Mitch McConnell: Why no, the Senate won't pass a resolution affirming Cruz's eligibility like it did for McCain

A leftover from Sunday that I missed yesterday. If you’re going to stand on the Senate floor and call the majority leader a liar and a crony, I guess you shouldn’t be surprised when he won’t do you a favor.

Although … this is sort of a favor to Cruz, isn’t it? Every time he gets to tell his fans that it’s McCain or McConnell who’s behind the attacks on eligibility rather than Trump, it makes it easier for populist voters to dismiss them out of hand.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says the upper chamber won’t issue a resolution on whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is constitutionally eligible to run for president.

“I just don’t think the Senate ought to get into the middle of this,” McConnell said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “These guys will all slug it out in Iowa and New Hampshire. We’ll have a nominee hopefully by sometime in the spring.”…

The Senate previously issued a resolution [in 2008] confirming then-nominee John McCain’s eligibility to serve as president. The Arizona senator was born on a military base in Panama to American parents.

Actually, that may be a favor twice over. If McConnell brought that resolution to the floor, how would the vote go? Democrats had an incentive to join with Republicans in 2008 to confirm McCain’s eligibility, partly because they didn’t want to be seen as questioning the citizenship of kids born to military personnel abroad and partly because they knew it’d discourage the GOP from attacking Obama’s eligibility. Those incentives aren’t present with Cruz. You might get a bunch of Democrats (and a few Republicans, starting with Rand Paul) either voting no or “present,” which would give the issue even more momentum in Iowa. Imagine what Trump would do with the news if, say, 30 senators refused to vote yes in affirming Cruz’s eligibility. And imagine how Cruz fans would react to McConnell if he forced that vote, knowing how it might backfire on their guy. You can understand why McConnell’s laying low here.

I still can’t understand why Reince Priebus is, though. Especially after this:

Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is supporting Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on the question of whether he’s a citizen legally qualified to serve as president of the United States…

“No, I have no doubt. Senator Cruz is a natural born citizen by virtue of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Wasserman Schultz said.

I’m … not sure why the Fourteenth Amendment, which addresses the citizenship of people who actually are born in the United States, would settle the question of whether someone born abroad like Cruz is a citizen, but let’s not get caught up in details. There’s no strategic advantage I can see in Wasserman Schultz handing Cruz a soundbite like this, knowing that members of her party really might try to challenge him later if he’s the nominee. Her angle, I think, is simply to exploit the moment to urge a broad reading of the Fourteenth Amendment so that she can say later, regarding birthright citizenship for illegals, “I was willing to give Ted Cruz the benefit of the doubt on citizenship. Why won’t Republicans give the benefit of the doubt to the ‘undocumented’?” Either way, we’re in a weird place where the chair of the DNC is vouching for Ted Cruz’s eligibility while the chair of the RNC studiously refrains. You’re not “meddling in the primaries” by asserting that each of the party’s candidates is constitutionally qualified to hold the office he’s running for. You would, however, piss off Donald Trump by doing so, which of course is the real reason Priebus is afraid to speak up. Remember that the next time Trump insists that the Republican leadership is weak. He’s not wrong.

YouGov conducted a national poll this week of whether adults agree with Trump that Cruz might not be eligible or with Cruz that he is. That’s not a hugely useful sample — a poll of Iowa, with crosstabs for how Trump’s and Cruz’s own voters feel about this, would have been much better. But this is the data we have, so here you go:


If that 18-19 percent consists mostly of Democrats and/or Trump fans who won’t vote for any other candidate, Cruz is fine. If it consists of Trump fans who are persuadable on Cruz or Cruz’s own voters, Cruz has a big problem. Erick Erickson posted earlier today that he thinks Trump’s attack on Cruz’s eligibility is actually a gift to Cruz in that it’s revealed how many leading members of the “Washington cartel,” starting with McConnell and McCain, despise Cruz enough not to go to bat for him. (Mitt Romney did go to bat for Cruz, but never mind that.) I’m highly skeptical of that. Cruz is trying his hardest to frame the issue that way, but realistically he’s fighting a losing battle given how yuge Trump’s media megaphone is. Everyone in Iowa and New Hampshire knows who’s leading the Birther charge, which makes it hard for Cruz to argue that it’s an “insider” smear. In fact, Erickson has a new post up within the past few hours arguing that, after talking to some campaign operatives, he may need to rethink: The Birther attack really might be helping Trump at Cruz’s expense. With Iowa as close as it is, Trump might need only one or two percent from undecideds to tilt his way over doubts about Cruz’s eligibility to decide the race. And if Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire a week later, that may be it. Who stops him after that, with Cruz having fumbled away his must-win state? Unless Rubio finished a surprisingly strong second in NH, it might be Trump’s race to lose.

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