Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) took to conservative radio on Thursday to explain why he walked back his statement that the president is “not an American,” regardless of whether debunked conspiracy theories about his origins are correct. Above all, he had a warning for birthers: You’re practicing bad politics.
“If I had to do it over again I think I would have said, ‘Let’s move from this birther question, the president was born in the United States, period,’” Coffman said in an interview with local station K-HOW. “‘Let’s just move on and let’s focus on the issues that are going to win this election. And secondly, let’s not ascribe this to those who oppose us that they’re any less Americans than we are.’”
A week earlier, Coffman had said at a fundraiser: “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.” He quickly issued a press release walking it back, but shunned follow-up questions on the incident. On Tuesday, he repeated the same statement, “I misspoke and I apologize,” five times to a television crew that approached him after an event, offering no further explanation.
Coffman told K-HOW on Thursday that he regretted suggesting the president was anything other than American, and repeatedly emphasized that suggesting as much was also bad optics. The host asked Coffman whether he was “speaking from the heart” when he made his initial incendiary remarks and simply recanted “for political reasons.”
Coffman admitted there might be truth to that assessment. “You know, to some extent that’s true, because I think that when, when Republicans are not talking about jobs and the economy, when we’re not on message, the other side is winning,” Coffman said.
He elaborated on why he felt the topic was a general election loser.
“We’ve got to focus on the issues,” Coffman said. “That’s going to determine this election. Not focusing on the birther question. God bless people that do that. I understand their passion. I understand that they think that if they can prove that he’s not, that you know, that’s going to change everything. I just, you know, we’re over three years into this presidency, at what point do you move on?”
He added that his offending comments were at a “a closed-door gathering and it was off the record,” but still said he should have both repudiated birtherism and stressed that Obama’s patriotism was not in question.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.