Donald Trump, ever the master manipulator of the media, has conjured the red herring of birtherism to raise doubt in the minds of Iowans about now-chief contender Sen. Ted Cruz.
In an interview Tuesday, Trump said Cruz’s birth in Canada could pose a serious threat to his candidacy and to Republicans should they nominate Cruz as the GOP standard-bearer in the general election.
“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 said in response to a question on whether Cruz’s birth in Canada could be an issue. “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.”
Is Trump simply obsessed with the birthplace of political adversaries? The real estate mogul was the longest-lasting thorn in President Obama’s side over the president’s failure to produce his birth certificate publicly.
But in this case, the statement is not a profile-raising stunt. It is a calculated, classic Trump political move. Throw a bomb to the media in order to spark a days-long conversation about an opponent’s potential weakness, true or not.
Cruz was indeed born in Canada, but he meets the constitutional standard to qualify as a natural-born citizen, and therefore to serve as president.
To be a natural-born citizen, a requirement to be president, you must be granted U.S. citizenship at birth. At the time Cruz, all children born to an American citizen who had resided in the United States, or one of its territories, for at least 10 years qualified for the distinction.
Cruz’s mother, a U.S. citizen in her own right at birth, grew up in the United States, before moving to Calgary, Canada, where Cruz was born in 1970.
Cruz’s father Raul, a frequent presence on the 2016 campaign trail, was born in Cuba before fleeing to Texas, where he first received a student visa, then political asylum. After his time in Canada, became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Unlike Obama, Cruz has publicly released his birth certificate. Cruz has also renounced his dual citizenship with Canada.
“Despite the happenstance of a birth across the border, there is no question that Senator Cruz has been a citizen from birth and is thus a “natural born Citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution,” read a 2015 Harvard Law Review Op-Ed from two Georgetown University Law Professors titled “On the Meaning of Natural Born Citizen.”
There is little actual question over Cruz’s eligibility to be president, and little chance of Democrats attempting to make it a serious issue in a general election. But the implication is all Trump is after.
Trump pulled a similar move back in October to throw then-Iowa ascendant Ben Carson off his horse by questioning Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist faith, thought by some evangelicals to not be a Christian denomination.
“I’m Presbyterian, he said. “Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”
The move put Carson’s denomination and faith into the media spotlight for days, ensuring Iowa evangelicals were exposed to the implication the former neurosurgeon was not a real Christian.
Before the faith-ploy from Trump, Carson led the mogul 32 to 18 percent in Iowa according to a Monmouth University poll released Oct. 25. Certainly, myriad other unfortunate factors for Carson were involved, but the doctor fell to a distant third by Monmouth’s next poll, released Dec. 6. Carson is now mired in the low-single digits, deep in fourth place, according to most recent polling.
Trump is turning his time-tested media blitz on Cruz. Rather than directly attack the Texas senator, Trump will make outlandish statements to dominate the media coverage of the race and drive the conversation, preventing Cruz from taking the driver’s seat.
It remains to be seen whether Cruz can escape the mistakes of his predecessors and overcome the fast-paced, conversation driving, and relentless media manipulation from Trump.