Marc Ambinder thinks the birther movement presents a real problem for the GOP:
The most prominent birthers are Alan Keyes, the former presidential candidate and Obama Senate challenger; Orly Tait, a wonderfully named lawyer from California; Phil Berg, a Democrat; and Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan, and a prominent radio talk show host. This is, at once, a fringe movement and something greater. It’s fringe because no important Republicans believe it, and most are offended by it. It’s greater because some fairly prominent local lawmakers are beginning to sign birther petitions.
At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don’t know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans — and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012. In the same way that Democrats in 2004 always got a stolen election question (which, to be fair, was at least closer to reality than the birther’s claims), Republican presidential candidates need to figure out how to diffuse angry birthers who are bound to show up and demand their attention. …. The buried lede to this post: Rush Limbaugh claimed today that Obama “has yet to prove that he’s a citizen.” Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they’re (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition.
Who knows if he’s really right or not. But having people like him discuss the possible problem does start to make it a problem.
Let’s remember that once upon a time, William F. Buckley supposedly stood athwart the John Birch Society, yelling “Stop!”, thus creating a conservative movement that was less frightening to the American public. I don’t know to what extent that really happened, but the Republicans did do a reasonable job of keeping the craziest right-wingers quite for a time. Maybe that time is over.
Update. Interesting idea from SGEW:
Prediction: Sarah Palin (who has said that she will no longer be “P.C.” once she leaves office) will dip her toe into the Birther fever swamp within two months. Whether she crosses that Rubicon will be the determinative watershed moment.