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Did Donald Trump turn Rick Perry into a 'birther'?

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Craig Ruttle/AP/File

(Read caption) In this Sept. photo Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrives at Trump Tower in New York for a meeting with real estate developer Donald Trump.

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Take one billionaire real estate mogul who doesn’t believe President Obama was born in the United States. Add one Texas governor who is still getting his feet wet as a presidential candidate. What do you get? The seeming appearance of another “birther.”

In an interview with Parade Magazine published Sunday, Gov. Rick Perry took the bait when asked if he thought Mr. Obama was born in the US. He said he had “no reason to think otherwise.” But when pressed for a definitive answer, he mentioned having dined recently with Donald Trump and that Mr. Trump doesn’t think the birth certificate Obama released is real.

“And you said?” Parade asked.

“I don’t have any idea,” Governor Perry said. “It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.”

Distractive, indeed. And now Perry, who is trying mightily to revive his presidential prospects, has created a new distraction. Maybe he’s not a full-fledged birther, part of a fringe that is convinced that Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or maybe Mars and is therefore ineligible to be president. But Perry has now teed up yet another diversion from what should be his dominant message as a candidate: his job-creation record.

Listen, for example, to Bobby Jindal, who won reelection as governor of Louisiana on Saturday and who addressed a recent Republican National Committee meeting in Tampa, Fla. Governor Jindal, who is the son of Indian immigrants, said this: “I do not question where President Obama is from. I question where President Obama is going.”

Jindal may well have his eye on the presidency someday, and he also wouldn’t want “distractive” questions about his eligibility. Ditto Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the rising GOP star and son of Cuban immigrants. He’s faced some birtherism as well – as well as that little flap about misstating when exactly his parents came to the States.

But for Perry, born and raised in Paint Creek, Texas, to two American-born US citizens, the question from Parade set a trap, and he fell for it. Maybe he didn’t get the memo from conservative author Shelby Steele this past May in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Steele warned that anyone running against Obama has to be careful not to go near the president’s “cultural charisma” as the first black president.

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“In 2008, few knew the man and Republicans were walloped by the myth,” Steele wrote. “Today the man is much clearer, and yet the myth remains compelling.”

In other words, it’s the economy, stupid.

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