If Donald Trump still thought it was a good idea to go full birther in this presidential campaign, Thursday night’s GOP debate may have changed things.
Moderator Neil Cavuto brought up the issue of Sen. Ted Cruz’s eligibility to hold the nation’s highest office, since he was born to American parents in Canada. Cruz laughed the whole thing off as pure nonsense—to the cheers of the crowd gathered in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Well, Neil, I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics of the evening,” Cruz said drawing laughs from the audience. He appeared shockingly likeable, as opposed to his often Nixonian-type demeanor.
“I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa,” Cruz continued. “But the facts and law here are really quite clear. 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.”
Cruz extended the argument with a logical, lawlerly response which ended up roping Trump into the mix.
“At end of the day the legal issue is quite straightforward, but I would note that the birther theories that [they’re] relying on—one of the more extremes one—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,” Cruz said, the crowd bursting into cheers.
Trump tried to double down and pivoted to a standard line—posturing about his poll numbers. It didn’t work out too well for him.
“You saw the numbers yourself, NBC/Wall Street Journal came out with a poll headline, Trump way up, Cruz going down,” Trump said beginning to elicit boos, something that hadn’t happened to him during earlier debates.“They don’t like NBC but I like the poll,” he said trying to hush the crowd. “And frankly it just came out and, in Iowa now, as you know, Ted, in the last three polls I’m beating you. So you shouldn’t misrepresent how well you’re doing with the polls.”
As the crowd continued to boo him, Trump tried on an altruistic mask, suggesting that if Cruz doesn’t take care of this pesky issue now, he’s going to get sued by a Democrat.
“I already know the Democrats are going to be bringing a suit,” Trump prognosticated. “You have a big lawsuit over your head while you’re running and if you become the nominee, who the hell knows if you can even serve in office? So you should go out and get a declaratory judgment. Let the courts decide.”
The smackdown was similar to another night when Trump’s ridiculous Birther claims were dismissed as utter bull. Obama skewered him Trump for his witch hunt about the president’s alleged Kenyan birth at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner in 2011.
"Donald Trump is here tonight. Now I know that he’s taken some flak lately. But no one is happier—no one is prouder—to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter: Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” Obama said at the time.
Cruz's campaign has dispelled the claims as "nonsense" in recent weeks. "Ted Cruz has never breathed a breath where he was not an American citizen," Cruz's spokesperson Rick Tyler told The Daily Beast last week.
Still, over the last couple of weeks, Trump questioning Cruz’s eligibility to president has reignited the original Obama Birther—with a new, Republican target. The new Birtherism dominated a few days’ worth of news coverage. But tonight, the attacks fell limp.