Donald Trump said in an interview yesterday that the issue of Ted Cruz’s eligibility to serve as president was “very precarious” and could cost the candidate if he won the GOP nomination.
It should be noted that Trump did not question Cruz’s eligibility himself. The candidate was pointing out that any court challenges to Cruz’s eligibility would take years and be a drag on the senator’s campaign.
“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem,” Trump said when asked about the topic. “It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.”
Trump added: “I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”
Cruz responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter later Tuesday evening by referring to an iconic episode of the sitcom “Happy Days,” in which the character Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis. The image has become a symbol of something shopworn and overdone.
Trump’s remarks — part of a backstage interview before a rally here Monday night — come as Cruz is rising as a serious threat in the presidential campaign, especially in Iowa, where some polls have shown Cruz eclipsing the billionaire mogul. The two have had a cordial and at times even friendly relationship over the past year, but they are competing intensely for the support of conservatives as the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses draw near.
Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father. Conventional legal wisdom holds that regardless of where he was born, the fact that one of his parents is an American meets the natural born citizen requirement in the Constitution.
Not all agree.
Same lawyers who said anchor babies are in the Constitution now tell us being born outside U.S to 1 American parent = natural born citizen.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 6, 2016
NYT: Cruz was born outside the U.S. to 1 American parent: “Under the Constitution this makes him a ‘natural born citizen.’” Absolutely false — Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 6, 2016
Coulter’s views are not in the mainstream of legal thinking on the issue:
The Constitution requires a president to be a “natural-born citizen.” Anyone born to a U.S. citizen is granted citizenship under U.S. law, regardless of where the birth takes place, as long as the citizen parent has resided in the United States or its territories for a certain period of time. At the time of Cruz’s birth, the required period was at least 10 years, including five years after the age of 14.
Cruz’s mother was a U.S. citizen when he was born in Calgary in 1970; his father was born in Cuba. Cruz has long said that because his mother is a citizen by birth, he is one as well and fits under the definition of a natural-born citizen. Since his election to the Senate, Cruz has released his birth certificate and renounced his Canadian citizenship.
Legal scholars agree that Cruz meets the Constitution’s natural-born citizenship requirement, though it is untested in the courts.
Was Trump hinting that he might mount a legal challenge to Cruz’s eligibility to serve as president? No doubt Trump considers it an option. If Cruz continues to surge in the polls and then pulls off a few early primary victories, Trump might attempt it — if only to corner media coverage for a few days to slow the Texas senator’s momentum.
But the gambit could backfire on Trump. Republicans across the board would resent Trump bringing a damaging issue like this to the fore of the campaign. Even raising it now, if only to speculate on what a court challenge could mean to the Cruz campaign, is not likely to win him many additional friends in the Republican Party.
If Trump falls short in his bid for the nomination, it seems likely at this point that Cruz would emerge as the favorite. While the candidate attempts to laugh off the issue, there are more than a few voters on both sides who are likely to take it seriously.