"No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate," said Mitt Romney at a rally last week in a Detroit suburb. "They know this is the place that we were born and raised."
This remark created a major stir on the left, a minor stir in the media, and a petit frisson on the right, and it touched the great empty middle of "undecided" America not at all. For better or worse, the undecideds have other things to worry about.
Later, Romney adviser Kevin Madden seemed to temper the remark, telling the media, "The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States. "He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised."
Although some on the right were disappointed that Romney did not pursue this, he was wise not to. This was not the right time. The right time is during a debate. At least one moderator will find Romney's bait irresistible, and I am guessing it will be CNN's Candy Crowley. What follows is a proposed strategy for the Hofstra University debate on October 16. My guess is that Romney has pretty much figured it out already, thus the remark in Michigan:
CC: Governor Romney, in Michigan you told a crowd of supporters, "No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate." Don't you believe that the birth certificate President Obama presented last year is valid?
MR: I have questions about its validity, but that is not why I raised the issue.
CC: Why did you, then? Weren't you afraid that some people, minorities and immigrants especially, will see that as a subtle attack on President Obama because of his race?
MR: Candy, not at all. No one ever asked to see Jesse Jackson's birth certificate when he ran for president or Al Sharpton's when he ran. And they are both black, both proud representatives of the president's party. I raised that issue because of the unique uncertainty surrounding Obama's early years. I know I was born and raised in Michigan. I said as much. I would ask you or the president himself to tell us where he spent the first year of his life.
CC: Mr. President?
BO: Um, um, I am not sure I understand why this question is relevant.
MR: It is relevant because President Obama built his 2008 campaign, indeed his very persona, around the fact that he was born into a happy multicultural home in Hawaii and that he lived there until he was six. That is not true, and he knows it.
BO: Candy, haven't we spent enough time on this question already?
MR: No, Mr. President. We have not spent nearly enough time. Would you please confirm to the American people that your mother and father never lived together and that you spent your infancy in the state of Washington?
CC: Mr. President, is that true?
BO: There is some uncertainty about that first year.
MR: The uncertainty did not end with year one. It was Barack Obama himself who claimed a Kenyan birth in the promotional material his literary agent, Jane Dystel, sent to prospective publishers.
CC: Is that true, Mr. President?
BO: (testily) As the agency explained, that was a clerical error.
MR: A clerical error is saying you were born in Kansas City, Kansas when you were really born in Kansas City, Missouri. Secretaries don't say "Kenya" when they mean "Hawaii." It doesn't happen.
CC: Governor, do you believe he was born in Kenya?
MR: No, I don't. I believe that the president misrepresented himself to make his book more marketable. He has a habit of doing that. Do I have time for one more point, Candy?
CC: Please make it quick. We're on the clock.
MR: Can you or the president please explain how he came up with an 042 prefix on his Social Security card? That is a Connecticut number. How did he get it?
BO: I can assure you that Osama bin Laden did not ask to see my Social Security number when we raided his compound in Pakistan.
MR: Speaking of Pakistan, Mr. President, why did you refuse to mention your trip there in 1981 until soon after an employee of your current deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, was caught breaching your passport file in 2008?
BO: Um, Candy...
CC: Yes, Mr. President, now is the time for a quick commercial message. When we come back, we have a question for the governor on why he and Rep. Todd Aiken want to ban contraceptives. Candy Crowley, CNN News.