Republican leaders became unlikely defenders of President Barack Obama’s citizenship and religion against skeptics who still question both.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin denounced accusations that Obama is a secret Muslim who was born outside of the United States at a New York forum on Thursday, supporting GOP strategist Karl Rove’s call to rebuff conspiracy theorists within the party.
Palin responded to questions of the president’s birth and religion as “annoying” and a distraction. She ended discussion on the questions concluding, “Let’s just stick with what really matters.”
A 2011 Public Policy Polling survey revealed that 51 percent of respondents who said they planned to vote in the Republican primary next year also expressed absolute certainty that the president was born in the United States. Another 21 percent said they were unsure of Obama’s birth place.
Additionally, a 2010 Pew Forum survey showed that the number of Americans who believe that Obama is a Christian decreased from 48 percent the previous year to 34 percent the year of the survey.
Rove denounced the PPP poll’s finding as lousy during a Wednesday appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s television show. He also told conservative viewers to shut down “birthers” who claim that Obama was born outside of the United State and is therefore ineligible to hold the office of president.
“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,” he urged.
Of late, GOP lawmakers have skirted opportunities to set birthers straight.
In a Thursday morning interview with “Good Morning America,” Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) answered questions on the president’s birthplace and religion saying, “That isn’t for me to state.”
Last Sunday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think.”
But Rove contended it was important that party leaders talk to the party about those issues.
“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,’” he related.
Both Bachmann and Boehner conveyed in their interviews a personal belief that Obama is an American and a Christian.
“The State of Hawaii has said he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian, I accept him at his word,” Boehner responded.
Many evangelical leaders are also taking Obama at his word when it comes to his faith.
Florida megachurch Pastor Joel Hunter said of birthers’ doubts, “Those of us who've spent time with him and have had a part of forming his spiritual life can testify with certainty of his commitment to Christ."
Hunter is one of the president's spiritual advisers.
President Obama has expressed his religious beliefs during the 2008 campaign trail. In recent months, he has tried to increased favorable perceptions of his faith by attending church services with his family more frequently and expressing his faith more at speaking events.
During his speech at the Feb. 3 Prayer breakfast, Obama shared stories of a prayer circle created by his daughters’ godmother Kaye Wilson. He also shared his personal prayer routine.
"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will,” he testified.