We’ll knock it off with the Ted Cruz birther stuff when GOP primary voters prove they don’t believe it

Ted Cruz is an American citizen, but is he a “natural born” American citizen?

Apparently, that is now a serious question in the Republican primary, as Donald Trump “advised” Cruz on Tuesday night to seek an official ruling in court affirming that his birth to an American mother on non-American soil satisfies the “natural-born citizen” requirement of presidential candidates, as set out in the Constitution. This prompted a round of questions for relevant politicians who, motivated by seething hatred for Cruz, did nothing to dismiss the issue as the ridiculous sideshow it is.

Perhaps most notable among these politicians was John McCain, who gave the issue of Cruz’s Canadian birth new life last night when he said that he wasn’t sure if the Texan senator is eligible to run for president. For his part, Rand Paul said that Cruz is absolutely eligible…”to be the prime minister of Canada.”

Even Nancy Pelosi got in on the fun earlier today:

As The National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explains — since this somehow merits an explanation — speculation of Cruz’s eligibility for office is silly. McCain, who dismissed questions about President Obama’s eligibility for office, was himself born in the Panama Canal Zone during a time in which that territory’s status was being disputed. Barry Goldwater, the Republicans’ nominee in 1964, was born in Arizona before it was a state. George Romney didn’t find his Mexican birth disqualifying when he sought the party’s nomination in 1968.

But let’s be clear: Rumors and shoulder-shrugging about Ted Cruz’s birth and eligibility to run for president are only newsworthy because there’s a reasonable expectation of them working. As Brian Beutler pointed out today, McCain’s wink and nod at Trump-style birtherism can be explained in part by the fact that McCain is running a primary campaign of his own, and will need the votes of people who are more than willing to believe that a candidate with an ethnic-sounding last name might not be from ’round these parts.

As long as Republican primary voters are willing to be skeptical of a candidate’s eligibility for office against all available evidence and common sense, Ted Cruz’s opponents — both in the presidential race and in Washington — have no reason not to keep raising the question. Sure, the political class should knock off this flirtation with Ted Cruz birtherism, but they don’t have any reason to until the Republican electorate proves that they can handle the truth.

That could take a while.

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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