IT WASN’T A TRICK QUESTION…. One of the easiest questions House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) faced on “Meet the Press” also happened to be the one he seemed most reluctant to answer.

Host David Gregory described it as a “leadership moment” for Cantor, and posed the question this way: “There are elements of this country who question the president’s citizenship, who think that his birth certificate is inauthentic. Will you call that what it is, which is crazy talk?”

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The appropriate answer would have been, “Of course.” Instead, Cantor laughed, and replied, “David, you know, I mean, a lot of that has been an, an issue sort of generated by not only the media, but others in the country. Most Americans really are beyond that.”

So, Gregory asked again. “Right,” the host said. “Is somebody bringing that up just engaging in crazy talk?” Cantor again hedged, saying it’s not “nice” to “call anyone crazy.”

But Gregory didn’t say anyone is “crazy,” he asked about whether a ridiculous conspiracy theory deserves to be characterized as “crazy.” The host pressed further, asking, “Is it a legitimate or an illegitimate issue?” Cantor once again was evasive, saying, “I don’t think it’s an issue that we need to address at all.”

After some more back and forth, Cantor eventually said, “I think the president’s a citizen of the United States.” That’s nice, and Gregory seemed satisfied, but it’s worth emphasizing that the “birther” nonsense isn’t focused on whether the president is a citizen, but rather, whether he’s a natural-born citizen. Cantor seemed to be answering the question, but he really wasn’t.

The Majority Leader clearly didn’t want to talk about this, so the host explained why he was asking: “I think a lot of people, Leader, would say that a leader’s job is to shut some of this down. You know as well as I do, there are some elements on the right who believe two things about this president: He actively is trying to undermine the American way and wants to deny individuals their freedom. Do you reject those beliefs?”

Cantor didn’t answer directly, but was willing to concede, “Let me tell you, David, I believe this president wants what’s best for this country. It’s just how he feels we should get there, that there are honest policy differences.”

The fact that it took quite a bit of cajoling to get to this answer says a great deal about Eric Cantor’s judgment, and his fear of upsetting some of the more hysterical conservatives he counts on for support.

As for his willingness to blame “the media” and “others” for the birther madness, this is a cheap cop-out. Cantor may not want to admit it on national television, but this garbage comes from his party and its base. Cantor had an opportunity to show some class and leadership, denouncing the nonsense. For whatever reason, he was exceedingly reluctant to do so.

So much for his “leadership moment.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.