As the election season progresses and the Iowa caucus comes closer, the polls tighten and the campaigns get meaner. On the Republican side it’s between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, at least for now. After having acted as Best Friends Forever until recently Trump took the gloves off and brought up the issue of Cruz’s foreign birthplace, and the fact that the senator did not ditch his Canadian passport until he started running for US President. Cruz tried to wave it off but soon landed in a legal quagmire. A host of constitutional scholars has now argued that it has never been settled how ‘natural born citizen’ should be defined, but that the Framers clearly meant ‘born in the USA.’ Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, who taught constitutional law to Chief Justice Roberts as well as Barack Obama and Ted Cruz, pointedly argued that ‘redemptive constitutionalism,’ the liberal current in legal thought, would suggest that a broad, non-contemporary interpretation of the term is the proper one, which would make Cruz eligible to run for the White House, but he also made clear that Cruz’s own ‘originalism’ would prohibit that.
Trump’s argument against Cruz’s eligibility to become president is a logical extension of the ‘birtherism’ campaign he launched against Obama. The fact that Obama’s mother was a US citizen was never in doubt, and the issue at the time was whether Obama was born in Kenya or in Hawaii, with the assumption that the former scenario would have disqualified him. Similarly, Cruz’s mother’s US citizenship is not in question, but from a legal perspective Canada is no different from Kenya. Trump is hammering home his point in both a tenacious and an amusing way. He correctly observes that if Cruz were to become the GOP nominee, Democrats would file a lawsuit against his candidacy, and therefore advises Cruz, ‘as a friend,’ to seek clarity about his status in the courts. Cruz cannot expect any support from his colleagues in the Senate, who in a slightly similar situation in the past certified John McCain’s natural born citizenship, and Trump knows that any attempt at clarification will sow doubt in the minds of potential Cruz voters and tie the candidate up in a court battle for at least months, reducing his effectiveness on the trail.
Although not surprising, it is still a sight to see how little support Cruz is getting in the political arena. Mitch McConnell declared that the Senate should not involve itself with campaign issues, and John McCain called Trump’s questions ‘legitimate.’ Apart from Donald Trump, his wife and children, his parents, Steve King and Jeff Sessions nobody likes Ted Cruz, whom David Brooks in today’s New York Times calls a stranger to “humility, mercy, compassion and grace.”
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side Hillary Clinton is now forcefully attacking Bernie Sanders for a House vote he took in 2005, shielding gun manufacturers from liability. Sanders’s inability to call that vote a mistake will cost him votes in the long run, and Hillary is trying to get into Bernie’s socio-economic lane with a proposal for an added 4% tax on the super-rich.
After having lost the nomination to a young black man in 2008 the possibility of losing to an old white man in 2016 must be a constant nightmare for Hillary, and as long as that possibility is real she’ll throw everything but the kitchen sink at Sanders, and if need be the sink too.