Stupid smirk wiped clean off his dumb mug, RNC Chief Reince Priebus looks scared as he hears the accurate critique "Insane!" hurled at his absurd, racist, bullshit by MSNBC's Chris Matthews.
Specifically, Matthews asked Priebus to explain what Romney, who won the GOP presidential nomination tonight in Tampa, could possibly have been thinking when he said the following during a campaign stop last week in Michigan:
"Now I love being home, in this place where both Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born at Harper Hospital. No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."
While Romney, and plenty of other people, tried to dismiss his remark as an attempt at some kind of humor, the alleged joke came in the wake of the President of the United States being harassed for years by conspiracy theorists claiming Barack Obama was not born in the USA and so cannot legally be president. These "Birthers" (skeptics of Obama's US birth) include Donald Trump, who at one point was considered a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination.
When Romney alluded to that controversy by pointing out that he, Romney, never had that sort of problem, since his citizenship and birthplace had never been in doubt, he raised questions about whether he was attempting to connect to the Birther contingent in the GOP. Even though Romney and the GOP leadership, including Priebus, have affirmed they do not hold Birther beliefs, the GOP has never issued a condemnation of Birtherism as racist, largely because to do so would risk alienating a large number of Republicans.
Matthews, responding to the GOP charge that Barack Obama had run a "negative" and divisive campaign, turned to Priebus and lectured him:
"I have to call you on this Mr. Chairman. You've been suggesting that somehow Obama's been running a negative campaign, and your guy's been running a positive campaign. That's not accurate. [Mitt Romney's] cheap shot about 'I don't have a problem with my birth certificate' was awful. It is an embarrassment to your party to play that card."That was as congenial as things got, and at this point, Priebus was already rolling his eyes, chuckling about the audacity of Matthews thinking it was somehow OK to accuse the GOP of racism. For a moment Priebus made a vain attempt to answer, but Matthews was just getting started. Next he reminded everyone how the GOP had lied in its ads about Obama getting rid of welfare work requirements:
"And you are playing that little ethnic card there. You can play your games and giggle about it. But the fact is that your side is playing that card."At that, the audience in the "Elephant Bar" in Tampa applauded Matthews.
Priebus started looking around for somebody to help him. He would spend a lot of time doing that in the next few minutes. Matthews was pointing out that Romney, who was presuming to be the "real American" hadn't actually gotten as far in life as Barack Obama, the alleged suspect American, when Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida, began a tepid, and hopeless, attempt to rein in Matthews.
"Chris, do you really think..." began Scarborough. Matthews quickly made it clear who was boss on the show and told Scarborough to zip it, because he was still making his point.
Scarborough realized how this looked, and this time got his question out: "Do you think Mitt Romney's playing the race card?"
Matthews affirmed there was "no doubt" Romney had played the race card with the birth certificate remark.
"Wow", remarked Scarborough, as if Matthews was some kind of crazed liberal stooge of Barack Obama (later Priebus would say precisely that about his opponent).
By this time, co-host Mika Brzezinski, who spends most of her time, as the alleged liberal on Morning Joe, feigning mild exasperation at Scarborough and the mostly male, conservative, cast of pundits, was looking at the floor and acting very uncomfortable.
When Matthews demanded to know what exactly Romney was saying by making the comment about not needing a birth certificate, Brzezinski echoed her co-host in defending Romney as an "awkward joker." This was basically what Romney had said as well, and he had insisted such comments had to be OK, because campaigns needed "humor".
Scarborough and Brzezinski kept insisting, really as a formality it seemed, that Matthews give Priebus a chance to respond to the incendiary charges and questions that were coming rapid-fire. Priebus had up to this point benefitted from the fact that he hadn't actually said much of anything. When he started talking, things went from bad to much worse for the RNC head spokesman:
"The fact of the matter is…that [Romney's] from Michigan, he was born in Michigan. He's making the point that 'I was born in Michigan.' And you know what, we've gotten to a place in politics that any moment of levity is totally frowned upon by guys like you, just so you can push your brand. You know what—good for you. It's a moment of levity. Everybody gets it."Priebus apparently didn't get that "everybody gets it" was really part of the point Matthews was making, that Romney was clearly communicating racist code to the utterly white GOP crowd he was addressing and, in fact, everybody there did get it. The Republicans cheered when Romney made the crack about his never having had to show his birth certificate. In the same way, Republicans had cheered and booed at telling times in the Republican primaries too.
At this point, Chris Matthews summed it up, succinctly, asking the whole panel, but particularly Priebus the only question that mattered: "What was the joke?"
Priebus started to answer, and then realized how disastrous it would be to actually explain the racist humor Romney was attempting. Priebus stopped himself, and then tried to deflect the question by pointing out that Barack Obama had made fun of the Birther issue himself a year ago at the 2011 White House Correspondents' dinner. Well, yes, that was true, but Obama was ironically alluding to the absurdity of the president of the United States being compelled (by halfwits) to produce his birth certificate. Romney, on the other hand, was pointing out that "real Americans" such as himself, don't have to prove they're native-born with a government-issued document—white people (the only Americans who matter to the 87% white GOP) just know it by looking at them.
April 30, 2011, Barack Obama laughs at his joke—making fun of racist Birtherism, and especially chief Birther, Donald Trump, at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Obama was also smiling because that night he knew he, via the Navy SEALs, was delivering payback to another jerk, Osama bin Laden.
What else is Obama supposed to do to prove his patriotism and loyalties? Cut his wrists and bleed little American flags? No doubt many, if not most, Republicans, would at least be happy with the means of that test. And no doubt they would claim the flags were made in Kenya—or worse—Europe!
