Thursday, January 07, 2016

Cruz Birtherism

Ted Cruz's birther problem is not that there is any serious legal threat to his eligibility as president of the United States, it's that for the past eight years, a significant number of the Republican base has bought into the theory that Obama is ineligible to be president, and if you buy that theory logically Cruz would be ineligible as well.

Legally speaking, the Constitution only permits a" natural born Citizen" to become president. The term "natural born Citizen" is not defined in the constitution and no court has ruled on the issue. The general understanding of most legal scholars is that a "natural born Citizen" is someone who becomes a U.S. citizen at birth. There are two ways to do that, either be born within the borders of the U.S., or be born to at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen. However, some people take a narrower view and think that "natural born Citizen" only means someone who was born within the borders of the U.S. That latter definition does not make as much sense because birthright citizenship was not solidly established when the words "natural born Citizen" were written into Article II, Section 1 of the original Constitution in 1789. Birthright citizenship became constitutionally required only when the Fourteenth Amendment was added in 1868, 79 years later. But the popular belief that a candidate had to be born in the U.S. to be president has persisted.

The Obama birthers claimed that Obama is not eligible to be President because he was born outside the U.S., and they spent all kinds of time and effort to prove that the records showing he was born in Hawaii were fake. But the weirdest thing about Obama birtherism was always that even if those records were fake and Obama were born outside the U.S., he still would have been eligible to be president because his mother was an American citizen. Various birthers either didn't address this objection and simply rested on the assumption that you had to be born inside the U.S. to be president, or they made various convoluted arguments that Obama's mother was not able to pass along her citizenship to her son at birth.

If you buy either of those theories, Ted Cruz is not eligible to be President. Ted Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and American mother. If you buy the theory that anyone born outside the U.S. is not eligible, he is clearly ineligible. If you buy the theory that people born between 1952 and 1983 did not automatically get U.S. citizenship through their mother, then Cruz would also be ineligible. He was born in 1970 and his only path to natural born citizenship is through his mother.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe any of this birther nonsense, whether about Obama or Cruz. But there have been various polls that show that a majority of Republicans doubt Obama's eligibility to be president. (e.g.) If they are serious about their belief and care about consistency,1 then they will have doubts about Cruz's eligibility as well.

1-Actually, I think a fair number of Obama birthers are not very serious about their birther beliefs and do not care about consistency. I suspect a fair number of Republicans who claimed to be birthers in opinion polls over the past few years were really giving that answer just to emphasize how much they don't like the president, not that they had seriously considered the legal birther argument and concluded that it was right. But I do think that some non-insignificant number of Republicans did actually buy into the birtherism idea. For those people, it will be hard for them to simply dismiss the same concerns when they are raised about Cruz.