Mitt Romney surrogate says he wishes President Obama ‘would learn how to be an American’

The Mitt Romney campaign struck a nerve Tuesday when oft-used surrogate John Sununu said he wished President Obama “would learn how to be an American”—an attack that conjured the belief among some conservatives that Obama was not born in the United States.

The remark by Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire, overshadowed the rest of a conference call with reporters that sought to focus attention on federal dollars given to Obama donors.

Sununu clarified his comment later in the call.

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“What I thought I said, but what I didn’t say, is the president has to learn the American formula for creating business,” Sununu said.

The Obama campaign gave Sununu little credit for his explanation.

“The Romney campaign has officially gone off the deep end,” Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “The question is what else they’ll pull to avoid answering serious questions about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and investments in foreign tax havens and offshore accounts. This meltdown and over-the-top rhetoric won’t make things better—it only calls attention to how desperate they are to change the conversation.”

Obama’s reelection team has criticized Romney before for associating with “birthers,” people who allege that Obama was born in Kenya and is ineligible to be president. Obama released his long-form birth certificate last year, which stated he was born in Hawaii.

In May, Romney attended a fund-raiser in Las Vegas hosted by prominent birther Donald Trump . Romney said he believes Obama was born in the United States but rejected the Obama campaign’s call for him to distance himself from Trump.

“I don’t agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” Romney said at the time. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more. And I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”