And that brings us to the idea that proved the nadir of Priebus' efforts to sound like something other than a desperate, devious asshat.
After Tom Brokaw, in a much-ignored support of Matthews' general indictment of the GOP, had agreed that Republicans back in the primaries had aimed a lot of unfair attacks at the President that were never "refuted by leaders of the Party", Priebus said that was all rooted in the fact white people could tell Barack Obama wasn't acting like a real American:
"But I think Obama's policies have created a sense that, for whatever reason, he's looking to guidance, as far as health care is concerned, as far as our spending is concerned, as far as the stimulus packages are concerned, he's looking to Europe for guidance."Perhaps this was supposed to sound like a bit of wonkish political analysis, from the right-wing view of course. On most days on Morning Joe, Priebus' evasion would have probably garnered an approving comment or two from the cast, with Brzezinski wrinkling her nose to make sure we know the idea disturbed the smug placidity of a true liberal.
But this wasn't like most days. Matthews had come to ready to lay waste to bullshit as usual.
"What!?", barked an exasperated Matthews, "Where do you get this from? This is insane!"
If it wasn't insane, it was awfully peculiar. But Priebus was sticking to his guns, pointing out over and over again that, in his view, "the takeover of our health care system, called Obamacare, is a problem for most Americans"and that this problem had a "European" origin.
Of course, the problem actually has a GOP origin, as by the time Barack Obama had finished compromising during the 2010 health care debate, by moving massively to the right on issue after issue, to get Obamacare passed, he had essentially adopted the tenets of the Republican health care scheme in Massachusetts—the one pushed through by the Governor of that state in 2006—Mitt Romney.
The latter thought so highly of his program, Romney wrote an article in USA Today, encouraging Barack Obama to adopt the Massachusetts health care plan on a national scale. And Obama did precisely that.
Reince Priebus of course knows this is a fact. And Reince Priebus of course knows that this fact does not help Mitt Romney one bit politically. And so Reince Priebus, while allegedly defending Romney from charges he's an enabler of racist Birtherism or Otherism aimed at Barack Obama, lied about the real origins of Obama's health care plan, falsely implying that somehow it came from Europe—along with, presumably, all of Obama's other foreign ideas.
Again, this time Priebus wasn't going to get away with it.
Matthews fired back, happy to educate the hapless RNC hack:
"Let me tell you some history sir. Teddy Roosevelt pushed for [national health care]. Franklin Roosevelt pushed for that. Truman pushed for that. Are they all under the influence of Europe? Where do you get this from?"Priebus knew where he got "this" from—Republican talking points meant to define Barack Obama as a foreigner, even when the origin of his supposedly "foreign" ideas and policies was the presidential candidate of the Republican Party. And Priebus certainly wasn't going to admit to that. At this point, he turned to the hosts of Morning Joe, and advised them: "I'm not going to get into a shouting match with Chris. So, you guys can move on."
If only it were that easy, Reince. But not this time.
Matthews happily baited Priebus, pointing out he was quitting because he was being beaten. Priebus objected: "No, I'm not losing!…I'm not going to sit here...".
Matthews interrupted, pointing out that everybody in the GOP pushed the racist demagoguery that Barack Obama was a foreigner.
Priebus finally broke: "Garbage! Garbage!"
And Matthews: "It's your garbage."
The look on Matthews' face at the end was one of complete disgust with Priebus, who had gone from smirking and rolling his eyes at the notion he should have to justify the GOP's widespread use of racist rhetoric, to demanding like some child that, in spite of his having been thoroughly whipped by Matthews' relentless refusal to afford bullshit responses any respect whatsoever, Priebus had—well, tied anyway.
In the postgame, where Priebus had time to craft what he must have felt was an appropriate and measured assessment of his very bad morning, he dismissed Chris Matthews as a "jerk" and an Obama surrogate, who didn't rate any concern on Priebus's part because only "10 people actually watched this show". Priebus didn't say his lack of concern was rooted in the fact what Matthews had said was wrong—just that Priebus was confident few people would hear the truth.
Earlier in his comments, Priebus had once again done precisely what Matthews had accused him and the GOP of doing—saying that Obama is not who he claims to be:
"And I'll tell you, when people come to realize that you're not real anymore, that you're not who you said you were, that's a big problem for Barack Obama."
Spoken like a true Birther.
While Priebus insisted he and Romney had been solid and constant rejectors of Birtherism as a helpful political tactic, the problem is that neither of them have denounced that movement as what is is: racism.
Further, when conservative political players such as Donald Trump have adopted and promoted Birtherism, Priebus and Romney have embraced those players, Priebus calling Trump a "credible" candidate for the Republican nomination, in spite of Trump's attacks on the validity of Obama's claim to be US-born.
The failure of Republican leaders to treat Birtherism, and other racist attacks on Obama, as beyond the pale, and requiring the same treatment towards perpetrators as that the party (no doubt reluctantly) meted out to Todd Akin, led to Romney's amazingly stupid swim in the Birther sewer.
Matthews' reaction may sound to some people like some old liberal fart getting his Depends in a twist, just because Romney was having a little "I feel you" time with his white, racist, base.
Certainly, that is how the Breivikbund of the right-wing commentariat will process it.
But people opposed to the self-imposed exile of the Fourth Estate from its proper political role as advocates of the people, as well as those concerned about the obliteration of decency in the USA, will see Matthews' righteous ripping of a new one on the little mustelid mouthpiece Priebus as a rare, act of responsible journalism.