This morning on NBC’s Meet the Press, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) repeatedly refused host David Gregory’s invitation to call questions about President Obama’s citizenship illegitimate, and he also declined to call such rhetoric “crazy,” saying “I don’t think it’s nice to call anyone crazy, ok?” After several prompts from Gregory, Cantor eventually said he believes the president “is a citizen of the United States”:
GREGORY: This is a leadership moment here. There are elements of this country who question the president’s citizenship, who think that his birth certificate is inauthentic. Will you call that what it is, which is crazy talk?
CANTOR: [laughs] David, you know, a lot of that has been an issue sort of generated by not only the media but others in the country. Most Americans really are beyond that and they want us to focus —
GREGORY: Is somebody who brings that up engaging in crazy talk?
CANTOR: David I don’t think it’s nice to call anyone crazy, OK?
GREGORY: Alright. Is it a legitimate or illegitimate issue?
CANTOR: I don’t think it’s an issue that we need to address at all. I think we need to focus on trying –
GREGORY: His citizenship should never be questioned in your judgment, is that what you’re saying?
CANTOR: It’s not an issue that even needs to be on the policymaking table right now.
GREGORY: Because it’s illegitimate? Why won’t you just call it what it is? Because I feel like there are a lot of Republican leaders who don’t want to go as far as to criticize those who –
CANTOR: I think the president is a citizen of the United States.
Cantor’s first attempt to deflect blame for birther conspiracies onto the media and “others in this country” is a dishonest denial of the fact that birth certificate conspiracies have distinctly right-wing origins, as Gregory notes. The theories frequently bubble up at Tea Party rallies and on popular conservative websites like World Net Daily. Fox News also frequently traffics in conspiracy theories about the president’s birth certificate.
In addition, there are several elected officials who have raised questions about Obama’s real birthplace, including several Republicans in the House of Representatives that Cantor leads. For example, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) has said “I really don’t know” if Obama was born in the United States. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) has also said he doesn’t know if the president is a citizen. In fact, a tally kept at World Net Daily claims that the following members of Cantor’s caucus doubt the president’s citizenship: Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL), Dan Burton (R-IN), Ted Poe (R-TX), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Campbell (R-CA), John R. Carter (R-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Kenny Marchant (R-TX).
Gregory offered Cantor a “leadership moment” to repudiate the “crazy talk” coming from many members of Cantor’s caucus, and his reluctance to do so was unfortunate particularly in the wake of President Obama’s calls for a more civil discourse. Instead, Cantor sheepishly claimed it’s not “nice” to call people crazy. But he’s less restrained when it comes to liberals. During a June 2009 appearance on Morning Joe, he called the Democrats’ health care plan “crazy talk.”