Throughout his presidential campaign, Senator Ted Cruz has prided himself on being a political outsider, a principled voice taking on the political establishment. But he’s an outsider in more ways than one: Cruz was born in Canada. His mother had American citizenship and his father had Canadian citizenship after immigrating from Cuba. Cruz came to the United States when he was four years old, and until recently had dual American and Canadian citizenship.
In part because his father was from Kenya, President Obama has faced accusations during his entire presidency that he was not really born in the U.S., and is therefore ineligible to be President. Even Donald Trump got in on the so-called “birther” movement as early as 2011. Although Obama released his birth certificate showing that he was born in Hawaii, birtherism never completely went away. The movement now has a new target, as conservative activists have increasingly questioned whether Cruz can be president because of his undisputed birth outside of the U.S.
The new birther controversy comes down to a clause in Article II of the U.S. Constitution that says the president must be a “natural born” citizen. Cruz’s eligibility hinges on the definition of “natural born.” Does it mean that he must be born on U.S. soil? Or is it enough that he was born an American citizen, albeit in Canada, because of his mother’s American citizenship?
The question has never been officially answered, but scholarly consensus heavily favors the latter definition. However, at least a quarter of Republican primary voters aren’t so sure whether Cruz should be allowed to seek the presidency. As Cruz continues to undermine Trump’s front-runner status in the Republican primary, Trump has been more than happy to fan the flames of speculation about whether Cruz is eligible to be President. While on the campaign trail, Cruz now has to spend more time defending himself from these claims instead of talking about his actual values or policy proposals.
If – like Cruz, ironically – you believe that the Constitution should be interpreted strictly, you might be more likely to agree with Trump and his supporters, who are notoriously wary of foreigners to begin with. But if you believe in interpreting the Constitution to meet the circumstances of the current era, Cruz’s eligibility is a non-issue. You might even question whether the requirement has merit all, since this country has a long tradition of being a nation of immigrants.
Considering how many Republicans still suspect that Obama was born outside the U.S., would even more Republicans be similarly skeptical of Cruz if he wasn’t a member of their party? On the other hand, since birther rhetoric toward Obama is often racially charged, would Cruz be facing such scrutiny over his eligibility if he were white? It’s possible that future presidential candidates of color could continue to have their Americanness questioned in this manner, whether they were clearly born in the U.S. or not – that is, unless the public manages to overcome its current anxieties about immigration and people of color being in positions of power.
In any case, it’s pretty amusing to observe how, while Republican primary contenders are competing in large part to be the toughest on immigration, a candidate who wasn’t born in this country could very well be the party’s next presidential nominee.