To some Republican presidential candidates the Constitution is revered as a sacred document—and those who challenge its doctrine are quickly condemned as unpatriotic heretics.
That is, until they see a problem with it.
But they’re far from alone in their appetites for tweaking that document a little bit here and there.
Among the presidential candidates (Republican and Democrat, but mostly Republican) there are more than a dozen ideas to dramatically change the way our system of government works—suggesting that several would-be defenders of the Constitution would not be hesitant to change it here and there once they are sworn in. It also indicates that many of the most significant problems these candidates see in our political system are, short of massive change, largely intractable.
Here’s a quick, semi-complete overview of the creative ways some of the most competitive presidential candidates would edit the Constitution:
Jeb Bush: 10 Mystery Changes, Including A Balanced Budget Amendment:
The former Florida governor made a curious comment on amendments to The Washington Post last week during a discussion of Trump’s suggested elimination of birthright citizenship.
“There are like 10 things I would change in the Constitution with a magic wand,” he said, adding that immigration reform will have to happen without a founding-document overhaul.
A few days later, he walked back his magic-wand suggestion.
“No, I said that there’s all sorts of amendments, you know, the balanced budget amendment, there’s all sorts of things that people can say as a candidate that you do but the likelihood of those happening is really not a policy,” he told CNN. “It’s going to take a long, long time. I would love to see a balanced budget amendment.”
Congress hasn’t passed a balanced budget that the president then signed in recent memory, and some conservatives worry that a balanced budget amendment could result in automatic tax hikes. Still, it’s one of the more popular changes to the Constitution in the Republican field.
Marco Rubio: Nobamacare
Along with favoring a balanced budget amendment—which he called for in between gulps of bottled water during his 2013 State of the Union response—Rubio backs a “Right to Refuse” amendment that would block implementation of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. And, along with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, he backs a term limits amendment.
John Kasich: Just a Balanced Budget Amendment
The Ohio governor was a longtime supporter of amending the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, until he wasn’t. In 1993, the then-congressman co-sponsored legislation that would “limit citizenship at birth to persons born in the United States to a mother who is a U.S. citizen or legal resident.” And during his successful 2010 gubernatorial bid, according to The Columbus Dispatch, he reiterated his support for a Constitutional amendment that would keep the children of undocumented citizens born in the United States from being citizens.
Since then, though, he’s rolled that stance way back. Earlier this month, he brushed off a question about his stance on the issue.
“I was a congressman, you put your name on a hundred bills just to make somebody happy,” he told CNN.
His new stance? Opposition to birthright citizenship is just a “stumbling block.” Since then, the only constitutional amendment he’s backed as a presidential candidate is one to mandate the Congress pass balanced budgets.
Scott Walker: Wait, what?
Scott Walker has largely kept his powder dry when it comes to reworking the Constitution. The proposal that’s attracted most press is his stance to let states decide if they want to allow or bar same-sex unions. That position has put him on the far right end of the Republican primary field, and, according to The Washington Post, it’s lost him the support of at least one billionaire.
Last week, he confused basically everyone every time he talked about birthright citizenship. Earlier in the week, he told MSNBC that he supported ending birthright citizenship. Then on Friday, he told CNBC that he was “not taking a position on it one way or the other.” Later, his campaign released released a statement suggesting shock that anyone could possibly be confused by his stance on the issue.
“Despite the best efforts to mischaracterize Governor Walker’s position, he has clearly and consistently stated that we need to enforce the laws on the books, keep people from coming here illegally, and enforce e-verify to stop the jobs magnet before we address the issue of birthright citizenship,” said campaign spokeswoman AshLee Strong. “By addressing the root problems—in the right order—we will end this collateral issue that only exists because we have a border that is not secure and a broken system.”
On August 17, via Bloomberg, he told Iowa State Fair attendees that we should secure the border and “talk about what the next steps are after.”
Then, on This Week on Sunday morning, the candidate said he opposes changing the Constitution to keep the children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. from becoming citizens. That seems like a pretty clear stance, so he’ll probably change it in the next week or so (Just kidding. Mostly).
Ben Carson: Meh.
Carson’s Constitution-meddling ambitions seem fairly tame. Like other Republicans, he favors the balanced budget amendment as well as an amendment instituting term limits for members of Congress. He also backs an amendment that would make it harder for Congress to pass legislation creating permanent entitlement programs.
