There is no greater irony in American politics than the birther madness swirling around secondary presidential frontrunner Ted Cruz (and to a lesser extent, distant thirdster Marco Rubio).
The Republican establishment loathes Cruz even more than they hate Donald Trump. He’s been nothing but a thorn in their side since he arrived in Washington in 2013, fresh from annoying the Bush family in Texas. And yet it’s got to be dawning on them, with the Iowa caucuses looming, that despite the best efforts of the fulminating fist shakers vying to be the voice of the Ragin’ Establishment, Cruz is the only Republican candidate who has a prayer of keeping the nomination out of The Donald’s hands (and Sarah Palin’s hands off the Department of Energy). If it turns out he’s not eligible to serve as president (or vice president)—and some heavy-hitting legal and legal historical minds, none of whom are crazy conspiracy theorists, say he’s not—well, doesn’t that just beat all.
The Cruz birther controversy, now the subject of a Texas lawsuit, offers multiple layers of schadenfreude for Democrats, who no doubt recall grimly how the president of the United States was essentially made to show his papers, while some states pondered laws that would have forced any presidential candidate who wanted to get on the ballot to do the same.
In fact, the Obama birthers went beyond claiming that his birth in the state of Hawaii was a fiction.
Some of them also floated the idea that Obama’s late mother colluded with unnamed others to fake an American birth for her Kenyan baby in order to foment a dark conspiracy to place a Mau Mau Marxist Manchurian Candidate—who also was a clandestine Muslim hiding in plain sight inside a scary, black Christian Chicago church—into the White House to destroy America. (Similar insane right-wing conspiracy theories haunted John McCain in 2000, tethered to the time he spent in a Vietcong gulag, as did questions about his eligibility given his birthplace in the Panama Canal Zone.) Birther “intellectual” and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza even made a “documentary” in which he claimed to ferret out Obama’s secret African-anti-colonial leanings; apparently unencumbered by the detail that America’s British-born founders were pretty anti-colonial themselves.
One and three-quarter Obama presidential terms later, the Grand Old Party finds itself between a Trump and a “punch face.” And the man Bill Maher would like to throttle, backed by “cantaloupe calves” birther Steve King, is getting hoisted on the far right’s petard by an O.G. birther and occasional conservative with “New York values.”
Like it or not, it’s a perfectly reasonable strategy for Trump, if anything he says or does can be called reasonable. It keeps him consistent with his “pox on both houses” outsider brand. If Trump demanded to see the Democratic president’s birth certificate, why wouldn’t he hold a potential future Republican president to the same standard?
Even more to the point, Trump’s candidacy is at its core a blue-collar revolt against unlawful migration and demographic change. His loyal subjects hate a lot of things, including Barack Obama, but they hate illegal immigration most of all. If it turns out that the half-Cuban Cruz, who until he renounced his Canuckness 15 months ago was a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, is just another brand of sneak thief, the wrath of the Trumpites will, and probably should, be upon him.
Meanwhile, the Republican establishment has to be wondering, deep in the depths of its collective soul, whether the machine-gun-voiced Texan, who has spent his entire brief Senate career blowing up his own party’s battlements, maligning Republican leaders, luring House Tea Party freshmen into taking fruitless votes to try to sink Obamacare, and even goading his party into shutting down the government—wrecking the Republican brand in the process—might actually be a Manchurian Candidate of sorts; or more accurately an “Ontarian Candidate,” sent by mysterious forces north of the border to destroy the Republican Party forever. If the next time we see Mitch McConnell, he’s zombie-faced and calling Cruz “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever met in my life,” I think we’ll know the deal.
Oh, the irony.