Republicans should extend to Donald Trump and Moammar Gadhafi their heartfelt thanks for giving them the opportunity to finally rid the party of its destructive "birther" distraction.
Of course, to do this, they will have to get rid of Donald Trump, too. He was cheered at February's Conservative Political Action Conference and has been polling absurdly well, but given his latest antics, it ought to take GOP stalwarts only seconds to tell the would-be presidential candidate, "You're fired!"
It's been perfectly clear for about three years now that questions about Mr. Obama's nationality have no traction. Whether he is a native-born American or has a valid birth certificate or (most recently, thanks to Mr. Trump) was born at a particular hospital -- reasonable people have long since felt the matter settled.
The only ones being hurt by the regular roiling of these waters are those who oppose Mr. Obama on a higher plane -- namely, the majority of Republicans and independents who do not dwell on the lunatic fringe.
Since the media's modus operandi is to find (or create) drama, they are only too happy to report the extremists' conspiracy theories -- or the must-see moment of a "reality TV" star and real-estate billionaire spouting such theories on coffee-klatsch television -- thereby painting the entire principled opposition with a minority's lurid brush.
It's so predictable and effective that you can almost spot a new partisan conspiracy behind it: Perhaps Mr. Obama's sympathizers are deliberately withholding unassailable documents, or posing as wacky Republican candidates, or sending bizarre letters from their foreign thrones to "our son, Excellency, President Obama," in order to keep the feeble-minded in a dither and thus hobble the president's saner opponents as budget negotiations grind on and the new election campaign begins.
Think about it, birthers -- Mr. Trump and Col. Gadhafi could be working in tandem. They do have a lot in common -- wild hair, great wealth and an apparently bottomless need for attention.
There are differences, of course: One rules his empire with a will of iron, and the other rules Libya.
For better or worse, Mr. Gadhafi is Mr. Obama's problem now, but Mr. Trump is the Republicans' -- and they can't even decide if he's one of them.
Reporters digging into Mr. Trump's political history have pointed to his pattern of donating money to Democratic and Republican candidates alike. He and his apologists have pointed out that a real estate mogul must grease all palms in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City in order to survive or, in his case, prosper wildly.
But that doesn't explain the $50,000 he gave Chicago mayoral candidate (now mayor-elect) Rahm Emanuel -- Mr. Obama's former chief of staff, a legendary partisan and (like his most recent boss) also a far-sighted pragmatist.
In fact, dear conspiracy theorists, Mr. Trump's gassy display is just the sort of gleeful tactic Mr. Emanuel would approve of -- or invent. It diverts attention from more substantive issues, most of which poll badly for the president, and it makes people of good will hesitate to get lumped in with a too-easily ridiculed opposition.
It was a majority coalition of those same "people of good will" who swept Mr. Obama into office in 2008. Absent any specific agenda, "identity politics" broke in his favor; people wanted to identify with a cool, positive, post-racial candidate and thought the birther crowd sounded racist and sour.
He's still the same man, but the independents are deserting him. Six months after his inauguration, Mr. Obama's support among independent voters stood at 56 percent in Gallup polls, but by July 2010 it had dropped below 40 percent for the first time, to 38. Last week, as the president announced his deficit reduction goal and Congress voted on the budget, his support from independents plunged to 35 percent.
What turned them against him is his performance as president. When the campaign's amorphous euphoria vanished, they saw how far left he governed and how badly his policies panned out.
What birthers, whether Trump-ish or sincere, haven't figured out is, it's not that Obama's foreign, it's that his ideas are foreign. They are so destructive to the economy and to the rule of law that, if left unchecked and unchanged, they will destroy the American dream. In other words, it's not the identity, stupid -- it's the ideas.
Independents aren't the only ones disillusioned. Some congressional Democrats have publicly (though anonymously) expressed sentiments like "How do we get rid of this guy?"
Republicans should be asking the same of Trump. At this point, "The Donald" can only hurt the GOP. Who needs his name recognition and crazy stunts when the party can win in 2012, as it did in 2010, on the power of ideas?
Ruth Ann Dailey: firstname.lastname@example.org .