One implication of Ted Cruz’s presidential eligibility

Ted Cruz is eligible to run for president. Unless you are the strictest of strict originalists, you don’t have to have been physically born on US soil to be a “natural born citizen.” If that were the case, then George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson would all have been disqualified from seeking our nation’s highest office. In the modern era, Barry Goldwater (born in Arizona before it became a state) would have been unable to assume office had he won the presidency in 1964, and George Romney (born in Mexico) would have been barred from seeking the Republican nomination in 1968.

As we know, none of these events actually transpired. No one seriously questioned the idea of someone who received their citizenship through having an American parent, as opposed to an American birthplace, becoming president until Donald Trump raised the issue last week. The only reason it’s an issue in the Republican primary is because a non-negligible chunk of primary voters don’t care about legal technicalities, and instead have a gut feeling that electing someone who can in any way be construed as a foreigner to our country’s highest office is a bad idea.

In last night’s debate, Ted Cruz tackled this issue head-on. As he explained:

Under longstanding U.S. law, the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen. If a soldier has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why John McCain, even though he was born in Panama, was eligible to run for president. If an American missionary has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was eligible to run for president, even though he was born in Mexico.

At the end of the day, the legal issue is quite straightforward, but I would note that the birther theories that Donald has been relying on — some of the more extreme ones insist that you must not only be born on U.S. soil, but have two parents born on U.S. soil. Under that theory, not only would I be disqualified, Marco Rubio would be disqualified, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified and, interestingly enough, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified. Because — because Donald’s mother was born in Scotland. She was naturalized.

This is all fine and good, although it does gloss over the fact that strict birthers would have a slightly different bone to pick with Jindal, Rubio and Trump than they do with Cruz (all three were born on American soil to non-citizen parents; Cruz was born on foreign soil to an American parent). However, Cruz’s eligibility forces him to concede one point that he may be loathe to admit in a Republican primary.

If Ted Cruz is eligible to be president, which he is, then Barack Obama is eligible to be president even if he was born in Kenya, which he wasn’t.

This may stick in the craw of the 53 percent of Republicans who, over four years after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate proving he was born in Hawai’i, still aren’t sure if he is a “natural born citizen.” (The same poll found that 70 percent of Republicans are confident that Cruz is eligible despite his Canadian birth). The reasons for this uncertainty, for them, are based in the suspicion that Obama was actually born in Kenya, and that his Hawai’ian “birth” is part of a larger coverup. The particular details of the conspiracy theory vary, but most of them allow for Obama’s mother to have been an American citizen. The core dispute — as in, the one that Donald Trump sent a team of investigators to Hawai’i in order to resolve — was always over the physical location of his birth.

By insisting that he is eligible to be president, Cruz is also insisting (correctly) that President Obama’s birthplace doesn’t matter because being born in one of the fifty states isn’t the only way to be a “natural born citizen.” As long as his mother held US citizenship, he could have been born on the International Space Station and still been eligible to be president.

Just don’t expect him to say so on the campaign trail.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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