Expert shinola-stirring by Paul Bedard on a slow summer news day, but the evidence is basically one guy in Iowa reading Facebook posts from Paul fans that he can’t/won’t even cite. Other plugged-in Iowa righties say they’re not hearing anything about it from the Paulites, rather that it’s the local media that’s most interested in Cruz’s eligibility. (Surprise.) The closest we get to a smoking gun is the legislative director from Paul’s Campaign for Liberty being a tiny bit cute in saying he expects a smart lawyer like Cruz will have no problem “getting around” the natural-born requirement.

And yet, because a Cruz/Paul battle for the soul of grassroots conservatism would be the most gripping storyline of the 2016 primaries, the first inkling of conflict is bound to get attention even when there’s not much to it:

“They’re scared and they now keep bringing up the eligibility issue,” Jamie Johnson told the Washington Examiner. Johnson was coalitions director for Rick Santorum’s campaign during the 2012 Iowa caucuses, but he hopes Cruz wins the Republican nomination in 2016. “They are hitting the eligibility issue hard,” Johnson said. “They’re using third-party sources, though; they don’t want it tracked back to Campaign for Liberty [an organization that grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential bid].”…

Johnson, who serves on the Iowa Republican Party State Central Committee, didn’t provide direct evidence that the whisper campaign is underway, but invoked his interaction with Paul’s supporters in the Iowa GOP. ”How do I know? because I talk with them,” he said. “I look at their Facebook posts and their Twitter [feeds].”

The reply from Campaign for Liberty legislative director Jeff Shipley:

“If you’re going to call yourself a true constitutionalist, well, it’s right there in the Constitution,” Shipley told the Washington Examiner during a phone interview. “Obviously, that’s something Mr. Cruz needs to address, that he’s eligible for the office.”

Shipley doesn’t think that’ll be difficult. “With the legal documents, it’s all language, and he’s a very competent lawyer, so I’m sure he can get around it,” he said.

He also addressed the claim that Campaign for Liberty is casting doubt on Cruz’s eligibility. “There probably are some Senator Paul supporters that feel threatened by Senator Cruz, and they may be saying some things, but I think that’s just kind of petty nonsense — I don’t think it’ll amount to much,” Shipley said, noting that he hadn’t heard any Campaign for Liberty people making the argument.

Paul himself said last week that he doesn’t question Cruz’s eligibility, which would make it … difficult for him to raise this later. In fact, I think the real news from Bedard’s piece is Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican website saying that political reporters he’s spoken to believe the eligibility issue will be Cruz’s “biggest hurdle” in Iowa. Really? Which rivals are going to make that an issue in the primaries? Hillary had that option against Obama five years ago and passed on it, sensing (correctly) that it would probably blow up on her by annoying undecideds and making her look desperate. If Paul or Christie or anyone else ends up reduced to navel-gazing about Cruz’s eligibility to win Iowa, that would likely mean Cruz has the caucus all but locked up. As for grassroots anti-Cruz Birtherism, the fuel for that in Obama’s case was antipathy to his liberalism; get O disqualified from office, the logic went, and you stop America’s leftward drift (or slow it, since Uncle Joe Biden was waiting in the wings). How much antipathy to the famously conservative Cruz are you likely to find in the famously conservative Iowa GOP electorate?

In other news today, Cruz reaffirmed that he stands with Rand in the dispute between him and Christie over national security. Exit question: Why would a former Santorum staffer want to set Paul and Cruz against each other this early? Hmmmm.