The hardline conservatives and "birthers" who have for years urged sharper attacks on Barack Obama today praised a top Romney surrogate for suggesting that President Obama is not American enough to lead.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu told Fox News Tuesday that Obama "has no idea how the American system functions," citing his years in Hawaii and Indonesia. Later in the day, the Romney campaign hosted a conference call with reporters for Sununu, who said, "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
The attacks tapped directly in to some Americans' discomfort with Obama, a lingering doubt expressed in conspiracy theories about his religion and birthplace. It's a line of attack Senator Hillary Clinton rejected with a top advisor suggested it to her in 2008, one Senator John McCain eschewed during his 2008 general election campaign, and a line of attack the Romney Campaign, too, had so far resisted.
But some on the right believe that McCain's squeamishness cost him the election, and today they cheered Sununu's gambit.
"I think it’s about time," said Bryan Fischer, the conservative and anti-Mormon radio host whose complaints were thought to be partially responsible for gay foreign-policy spokesman Richard Grenell's leaving the Romney campaign. "I think a lot of Americans, especially a lot of voters in the conservative base – they are very upset with President Obama's anti-Americanism."
"There’s a lot of agitated energy in the base about President Obama on those issues," Fischer said. "I think Romney needs to tap into that energy."
Conservative blogger Dan Riehl said Sununu's remarks were "actually a pivotal point in the hoped for coming debate."
"I do think it's smart strategy, provided it's handled correctly," Riehl continued. "As long as Sununu and the Romney campaign are careful to frame that discussion appropriately, I'm perfectly comfortable with bringing it up. To the extent Sununu's comments are used to help frame that particular discussion, I very much support his confrontational approach to the topic."
Riehl said that the issue was less of where exactly Obama was born, than of a philosophy that some conservatives view as un-American.
"To many of us who believe in liberty and the approach and traditions that America has long held, President Obama is 'un-American' in his thinking," he said.
Scott Wheeler, executive director of the National Republican Trust PAC, one group that did run slashing ads featuring Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the end of the 2008 campaign, called Sununu's remarks "completely appropriate" and added that "We (conservatives) are constantly being attacked unfairly by the Democrats with descriptions far worse than, 'un-American.'"
He was echoed by Joseph Farah, editor of WorldNet Daily, a conservative website known for propagating birther theories.
"I think it’s about time they took the gloves off," Farah said in an email. "America will, quite simply, not survive another four years of Barack Obama in the White House, so the stakes need to be made clear to one and all. Rush is right! Obama hates America and all it stands for.”
The conservatives, though, may yet be disappointed. Sununu said after his second jab at Obama's national identity that he had meant simply to raise doubts about the president's grasp of capitalism. Another top Romney supporter, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, later distanced the campaign further from his words, saying on MSNBC that Sununu was not "as clear as he should have been."