Rudy Giuliani's remarks questioning President Barack Obama's love for this country have been thoroughly slammed and mocked over the past two days, but chances are, they seem entirely reasonable to a significant chunk of Americans.
"I do not believe — and I know this is a horrible thing to say — but I do not believe that the president loves America," the former New York City mayor said at a private gathering of conservatives Wednesday. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.
The comments hit people — from political insiders to columnists — as somewhere between deeply troubling and totally laughable. "It was a horrible thing to say," said White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz. CNN contributor Errol Lewis called the remarks "ugly" and "divisive." New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio dismissed them, telling reporters Thursday that they represented a "cheap political trick." Even Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz weighed in. His take: "vicious" and "profoundly divisive."
Giuliani has pushed back against claims that his effort to strip Obama of his patriotism is racist, saying, "It has nothing to do with race," because "[Obama] was brought up, by the way, by a white mother and white grandparents." But if it's a coincidence that this line of attack (which the New York Times' Alan Rappeport pointed out Friday has plagued Obama since his first run for the White House) just happened to stick when it came to the first black president, it's a big one.
In any case, even Giuliani's Republican peers seem to realize it's rather absurd to question whether someone who's dedicated his career to public service loves the country, and even further out of bounds to declare that he's lied about his feelings, thereby suggesting he has some nefarious motive to be in the White House. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declined to weigh in on the comments. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Giuliani "should have used different phraseology."
So why would the former New York City mayor say something that so many fellow politicians would scoff at or dismiss as inappropriate?
Well, that's the thing: step outside of the political arena, and those comments are closely aligned with what a lot of Americans think about Obama.
In fact, there are plenty of people who have long been committed to buying the story created in 2008 about how Obama is an outsider, when it comes to his feelings about the country, his religion, and even his very citizenship. Giuliani's words simply tapped into something that many are all too happy to believe: that Obama is somehow not one of us and fundamentally different (in a way that could potentially be scary).
The evidence: In an Economist/YouGov poll conducted less than a year ago, a full 23 percent of Americans said they still believed it was possible that Obama was born outside the United States. Fifteen percent were absolutely sure of it. This is despite the fact that he produced a Hawaii birth certificate in 2011. Among Republicans, the numbers were even more shocking: two thirds disagreed with the statement that the president was born in the states.
Of course, it goes without saying that you can be born somewhere else and still love and serve America. But if so many people believe in birtherism, why wouldn't they believe something much more subjective — something that can't be proven wrong with documentation — about Obama's love for the country?
Giuliani knows the answer: they would believe it.
Bizarre as it may seem, a large chunk of Americans are committed to believing a story about Obama being foreign, when it comes to everything from his place of birth to his emotions about this country. To them, the comments about his lack of love for America probably aren't crazy in the least.
So, while commentators destroy Giuliani for his "troubling, " "ugly," divisive," comments, keep in mind that while he may be all these things, he's not dumb — and he knows who's listening.