Republican front-runner Donald Trump said this week that rival candidate Ted Cruz may be ineligible to be president because he was born in Canada, a sentiment echoed by Sen. John McCain on Thursday.
"Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: 'Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?' That’d be a big problem," Trump told an inquiring Washington Post reporter
. "It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head."
"I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport," he added.
Gathered below are 12 things to know about the controversy.
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1. Ted Cruz laughed it off
— On Tuesday, the day that Trump questioned Cruz's eligibility, the senator from Texas responded by tweeting out a video link
to an iconic scene from "Happy Days." The scene showed Fonzie jumping over a shark on water skis, suggesting that Cruz thinks Trump has "jumped the shark" with his latest assertion — that is, engaged in a far-fetched, contrived situation for the sake of novelty.
2. Trump doubled down, suggesting Cruz see a judge right away
— Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer
that Cruz should ask a judge for a "declaratory judgment" that he said would protect Cruz on eligibility questions should he make it to the general election. "This was not my suggestion. I didn't bring this up. A reporter asked me this question," Trump was sure to comment. "I'm doing this for the good of Ted . . . I like him. He likes me."
3. Cruz was born to an American mother on Canadian soil
— According to The Wall Street Journal
, "[Rafael Edward] Cruz, who renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014, was born in 1970 in Calgary, Alberta, where his parents were working in the oil business. His mother is an American and his father is a Cuban immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2005."
4. The Constitution has three requirements for presidents
— The U.S. Constitution stipulates that any presidential candidate must be 35 years of age and a resident of the United States for 14 years, as well as a "natural born citizen."
5. "Natural born citizen" has never been defined by the Supreme Court
— According to Politifact.com
, "Most legal experts contend it means someone is a citizen from birth and doesn’t have to go through a naturalization process to become a citizen." This would put Cruz in safe territory as the son of a U.S. citizen. Technically, however, "the Supreme Court — the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions — has never directly ruled on the citizenship provision for presidential office holders. And that means a note of uncertainty remains."
6. Cruz would likely win a Supreme Court case if it came to it
— According to James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal
, "[I]t’s a safe bet the Cruz lawsuits wouldn’t get very far. For one thing, a plaintiff would have to establish standing — that is, that he would suffer a particularized injury if Cruz were allowed to take office. Perhaps the hypothetical election loser could do so — but if Hillary Clinton (or whoever) fails to win a majority of electoral votes, what claim would she have to the presidency?"
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7. Trump has engaged in "birther" theories before
— During the run-up to the 2012 election, Trump expressed skepticism about President Barack Obama's citizenship, specifically questioning whether or not he was born in the U.S. In response, The White House released copies of the president's long-form birth certificate on April 27, 2011, and Trump said, "I am really honored and I am really proud, that I was able to do something that nobody else could do," Time magazine reported
. The next year, Trump offered to donate millions to charity if Obama would release his college and passport applications.
8. John McCain said Cruz's eligibility is "worth looking into"
— "I think there is a question. I'm not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it's worth looking into. I don't think it's illegitimate to look into it," McCain said in a radio interview this week, CNN reported
. Trump commented on Twitter that "Senator John McCain is certainly no friend of Ted!" a reference to McCain calling Cruz and his senate allies "wacko birds."
9. McCain faced similar eligibility questions
— According to The New York Times
, "When questions arose in 2008 about whether Senator John McCain was a 'natural born citizen' qualified to be president because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father was stationed, his Senate colleagues were outraged . . . The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution declaring that 'John Sidney McCain, III, is a 'natural born citizen' under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States."
10. Barry Goldwater did NOT face similar eligibility questions
— "George Romney, the father of Mitt Romney who ran for president as a Republican in 1968, was born in Mexico. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP presidential nominee, was born in Arizona before it was a state. Neither candidate’s campaign was derailed by citizenship challenges," Politifact.com reported
11. The White House enjoys the Cruz birther irony
— White House press secretary Josh Earnest said "it would be quite ironic" if Republicans nominated a foreign-born candidate to be their nominee in the general election after questioning Obama's birth just a few years ago. As The Hill reported
, "Asked whether Obama is enjoying watching Cruz deal with questions about his birthplace, Earnest replied, 'I don’t know if he does, but I sure do.'"
12. Claire McCaskill said it’s ultimately a question of the American Dream
— When questions arose over John McCain's eligibility for a presidential bid in 2008, the Senate Democrat from Missouri was angry. "In America, so many parents say to their young children, 'If you work hard and you play by the rules, in America someday you can be president of the United States. Our brave and respected military should never have to spend a minute worrying whether or not that saying is true for their child."
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