Skip to 1:40 for the key bit. It’s hard to see this as anything but pure spite towards Cruz, of which there’s plenty in Paulworld, for surpassing him as the “conservatarian” choice in the primary. In theory, I guess, raising enough doubt about Cruz’s eligibility could cause some libertarians and “constitutionalists” to run away from Cruz and back to Paul, but how much is that worth to Paul? Five percent, maybe? He goes from an also-ran in the low single-digits to an also-ran in the high single-digits while potentially tipping the race to in Iowa to Trump, the least libertarian candidate in the race. And meanwhile Paul stinks of desperation. I could understand him hitting Cruz hard if they were in a dogfight for their lane of the race, but as it is, Cruz’s success is Paul’s best chance of having a somewhat kindred spirit in the White House on matters like domestic surveillance. At this point, he’ll wield more influence over the next Republican government by dropping out and campaigning for Cruz than by trying to destroy him. The best spin you can put on this is that it’s a bankshot — the Birther attacks weaken Cruz in Iowa, leading to a Trump win, which further weakens Cruz in New Hampshire, leading his libertarian support to defect to Paul there, and then … Paul finishes fifth in New Hampshire behind Trump, Rubio, Christie, and Kasich. Where does Rand go after that? Will ending Cruz be enough to have made this campaign worthwhile to him?

The most noteworthy bit is Paul floating the idea that “natural-born” must mean something distinct from hereditary citizenship or else the Constitution wouldn’t specifically mention it. Right, there is a distinction — with naturalized citizenship, but Rand’s got an agenda here so he’s going to read the clause in the most crabbed way possible. The irritating irony of all this is that none of Cruz’s detractors actually have the balls to file suit to challenge him, knowing that if they win the backlash on the right to their own candidacy would be ferocious and if they lose they’d forfeit this cheap line of attack on Cruz. Not even Trump, who otherwise crows about how good he is at suing people, will own the idea of suing Cruz himself, preferring to warn instead about what Democrats might do. Rand does the same here. If this issue is so serious that the GOP might lose the election by having its nominee thrown off the ballot, Trump/Rand etc should declare that they’re simply doing their duty as loyal members of the party by challenging him in court. Paul, at least, has little to lose in doing so. In fact, if this becomes enough of an issue that Cruz can’t back on message, I wonder if he’ll recruit an ally to quietly file suit somewhere and litigate the issue weakly, hoping that the case will be dismissed for lack of standing or that Cruz will win on the merits. The PR would be distracting but it may reach a point where it’s distracting even if a suit isn’t filed. And if an ally filed suit, Cruz would have control over both sides of the litigation. It’s not an option Cruz will choose yet, but we’ll see how desperate Trump gets in the next three weeks.

Incidentally, if you were hoping to watch Rand say this to Cruz’s face at the debate on Thursday night, you’ll have to keep hoping. He didn’t make the cut for the main stage.