Julie Jacobson/AP
Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of 600 people during a gathering of Republican women's groups Thursday in Las Vegas. Trump's flirtation with a White House bid continued that night with a lavish reception at the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas.

Are Donald Trump and his fellow 'birthers' racist?

Donald Trump faces a backlash from those who see the “birther” movement as a new form of racism, which a new study seems to confirm. Trump has problems with conservatives too.

Is Donald Trump a racist? Probably not, although there was that odd moment the other day when he said, "I have a great relationship with the blacks.”

“The blacks?” Hmm. To Frank James, who blogs at NPR, Trump was “sounding a bit like Archie Bunker.”

The most famous promoter of birtherism – the assertion that Barack Obama wasn’t really born in the United States and therefore is ineligible to be president – faces a growing backlash from those who see the whole birther movement as an “insidious new form of 21st-century racism,” as Clarence B. Jones, scholar in residence at Stanford University, put it the other day on Huffington Post.

IN PICTURES: The Donald who would be king

"It's all fun, it's all a circus, it's all a rodeo, until it starts to smack of racism,” TV host David Letterman scolded, speaking specifically of Trump. “And then it's no longer fun.”

"If he comes back on this show, and I am not sure we want him back on this show under these circumstances, he ought to be prepared to apologize just for that kind of behavior,” Letterman added.

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker magazine and author of an Obama biography, wrote this week: “To do what Trump has done … is a conscious form of race-baiting, of fear-mongering.”

“The cynicism of the purveyors of these fantasies is that they know very well what they are playing at, the prejudices they are fanning,” Remnick wrote. “Let’s say what is plainly true … these rumors, this industry of fantasy, are designed to arouse a fear of the Other, of an African-American man with a white American mother and a black Kenyan father.”

A new "Southern strategy?"

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (best known for fighting the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations) says that even if birthers are not racists, “they are shameless opportunists perfectly willing to exploit racism for their own personal benefit, proponents of a second Republican ‘Southern strategy.’ ”

“The continuing conspiracy theories about Obama – from his country of birth to his religion to his relationships with the radical left – come from people who are essentially motivated by antipathy toward black people,” Potok writes in his Huffington Post column.

Can latent racial prejudice be documented as being at the heart of – or at least an important element in – the birther movement?

As reported in USA Today this week, a study led by Eric Hehman of the University of Delaware in the March Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests so.

As part of the study, 295 students were asked a series of questions used to gauge prejudice. Other questions addressed Obama’s performance as president as well as his “Americanism.” Those with a greater tendency toward racism rated Obama lower.

“Many in the media have speculated that current criticisms of Obama are a result of his race, rather than his agenda,” the study concluded. “We believe that the current results are an empirical demonstration that this is sadly the case.”

As analyzed by psychologist Jack Brigham of Florida State University, an expert in racial attitudes research who was not part of the study, "the results strongly support a role of racism in the birther movement,” he told USA Today.

At this point very early in the game, Trump may be the frontrunner among Republican presidential hopefuls – which means he’s still the pick of only 19 percent of GOP primary voters compared to 17 percent for Mitt Romney and 15 percent for Mike Huckabee.

But there’s very little likelihood that Trump could win the nomination, let alone the election. According to Gallup this week, 64 percent of registered voters polled (including nearly half of all Republicans) say they would “definitely” not vote for him.

Trump carries a lot of political baggage.

Much of the billionaire real estate developer and casino mogul’s product line is made in China – not great for someone who says he’d fight to keep jobs in the United States. (He says it’s China’s fault because of currency manipulation.)

Questions have been raised about his avoidance of military service during the Vietnam War, and about the way he treated some small property owners in building his casinos.

Tea party wary of Trump

He’s given campaign contributions to prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and ethically-challenged Rep. Charles Rangel of New York – a fact pointed out in New Hampshire this week by Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, who was nominated with tea party support last year over the establishment GOP pick.

Referring to Trump’s bluster about forcing oil-producing countries to lower prices, the New York Times quoted Paul telling reporters: “He’s always complaining about the president’s education. What economic school teaches you that you can have a bully for a president who sets the prices by just telling countries what price they should charge?”

“That to me shows an economic simplicity that really may not be equivalent to the stature of being president,” Paul added.

Trump may dazzle some Obama opponents with his birtherism, but conservatives have started to speak out about his political past.

“If you look at his actions, if you look at his positions on every core fiscal issue that matters to tea party conservatives, whether it’s the auto bailout, the TARP bailout, and health care … Donald Trump has built his entire empire in defiance of key tea party principles,” conservative columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin told Fox and Friends Thursday.

“It’s time for the tea party conservatives to get serious," she said. "This is the one thing I agree on with President Obama. It’s time to get serious.”

IN PICTURES: The Donald who would be king

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