It might be hard to believe, but some Republicans still aren't so sure that President Obama was born in the United States. Birtherism, the theory claiming Obama somehow isn't a natural-born U.S. citizen, remains quite popular in the Republican Party. However, the man who led the party when Obama was elected isn't having any of it. In an interview with David Axelrod, former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele called Donald Trump's birtherism "bulls--t racism," and refused to accept it as anything else.
"You cannot say to me that given the 400 plus years of this country, that at the very moment the country decides to elect the first Black man president of the United States, you going to ask for his papers? Seriously? Seriously?" Steele told the former strategist for Obama's presidential campaigns. "I can go all day long about what's wrong with Syria and economic policy and foreign policy with this administration. But I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and say 'You need to show me your papers first.' That's not how this works."
Steele became the first black RNC chair shortly after Obama's first inauguration, and his tenure was controversial for a number of reasons. There were his ham-fisted attempts at minority outreach — he said he'd woo black voters to the GOP with "fried chicken and potato salad," and claimed the party's new public relations team would be "off the hook." A lot of Republicans didn't like it when he implied that he supports a woman's right to choose, or when he suggested that the Republican Party wasn't ready to lead, or when he implied that Obama started the war in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Steele's tenure wasn't a total bust. For one, he presided over the 2010 midterms, which turned out to be a wave year for Republicans. In that sense, he accomplished his number one priority as RNC chair: getting Republicans elected.
Moreover, a couple of awkward comments notwithstanding, Steele did occasionally acknowledge certain truths about the Republican Party's relationship to minority voters that few in the GOP are willing to openly address. In an interview with Roland Martin, he agreed with the proposition that white Republicans are often afraid of black people, adding, "I've been in the room and they've been scared of me." Later, while speaking at DePaul University, he admitted that black Americans "really don't have a reason to" vote Republican.
"People don't walk away from parties," he added. "Their parties walk away from them."
Despite his remarks, Steele has always been noticeably blunter in addressing the GOP's problems with non-white voters than many of his fellow party members. Now — since he's no longer the chair of the RNC — he can afford to be even more so.
But unfortunately, he remains an outlier: According to an August poll, only 27 percent of Republicans are certain that Obama was born in the United States.