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Chris Matthews to GOP chair: 'You are playing that ethnic card'

Although the Republicans' Florida convention is on hold due to weather, the debates are moving forward starting with MSNBC host Chris Matthews and the chair of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus. The pair got into it Monday morning on the set of Morning Joe, which is broadcasting live from Tampa.

Matthews accused the Romney campaign of taking a "cheap shot" and "playing the race card" with Mitt Romney's comment last week that no one has ever asked to see his birth certificate. The campaign has defended it as a harmless joke, not directed at the president, but simply an acknowledgement of where Mitt and his wife Ann were born.

Matthews, to Preibus:

I have to call you on this Mr. Chairman. You’ve been suggesting that somehow Obama has been running a negative campaign and your guy is running a positive campaign, but that’s not accurate. They’ve both been negative. That cheap shot about 'I don’t have a problem with my birth certificate [from Romney] was awful. It is an embarrassment to your party to play that card. This part about getting rid of the work requirement for welfare is dishonest. You are playing that ethnic card there.

You can play your games and giggle about it, but the fact is your side is playing that card. When you start talking about work requirements, you know what game you’re playing, and everybody knows what game you’re playing. It’s the race card. Yeah, if your name is Romney, yeah you were well-born, you went to prep school. Yeah, brag about it. Yeah, this guy [Obama] has an African name and he has to live with it.

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough asked Matthews to clarify. "You think Mitt Romney’s playing the race card?" 

"There’s no doubt he did on the birth certificate," Matthews said. "Why would he bring it up?...And I think the work requirement fits right into it."

Priebus disputed Matthews' accusation.

"You got your monologue in, so congratulations," Priebus said. "The fact of the matter is he’s from Michigan, he was born in Michigan. He’s making the point that 'I was born in Michigan.' We’ve gotten to a place in politics where any moment of levity is totally frowned upon by guys like you just so you can push your brand. It’s a moment of levity. Everybody gets it." 


"What's the joke?" Matthews asked. "I don't get it."

Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinksi suggested it was an ill-timed, ill-written joke on the Republican candidate's part. "He misfired badly on the joke," said Scarborough.

"Mitt Romney has continuously said the president was born in this country. It's a non-starter, it's a dumb issue, it's a distraction," Priebus added.

They continued like this for a while.

"Garbage, garbage," Priebus said, shaking his head.

"It's your garbage," Matthews fired back.

"We went from a tropical storm to Hurricane 3," joked guest Tom Brokaw.

Cue commercial break. 

Watch the clip above.