Once you let the birther genie out of the bottle, you can’t stuff it back in.