The Republican National Convention kicks off today—or tomorrow, depending upon the weather—in Tampa with two major branding challenges. The first: Republican voters hate President Barack Obama with a passion…but don’t really love presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that much.

The second problem: instead of talking about jobs or the economy—which allegedly are supposed to be the GOP’s strength—last week’s media narrative was dominated by questions surrounding Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin’s outrageous remarks on women, biology and “legitimate rape.” The media chorus demanding answers from Romney grew so loud that the candidate eventually “refused to grant interviews to any reporters who wanted to know about his position on abortion or about Akin,” reported Think Progress. “Only four local reporters got to talk to Romney because of his conditions.”

What do you do if you’re Romney? Try to change the narrative at any cost.

Team Romney’s solution: distract voters with discredited, racist conspiracy theories on President Obama. Romney test-drove a new dog whistle while campaigning Friday in Michigan. “I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” said the Detroit-born, former governor of Massachusetts. “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” he added. The crowd roared in approval.

Privileged much? Voters and politicians have repeatedly asked to see Romney’s tax returns and the gazillionaire venture capitalist has refused—most recently claiming it would infringe on his Mormon faith. Keep telling yourself that, Mitt.

“The crowd loved it. It got a good laugh,” Romney later told CBS New. “I’ve said throughout the campaign, there’s no question about where [Obama] was born. He was born in the U.S. This was fun about coming home.”

The “crowd loved it” because the crowd heard what Romney wanted them to hear: a dog whistle. Romney has repeatedly dismissed so-called “birther” conspiracies and claimed that he believes the President was born in the United States.  So what he calls a “joke” was clearly a wink and a nod to the extreme, racist, Tea Party and “birther” fringe groups that dominate the Republican base.

“Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America,” said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Romney is doing. The right-wing obsessions around Obama’s birth have been officially debunked on numerous occasions. But facts and logic never stand in the way of a good conspiracy theory—especially when conservatives are concerned. This week’s nominating convention will boast speaking roles from no fewer than seven Republicans “who have dabbled in—or fully embraced—birtherism,” notes Think Progress. Include the presumptive nominee and that makes eight. Welcome to the Republican Party of 2012 where racism isn’t a problem—it’s a platform!

The most prominent “birther” speaking in Tampa: Donald Trump. The bombastic real estate developer and reality show host popularized birther conspiracy theories to launch his own short-lived and failed presidential bid in 2011. Romney has refused to repudiate Trump and enlisted his help on the campaign trail. “I don’t agree with all the people who support me,” said Romney in late May. “My guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in.”

Except that Mitt Romney doesn’t “believe in” anything. Romney is a soulless, calculating opportunist who repeatedly tries to play it cute. Claiming that his father marched with the late Dr. Martin Luther King…but telegraphing racist conspiracy theories to the GOP base. Addressing the NAACP convention…but later snarking that the audience wanted “free stuff.” Selecting a vice-presidential candidate who opposes a woman’s right to choose what she will do with her own body…and refusing to discuss that in interviews.

Republican voters are well aware of this— which is why Romney’s negatives are high even among GOP voters. But most voters won’t be distracted by Romney’s “jokes” and take the (race) bait. Mitt Romney doesn’t stand for anything but himself.