Bernie and Hillary: Together At Last
The top two Democratic presidential contenders both want a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision. Otherwise, they’re not super imaginative about this stuff.
Rand Paul: No More Birthright Citizenship, Maybe?
Rand Paul also has a lot of ideas for monkeying around with the Constitution. But, like Walker, Paul is a little marble-mouthed when he talks about birthright citizenship. In 2010, he told RightWingNews that the 14th amendment wasn’t supposed to count for children of undocumented immigrants.
“[T]he 14th amendment actually says that you will be a citizen as long as you are under the jurisdiction of the United States,” he said. “Many argue that these children that are born to illegal aliens are really still under the jurisdiction of the Mexican government. I think we need to fight that out in the courts. If we lose, then I think we should amend the Constitution because I don’t think the 14th amendment was meant to apply to illegal aliens. It was meant to apply to the children of slaves.”
Since then, he’s equivocated on the issue. He backed legislation from Louisiana Senator David Vitter that would have said the 14th Amendment didn’t apply to the children of undocumented immigrants, but he’s been a little vague about whether he actually thinks those rights should be taken out of the Constitution.
“If you are looking at border security, and we’re going to have a secure border, then I’m not sure we need to change citizenship,” he told The Washington Post. “Birthright citizenship is a beacon for the world. So is what we did for the Dreamers. Birthright citizenship—it is what it is. That’s the way the law has been interpreted. But is it a good idea to do that with an open border? Probably not.”
Paul does support an amendment mandating term limits for members of Congress and requiring a balanced budget. And he favors an amendment intended to eliminate a perceived discrepancy between how congressional staff and other Americans get health care under the Affordable Care Act, that would “prohibit Congress from passing any law that exempts themselves.”
Ted Cruz: So Many Changes, So Little Time!
Cruz, always full of ideas, wants the Constitution to get a facelift.
He backs amendments that could dramatically alter the system of constitutional governance, many of which would curtail the power of the federal government and expand state governments’ authorities. That includes repealing the 17th Amendment in full or in part, which would take away the responsibility for electing U.S. senators from individual voters and give it to state legislatures, which was the case before that amendment’s ratification.
Cruz is also on the record favoring a so-called Madison Amendment that would make it easier for state legislatures to amend the Constitution, as well as a balanced budget amendment and “a strong constitutional amendment that puts into law term limits.”
He told radio host Michael Medved that he could get behind a constitutional amendment totally eliminating birthright citizenship in an interview last week—even though, in 2011, then-candidate Cruz suggested such an effort would be a fool’s errand, according to The Houston Chronicle.
Cruz also wants to change the Constitution so states can ban same-sex unions. Fun!
Mike Huckabee: A little bit of everything
Perhaps no other candidate has approached changing the Constitution with such energy and verve as Huckabee. Like Bush and others, he favors a balanced budget amendment. He’s also backed an amendment to ban abortion, arguing that overturning Roe v. Wade wouldn’t go far enough. In an interview with Beliefnet during his 2008 presidential bid, he compared abortion to slavery to bolster his case.
“Obviously we’d today say, ‘Well, that’s nonsense. Slavery is wrong, period,’” he said. “‘It can’t be right somewhere and wrong somewhere else. Same with abortion.”
And, naturally, according to CNN on June 26, 2015, Huckabee favors a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue came down, Huckabee predicted that its opponents would “go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King” and argue that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Anyway, Huck also favors “a constitutional amendment to prohibit eminent domain for what is essentially private development” as a way of blocking the 2005 Kelo v. City of New London ruling that many argue eroded private property rights. And he has registered his support for canning the 16th Amendment, which lets the federal government tax income.
You may notice one tiny little candidate missing from this list: Donald Trump, currently and by all counts the Republican front-runner.
Trump favors eliminating birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants but has said he doesn’t think he’d need a constitutional amendment to pull that off—even though the right to citizenship for all persons born in the U.S. is, well, part of the Constitution. To be clear, there’s not 100 percent consensus on that point; Constitution scholar (in his own mind, anyway) former Senator Rick Santorum has said he thinks you could take that right away just by passing a law, rather than amending the entire founding document.
By that logic, maybe some of these massive overhauls to our system of government aren’t as complicated as their proponents may think.
Or maybe they should give the Constitution another look.