With Ted Cruz emerging as a threat in Donald Trump’s path to the Republican presidential nomination, the real estate mogul has looked to blunt Cruz’s momentum by questioning his eligibility to run for president because he was not born in the United States.
Cruz was born in Canada to an American-born mother. But that hasn’t stopped Trump, who memorably fueled the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, from casting doubt on Cruz’s qualifications in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
What is Ted Cruz’s background?
Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada, in 1970 to Rafael Bienvenido Cruz and Eleanor Darragh.
His father was born in Cuba and was not a US citizen at the time of Cruz’s birth. But his mother, Eleanor, was an American, born in Delaware, who never gave up her US citizenship. According to Cruz’s campaign, she lived in Canada under a work permit and at no point applied for Canadian citizenship or permanent residence.
Cruz instantly acquired US citizenship when born and moved to the United States at the age of four. In 2013 he released his birth certificate – which prompted the Dallas Morning News to discover that the Texas senator was also a citizen of Canada based on his birthplace. Cruz, who said he was until then unaware of his dual status, subsequently renounced his Canadian citizenship.
So is he eligible to run for president?
Among the qualifications to run for president of the United States is the requirement that a candidate must be a “natural born Citizen”. Most legal experts have interpreted that to be anyone who is a citizen at birth and who did not need to undergo a naturalization process to obtain citizenship – a definition under which Cruz would qualify.
In a Harvard Law Review article, two former solicitor generals, Neal Katyal and Paul Clement, wrote: “Despite the happenstance of a birth across the border, there is no question that Senator Cruz has been a citizen from birth and is thus a ‘natural born Citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution.”
But some have pointed out that the supreme court has never addressed the question of eligibility for those seeking the presidency as it pertains to citizenship. It was unlikely that the courts would even take up such a case, experts say, and it would be difficult for a citizen seeking to legally challenge a candidate’s qualifications to prove standing.
Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law professor who taught both Cruz and Obama, said the constitutional questions surrounding Cruz’s eligibility are “murky and unsettled” . But he added that the “arc of history” has shown someone like Cruz to meet the qualifications.
How are politicians reacting?
At least some of Cruz’s Republican opponents, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Florida senator Marco Rubio, have dismissed the notion that he is ineligible.
But not everyone has been as willing to come to Cruz’s defense.
Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, sparked a new round of headlines on Monday by deeming the eligibility questions “fair game”.
“When you run for president of the United States, any question is fair game. So let the people decide,” Branstad told reporters at a press conference.
Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who is polling in low single-digit numbers in the Republican race, fanned the flames in several interviews – even quipping that Cruz was qualified to be the prime minister of Canada.
Arizona senator John McCain, who faced similar scrutiny in his 2008 presidential bid over his birth on a US military base in the Panama Canal Zone, also raised eyebrows last week for asserting Cruz’s eligibility “ought to be looked at”. McCain later walked back the comments by noting he was not passing judgement.
Reince Preibus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, declined to weigh in altogether.
“Listen, I don’t get involved. I’m not going to get in the middle of all these candidate issues,” he told Time . “It’s a bad place for me to be. I’ll let all these folks argue about this stuff, and I’m going to stay out of it.”
Cruz’s supporters have claimed that the Republican party’s establishment wing is reluctant to defend the firebrand senator because they would rather he not secure the nomination. Cruz has largely ignored the issue, telling reporters the matter is “settled”.
How might the conversation affect his bid?
Polling continues to show Cruz running neck-and-neck with Trump in Iowa, and there is little indication the birthplace chatter will affect his standing. Reporters who followed the senator on a six-day, 28-county swing through the state last week said voters did not seem concerned with Cruz’s eligibility.
But if Trump continues to amplify the subject, it could easily become a distraction for Cruz. Trump’s relentless focus on Cruz also puts the senator in a tough spot, given his reticence to criticize the Republican frontrunner in public.
“I like Donald Trump, I respect Donald Trump. He’s welcome to toss whatever attacks he wants,” Cruz told reporters in Iowa on Saturday.
Top Republicans could help Cruz quash the issue by rallying more forcefully to his defense. But it is little secret that Cruz has few friends in Washington, many of whom are probably holding out hope for an alternative to prevail over both him and Trump as voters approach the process of selecting their nominee.