Ted Cruz 2016: Presidential Run Would Put Birthers in a Bind


From a strictly political standpoint, the past month has been pretty good for Sen. Ted Cruz. First the Tea Party darling further endeared himself to grassroots rightists by claiming that he had privately told the Republican senators who supported the gun-buyer background check bill to "not be a bunch of squishes." Now he is in the headlines again, this time for being on the receiving end of a senatorial insult namely, Majority Leader Harry Reid's statement that Cruz had acted like a "schoolyard bully" during Senate budget negotiations.

Regardless of what one thinks of Cruz's ideology, it is hard to deny that his conveniently conspicuous clashes with archetypes so deeply reviled by Tea Partiers that is, compromising Republicans and any Democrat to the left of Grover Cleveland makes him at first glance a logical favorite of the so-called "conservative base" for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Indeed, online support for a potential Cruz candidacy is already starting to pop up, with Cruz himself remaining cryptic about his intentions.

This makes it all the more troubling that he was born in Canada.

Although there are valid questions regarding Cruz's legal eligibility to run for president, these aren't troubling in their own right. Section 1 of Article 2 in the Constitution states that only "a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President." While Cruz's case isn't covered by the Fourteenth Amendment exemption (which grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States but says nothing about children born to Americans who happen to be abroad), Section 301(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act extends citizenship to anyone born to an American citizen such as Cruz's mother at the time of his own birth. Consequently, the central issue facing a hypothetical Cruz presidential bid is whether being a "national and citizen of the United States at birth" (Cruz's current citizenship designation) is the same thing as being a "natural born Citizen." Since legal scholars can be found supporting both possible answers to that question and the issue itself has never been tested in court (despite opportunities for John McCain, who was born in the American embassy in Panama), there is no official answer regarding Cruz's eligibility.

Then again, the mere fact that conservatives are seriously considering a Cruz candidacy in the first place is troubling in its own right, as hypocrisy tends to be.

Bear in mind that, when a 2011 Public Policy Polling survey asked Republican primary voters if they thought Barack Obama had been born outside the United States, nearly three-quarters of them were either certain that he wasn't a natural born citizen (51%) or felt they were "not sure" about the matter (21%). A CBS News/New York Times poll taken only a few months later produced a similar result, with roughly two-thirds of Republicans and Tea Partiers declaring either that they were certain Obama hadn't been born in this country (45% for both groups) or that they were "not sure" (22% of Republicans and 21% of Tea Partiers). By comparison, a clear majority of Americans as a whole believed the president had been born here (57%), with only one-quarter claiming he hadn't (25%) and the remainder saying they didn't know (18%).

Of course, according to the logic of Cruz's conservative defenders, none of this matters. After all, no one questions that Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita. If one reasons that Cruz is eligible to run, then naturally Obama was eligible when he ran as well.

This puts the birther half of the GOP in a rather unenviable position. Since they're already on record claiming Obama's non-native birth disqualified him from the presidency, the only way they could ethically support a Ted Cruz presidency would be to admit to themselves that, platitudes notwithstanding, they love the Constitution only when it can be used as a weapon against liberals.

If nothing else, this is one more reason we must hope America never becomes the nation envisioned by the GOP's right-wing base. Should that happen, we may start resembling the England described by Oscar Wilde:

"And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the land of the hypocrite."