CNN's John Avlon Spins 'Birther' Issue Into 'Very Concerning' Problem for GOP In 2012

CNN contributor John Avlon, labeled an "independent," was all but sounding the death knell for 2012 Republican presidential hopes on CNN Thursday. Avlon took Republican criticism of notable figures such as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann and spun it to tout that the GOP is in trouble.

"This is the sound of Republicans getting nervous," Avlon ominously sounded. "It really hurts the Republican Party in the long-term."

Anchor Carol Costello opened the segment with a clip of Bush's former senior advisor Karl Rove dismissing Donald Trump as an "inconsequential candidate" over his "embrace of the 'birther' issue." Costello added that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Sarah Palin are under fire from other Republicans and conservatives for some of their own views.
 

Instead of reporting that the GOP has a problem on its hands with "birther" rhetoric from the fringe-right, Avlon took matters a step further and announced that the "responsible Republicans"should be "very concerned," and was quite foreboding about the 2012 election promises for the GOP.

When anchor Carol Costello told Avlon that possible Bachmann has stepped away from the "birther" issue on ABC's "Good Morning America," Avlon deemed it too late for her to garner support from independents. "I think you've got a certain problem where your brand is just deeply, fundamentally tarnished by the rhetoric that's gotten you to this point," he declared.

Avlon also hammered the Republicans for not denouncing the members of their base who believe the "birther" conspiracy. "I don't want to let Republicans off the hook too easy about this," he self-righteously trumpeted, "because this is a problem that they can't simply throw the victim card on."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on April 21 at 9:33 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN anchor: The fight for independents is on and it's taking an odd twist thanks to Donald Trump. There is an effort, it seems, by some on the right to discredit the Donald for the good of the Republican Party, and it's coming from the former senior advisor to President Bush and political consultant Karl Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: He is an interesting candidate who had a business background and could have contributed to the dialogue but his full embrace of the birther issue means that he's off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate. He is now, you know, a joke candidate. Let him go ahead and announce for election on "The Apprentice." The American people aren't going to be hiring him and certainly, the Republicans are not going to be hiring him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: And it's not just Donald Trump, but Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. They're all targets now by some conservative voices.

John Avlon is a CNN contributor and an independent, and he joins us now. Welcome, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: Good morning. So it's interesting. Rove and other conservative voices are actively turning against Donald Trump, and not only Trump but Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin Why do you suppose that's happening?

AVLON: This is the sound of Republicans getting nervous. They realize that they've got a real problem. That responsible voices are being drowned out by folks that pander to the outer reaches of politics. And that may work in the narrow term. But it really hurts the Republican Party in the long-term, especially if they have any hope of winning over those independent voters and translating it to a general election victory.

They've been playing a dangerous game trying to inflame anti-Obama feeling without having it careen into the realm of absurdity. And with Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann and other folks you just mentioned, that's a clear and present danger for the electability of the Republican Party going forward.

COSTELLO: OK. So clearly the Republicans need independents and maybe that's what they are after by trying to get rid of this rhetoric out there, because, you know the Republicans want to beat Barack Obama. They need independents to do that.

So the whole birther issue is not popular among independents like you. And maybe some of these potential presidential candidates are realizing this. Listen to Michele Bachmann on "Good Morning America."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I take the president at his word and I think -- again, I would have no problem and apparently the president wouldn't either. Introduce that. We're done. Move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So Congresswoman Bachmann seems to be stepping away from the issue. So will Independents start listening again?

AVLON: No. I think you've got a certain problem where your brand is just deeply, fundamentally tarnished by the rhetoric that's gotten you to this point. I don't think I want to speak too gracious about Republican candidates who say, "Oh, I take the president at his word," as if this was an issue of honor and debate, rather than pure nonsense and conspiracy theory.

But you're dealing with 41 percent of the American electorate (ph). A new poll came out showing 41 percent of Americans now self-identify as independents. Republicans can make a strong claim for their vote based on reducing deficits and the debt. Here's the deal though. Independent voters overwhelmingly dislike the angry, hyper- partisanship we've seen from Washington. They don't like this extreme rhetoric. They want to try to figure out --

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: But it's been like that for a long time, John. We heard that during the campaign. So why is it still so loud?

AVLON: Because the extremes have become very effective at hijacking our political debates and sucking up all the oxygen. And we the media tend to cover a car crash rather than a constructive conversation. But I don't want to let Republicans off the hook too easy about this, because this is a problem that they can't simply throw the victim card on.

When you've got 51 (ph) percent of Republican primary voters saying they doubt whether the president was born in the United States, that's a problem with your base. That's an education problem. And you need responsible Republicans to stand up and condemn the fringe and separate that from the base. When those two things start blurring, then you open the door to candidates who pander to the lowest common denominator and get a short-term bump. It should make responsible Republicans very concerned.

COSTELLO: Well, maybe that's why Karl Rove is speaking out.

John Avlon, many thanks. Joining us live from New York.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014