During last night’s GOP debate, Ted Cruz took Donald Trump to take for questioning his eligibility to serve as president. The ensuing heated exchange between the two men dominated both the debate and today’s media coverage of it.
At issue are the circumstances surrounding the Texas senator’s birth. Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, leading Trump to question whether he can be classified as a “natural-born” U.S. citizen under the Constitution.
Until recently, Cruz held dual citizenships in Canada and the United States. He renounced his Canadian citizenship in the run-up to his presidential campaign.
Trump warned that the issue inevitably would result in a distracting lawsuit against Cruz, and today a Houston attorney fulfilled Trump’s prophecy, filing a federal legal challenge over Cruz’s presidential eligibility.
In a 28-page complaint, Newton Schwartz asked the Supreme Court to determine once and for all whether Cruz’s birth qualifies him for the nation’s highest office.
In sparring onstage last night with Trump over the issue, Cruz argued that because his mother is American, he became a U.S. citizen at birth.
But the Supreme Court has never officially considered the eligibility question, which also was raised over John McCain, who was born to American parents in Panama. In that case, the Senate passed a nonbonding resolution with bipartisan support backing McCain’s eligibility.
But even McCain today questioned Cruz’s eligiblity.
Attacking presidential candidates’ birth eligibility has become one of Trump’s chief areas of interest. For years, he’s been a leader in what’s known as the “birther” movement, which is comprised of conspiracy theorists who believe that although Obama’s mother was an American citizen, the president was born in Kenya, which is his father’s homeland. According to birthers, that disqualifies Obama for the presidency.
Obama was actually born in Hawaii, and has released a copy of his official birth certificate, along with a Honolulu newspaper item announcing his birth, to the public. But “birthers,” who are overwhelmingly Republicans, believe the documents are fake.
The issue could harm Cruz. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken from Jan. 7 to Jan. 14, a quarter of Republicans, along with a quarter of independents and voters in general, said they believed Cruz is unqualified.
Only 47 percent of respondents said that Cruz is qualified and 26 percent said they weren’t sure.
But, during last night’s debate, Trump drew loud boos from the audience over his charges that Cruz cannot legally lead the nation.
Cruz responded that Trump was only emphasizing the issue now because the senator’s polling numbers are beginning to threaten Trump’s. Cruz said that the Constitution hasn’t changed recently, but his polling numbers have, and they are driving Trump’s “birther” questions.
Trump acknowledged that was the case, saying that before Cruz’s ascent in the polls there was no reason to bring the issue to the public’s attention.