Karl Rove: GOP Must Denounce Birthers, Not Coddle Them

Karl Rove is warning Republicans that they’re playing a dangerous game if they fail to call out the birthers in their own ranks:

ROVE: Republicans had better be clear about this.

We had a problem in the 1950’s with the John Birch Society, and it took Bill Buckley standing up as a strong conservative and taking them on.

Within our party, we’ve got to be very careful about allowing these people who are the birthers and the 9/11-deniers to get too high a profile and say too much without setting the record straight.

BILL O’REILLY: What percentage of Republican voters — 5%, 10%?

ROVE: I don’t know, but whatever it is, it ought to be less, because we need the leaders of our party to say “Look, stop falling into the trap of the White House and focus on the real issues.”

O’REILLY: You know this stat that was put out — that 51% of Republicans…

ROVE: … look, this is a lousy poll.

O’REILLY: I know it is, but it’s going to be picked up — it already has been by the mainstream media.

ROVE: Absolutely.

O’REILLY: To demonize the rest of the Republican party.

ROVE: Sure, it fits into the White House theme-line.

O’REILLY: But isn’t that smart of the White House to do that?

ROVE: Oh, absolutely.

Look, these guys may be lousy at governing, Bill, but they’re damn good at politics.

O’REILLY: So it’s a smart strategy….

ROVE: … sure it is, because if we are where we are, which is we have a group of people out there who keep repeating this, and we’ve yet to get into a place where candidates are being asked about this in debates — look, don’t you think in the Fox debate or one of these debates that’s gonna be televised, candidates are going to be asked about this?

If they’d step forward and say “Look, we’ve got better things to talk about, then to fall into this trap that the White House has laid for us”, this issue will start to go away.

It seems to me that it would be very easy for Boehner and the others to stand up and denounce these people, but they don’t do it and they give a response that makes it clear they wish the issue would just go away. By my estimation, it’s only going to go away when the GOP leadership stands up like William F. Buckley, Jr. did with the John Birch Society.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    How to respond?

    First, Rove is his usual dishonest self. He’s blaming Obama for the undeniable fact that Republicans are cretins? Yeah, that’s right, it was the special Obama Jedi mind trick that conjured Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Bachmann and Palin.

    Second, don’t listen to Rove’s core advice: do not stop obsessing over birth certificates. Als do not stop the gay-bashing and the immigrant-bashing and the racism. Please keep it up because the future truly belongs to mentally unhinged 70 year-old, white rustics. That’s your party! Cling to the base!

  2. reid says:

    Oh, the irony of Rove stating that Obama and crew are bad at governing but good at politics. That’s the Republican party in a nutshell, particularly the Bush/Rove combo.

  3. mantis says:

    It has become an article of faith among non-birther Republicans (and even some of the birthers) that the birther phenomenon is a product of the White House. It’s completely absurd, considering Obama tried to put all this to rest by releasing his birth certificate and pushing back hard on the meme during the campaign, but they believe it completely.

    Jay Tea will probably be here soon to tell us all how this is all Obama’s strategy to dupe more than half of Republicans into believing something demonstrably false, by ignoring it entirely for the last two years. Such cunning!

    Republicans: those that aren’t totally crazy are completely stupid.

  4. michael reynolds says:


    It’s their version of a “big tent” strategy: crazy and stupid, united in one party.

  5. tom p says:

    What would Karl Rove know about good governance?

  6. Herb says:

    “By my estimation, it’s only going to go away when the GOP leadership stands up like William F. Buckley, Jr. did with the John Birch Society. ”

    In order for this to happen, there must first be something known as the “GOP leadership.” Neither Boehner nor Cantor nor anyone else can stand up definitively and say, “Stop it. Seriously, people, just stop this nonsense.” Boehner admitted his job is to “listen to the American people,” not correct them when they’re wrong. (Or as he put it, “tell them what to think.”)

    Neither one of them have said, “I believe Obama is a Christian.” They always —always— say things like, “I take him at his word,” when they know good and well that Obama’s word is worth nothing to these people.

    Here’s an idea: Instead of hoping the cowards in the “leadership” stand up to the birthers….get yourself some new leaders.

  7. Matt B says:

    @herb: In order for this to happen, there must first be something known as the “GOP leadership.”
    No actually, for that to happen the crazies have to go after someone within their own party who is all but beyond reproach. What got the Birchers kicked out was Welch’s repeated public claims that Eisenhower, the sitting Republican president, was a commie tool and a traitor. It was still an important move for Buckley, but worlds apart from dismissing anyone for attacks on the leader of your political opposition.

    No one’s going to throw them out because all of them (Conservative Inc.) know just where to stop the crazy train without hurting their bottom line. In fact, what seems to be the far more common is that anyone who intelligently critiques the beyond reproach truths held by “Conservative Inc.” (the fallacy of global warming, the ever present, the homosexual agenda, immediate threat of the brown, the qualifications/seriousness of certain gadfly Governors) are going to be the ones put to the curve (see recent CPAC post).

  8. Kylopod says:

    >By my estimation, it’s only going to go away when the GOP leadership stands up like William F. Buckley, Jr. did with the John Birch Society.

    That’s a Catch-22. Any Republican who clearly and unequivocally stands up to the birthers will be rejected as a “leader” of the party. But even if Boehner and company come out and say that it’s nonsense, that won’t kill it. Even when Republicans reject the “birther” conspiracy theory, many of them continue to embrace–explicitly or through insinuation–the themes that allow birtherism to flourish: the idea that we don’t know who Obama is, the idea that he’s a radical who’s fundamentally altering the country unlike any previous president, the idea that he doesn’t share our values, etc. There is currently no Republican who can maintain his status in the party while explicitly rejecting those themes. And that speaks to a deeper problem that cannot be cured by simply having influential people in the party standing up to it.

  9. john personna says:

    The idea that Obama is behind the birthers is like, double secret paranoia