Within the last several weeks, Donald Trump has made efforts to rally his troops and defeat his opposition by questioning whether Ted Cruz, another Republican hopeful, may not be eligible to be president because he is not a natural-born citizen of the United States.
Donald Trump’s tactics are not new. In fact, in 2011, Donald Trump raised similar questions about Obama’s citizenship and eligibility to be president when he asserted that Obama may not have been born in the United States, a theory that had circulated for years despite the release of Obama’s birth certificate in April 2011 from the Hawaii Department of Health.
Candidates Continually Challenged
Interestingly, the issue of citizenship also arose in the 2008 election when Senator John McCain was running for president, although any indications that his birth on a U.S. military base in the Panama Canal Zone to a U.S. citizen parent were quickly laid to rest by the U.S. Senate. In fact, the United States Senate formalized its support through a unanimous agreement that McCain was a natural-born citizen.
Despite the Senate’s assertions, however, the issue is back. Supporters of Ted Cruz argue, however, that this recent debate about Ted Cruz’s right to the presidency is less about the actual facts and more about Donald Trump’s efforts to erode support for Ted Cruz, whose popularity has risen in the polls over the past several weeks.
Trump, who has proven to be an unusually skilled politician despite his political inexperience, may simply be trying to plant enough doubt into the minds of the Republican base that a Cruz win for the GOP nomination could end up embroiled in a Democratic legal challenge of Cruz’s eligibility to serve as the Commander in Chief. A scare tactic that perhaps Trumps hopes will be enough to make people question whether they should vote for Ted Cruz.
We all understand politics, but is this a question of political players simply using whatever tactics they have in their arsenal to defeat their competition or does Donald Trump have a valid concern? Let’s look at the evidence.
Defining "Natural-Born Citizen"
What do we know about the birth of Ted Cruz? Ted Cruz was born in Canada. His father was a Cuban citizen at the time of his birth, and his mother was a United States citizen. Ted Cruz had dual American-Canadian citizenship.
According to the United States Constitution, to be eligible to be President, a person must be 35 years of age, have 14 years of residency, and must be a natural-born citizen.
Although the term "natural-born citizen" is not specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have accepted that this term includes someone who had U.S. citizenship at birth, which includes a child born to a U.S. citizen parent, regardless of their place of birth.
Others argue that the founders of the Constitution specifically used the term "natural-born citizen" to include such children because under British tradition and law, at the time that the Constitution was written, Great Britain recognized children born to British parents outside of the confines of the British Empire (including those born in the colonies prior to the Revolutionary War) as citizens of Great Britain.
The intent of the Founding Fathers should become even clearer when we consider that nine of the Founding Fathers were born overseas, and several years later they passed the Naturalization Act of 1790, which specifically addressed the issue of a child’s U.S. citizenship if they were born outside of the United States—assuming that their father had, at some point in his life, been a resident of the United States (Congress has since eliminated the distinction between residency requirements for mothers versus fathers).
A Never-Ending Issue
Given the information outlined above, it’s interesting to note that the issue of natural-born citizenship continues to generate interest in the political arena. One would think that after the U.S. Senate agreed that Senator McCain could serve as President, the decision would have been settled for future candidates born under similar circumstances.
In fact, one wonders why we continue to have this debate. A natural-born citizen has clearly been established to include those persons born outside of the United States to a parent who is a United States citizen, whether their birth place is Canada or the Panama Canal.
If the issue of citizenship really is as clear as it seems, then maybe it’s time to shift the focus of the election away from this issue to the issues that are important to both sides, including global warming, poverty, the economy, gun control, immigration and foreign policy.