The chairman of the Republican Party can’t offer an opinion on whether he thinks the frontrunner in Iowa is eligible to be president?
A topic in the news today: Ted Cruz was born in Canada. Is he constitutionally eligible to be President?
Listen, I don’t get involved. I’m not going to get in the middle of all these candidate issues. 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.
That’s interesting because, as Drew McCoy noted earlier on Twitter, Priebus was willing to vouch for Obama’s natural-born status when he was asked about it four years ago, the last time Trump had a Birther spasm over a political opponent. If he’s agnostic now, why wasn’t he agnostic then? The difference this time, it’ll be argued, is that defending Cruz’s eligibility would involve him in a dispute in a Republican primary, which would provoke howls from Trump fans/Cruz opponents of establishment interference. But c’mon. No one seriously believes the RNC is putting a finger on the scale for Ted Cruz. On the contrary, Priebus’s “no comment” is itself being received as proof that the GOP establishment so loathes Cruz that they’d prefer to leave him under the cloud. That’s a form of interference too (although not necessarily to Cruz’s detriment, as he can cite this as the latest evidence that the “Washington cartel” is out to get him). At a bare minimum, in recognition of the fact that they really might be stuck with Cruz as nominee and in the name of tamping down fears of the chaos that would follow if Cruz was suddenly thrown off the ballot after voting began, the party’s chairman should be able to say that the GOP has every confidence that all of its candidates are eligible for the presidency. This isn’t a policy dispute, after all. This is a “does the GOP take the Constitution seriously enough not to nominate candidates who are barred by the Constitution?” dispute. The RNC really has no choice but to go all in on that.
Other Republicans do, of course, have a choice:
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that the issue of whether U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is legally eligible to run for the presidency because he was born in Canada is “fair game” on the Republican campaign trail.
“When you run for president of the United States, any question is fair game. So let the people decide,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly press briefing at the Iowa Capitol.
Branstad is a Christie ally, although I don’t imagine there are many Cruz voters who are looking at Christie as their number two if they start to doubt whether Cruz is ineligible so I don’t know what his strategy is here. Maybe he’s afraid of Trump demagoging him if he goes to bat for Cruz? Maybe he hates Cruz enough himself that he’d rather see Trump win in Iowa? In theory, I suppose, Christie is better off if Trump wins Iowa than if Cruz does even though it may all but guarantee a Trump win in New Hampshire too. If Trump wins the first two states and Christie finishes highest among the “moderates,” he might end up as the “anybody but Trump” candidate for the rest of the primaries. If Cruz wins Iowa, he’s in it for the long haul. And Christie would have trouble beating Cruz.
Meanwhile, lefty law professors are trolling Cruz by arguing that Cruz’s own originalist view of the Constitution would make him ineligible for the presidency:
In his emails to the Guardian, Tribe discussed Cruz’s own approach to constitutional issues, noting that under “the kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the supreme court – an ‘originalist’ who claims to be bound by the historical meaning of the constitution’s terms at the time of their adoption – Cruz wouldn’t be eligible because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and 90s required that someone be born on US soil to be a ‘natural born’ citizen.”
He added: “Even having two US parents wouldn’t suffice for a genuine originalist. And having just an American mother, as Cruz did, would clearly have been insufficient at a time that made patrilineal descent decisive.
“On the other hand, to the kind of judge that I admire and Cruz abhors – a ‘living constitutionalist’ who believes that the constitution’s meaning evolves with the needs of the time – Cruz would ironically be eligible because it no longer makes sense to be bound by so narrow and strict a definition.”
A professor from Fordham Law made a similar case to the LA Times, that Cruz would be considered a citizen neither by birth on U.S. soil or by blood from a citizen parent, which was limited to one’s father. Paul Clement and Neal Katyal disagree, though, arguing that even under the Naturalization Act of 1790, Cruz would be a citizen based on the fact that his mother was a citizen and the fact that his father resided in the United States for a time. Either way, rest assured that not even the dependable lefties on the Supreme Court are going to boot Cruz off the ballot in the middle of an election if he has a whisper of a chance at winning. To the extent this issue matters, it matters only as a way for Trump to cast enough doubt about Cruz in the minds of voters to tilt a close election his way. If Reince wants a bunch of “Birther gambit pushes Trump over top in Iowa!” headlines the day after the caucuses, okay. But then, maybe that’s inevitable at this point. How many votes is Priebus going to sway, really?
Here’s Rand Paul, Cruz frenemy, proving once again that he’s the second-most talented troll in the Republican field. I’ll leave you with this, as it’s the best argument I’ve seen for why no Republicans should rush to Cruz’s aid on his eligibility: If Cruz lacks the nerve to blame Trump instead of the “Washington cartel” for stirring up Birther stuff, why should anyone else muster the nerve to defend him?