Remember when a Republican governor of a big state was a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and Democrats made a big deal about the fact that not only wasn’t he born in the United States, he was born in a polygamist community in Mexico? No, of course you don’t, but they had the opportunity:
George Wilcken Romney was thus born in Colonia Dublán, Galeana, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua – one of the Mormon colonies in Mexico – on July 8, 1907, to American parents. George had three older brothers and would gain two more brothers and a sister. Gaskell Romney was a successful carpenter, house builder, and farmer who headed the most prosperous family in the colony.
The Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910 and the Mormon colonies were endangered in 1911–1912 by raids from marauders, including “Red Flaggers” Pascual Orozco and José Inés Salazar.Young George heard the sound of distant gunfire and saw rebels walking through the village streets. The Romney family fled and returned to the United States in July 1912, leaving their home and almost all of their property behind. Romney would later say, “We were the first displaced persons of the 20th century.”
I wonder if the birthers will engage in some form of transitive birtherism, and question Mitt Romney’s eligibility due to his father being born in Mexico?
George Romney wasn’t the only 1960’s Republican presidential candidate whose place of birth, according to the position of some of today’s birthers, would have made him ineligible for the presidency. Some birthers–who apparently don’t know how to look up the history of Hawaii on Google–mistakenly think Hawaii hadn’t yet become a state when Obama was born there in 1961. (Hawaii became a state in 1959.) But in 1909, when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was born in Phoenix, Arizona was three years away from being granted statehood. But Democrats didn’t make a big deal about it (and there was no good practical reason they should have, since LBJ crushed Goldwater in the 1964 election).
There were questions about Obama’s birth during the 2008 election, but they weren’t yet mainstream, which leads to the question: why didn’t the birther phenomenon take off during Obama’s 2008 campaign against John McCain? There’s quite a bit of racism driving birtherism, and it should be pointed out that while there was a tremendous amount of scurrilous race-baiting directed against Obama during the last campaign–and not just by conservatives and not only after the Democratic primaries–John McCain and his own campaign refrained from the kind of race-baiting common in previous Republican campaigns. For instance, Ronald Reagan started his 1980 campaign talking about state’s rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site just 16 years earlier of the lynching of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. The elder Bush ran the infamous Willie Horton ad.
But McCain never got down in to those gutters. Maybe it’s because McCain possesses a bit more decency than Reagan or Bush. It also would have been riskier for him, because unlike Reagan and Bush his opponent was a Black man. But it’s also possible that his campaign also didn’t want to draw attention to the murkiness of birthright citizenship, as McCain himself was born neither in a state nor a territory that’s become a state, but in Panama. I think it was right that McCain was deemed eligible for the presidency, but as the Wikipedia article shows, his case wasn’t without complications.
This does raise an interesting possibility; had the Republican nominee against Barack Obama been someone whose eligibility for the presidency was completely unambiguous, might Republicans have done more to encourage birtherism during the campaign? I suspect not, because I think it marginalizes GOP. Furthermore, had the nominee not been McCain, it would most likely have been Romney, who as shown above has his own complicated family history with regards to the Constitutional requirement that a president be a natural born citizen. But seeing how the Republican base has been captured by birthermania, it’s hard to say with great confidence that birtherism wouldn’t have been more openly embraced by the Republican party in 2008.