Trump presses Cruz on Canadian birth in GOP debate
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 14, 2016 10:19PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 15, 2016 11:27PM EST
WASHINGTON - Candidates in American presidential debates are frequently forced to deny they're too liberal, too conservative, too wishy-washy or simply wrong-headed.
Now one has been forced to parry the calumny that he's too Canadian.
Sen. Ted Cruz responded indignantly during Thursday's Republican debate when both the moderators and his emerging rival Donald Trump pressed him on his Calgary birth.
He brushed off the notion that being born abroad should disqualify him from the presidency. And he drew attention to his past career as a high-level litigator, to point out his familiarity with constitutional law.
"I've spent my entire life defending the Constitution before the U.S. Supreme Court," said Cruz, who is running neck-and-neck with the real-estate mogul in Iowa.
"And I tell you, I'm not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump."
The partisan crowd appeared to back him up. It cheered the Texas senator and booed when a debate moderator and Trump dabbled in the country-of-origin quandary.
Trump fired back that multiple constitutional scholars have raised Cruz's birth as a legal question mark - one being Cruz's former Ivy League law professor, Laurence Tribe.
"Take it from your professor," Trump retorted.
He urged Cruz to go get a judge's opinion certifying his right to run, lest he later become the nominee and find his candidacy tangled up in court: "There's a big question mark over the head. And you can't do that to the party."
The U.S. Constitution restricts the right to run for president to "natural-born" citizens, without specifying what that means. Most of the contemporary political class assumes that protects foreign-born children of American citizens, including Cruz.
But several constitutional scholars have emerged to call it a legitimate question. They say the Supreme Court has never ruled on the definition of a natural-born citizen for the purposes of seeking the presidency.
Cruz replied that Tribe is a committed Democrat. He also pointed out that his increasingly bitter adversary has only suddenly started raising the birth issue, because his poll numbers are improving in Iowa. Trump admitted it.
Cruz's critics have revelled in teasing him about the fact that he was born outside the U.S. His American mother and Cuban-American father were working in the Alberta oil industry and he spent his first few years there.
Some pranksters edited his Wikipedia page Thursday to emphasize his Canadian birth. A lawsuit against Cruz's candidacy has already been launched, and more are expected.
Tribe says he believes Cruz should qualify - only because Tribe personally favours a flexible approach to interpreting the Constitution, one that evolves over the centuries.
But he notes an irony: Cruz himself sees the Constitution differently.
He's a strict originalist who believes the Constitution should be interpreted exactly as written - which means, according to Cruz's view, that the 18th century right to bear arms for the purposes of a militia should extend to all 21st-century U.S. citizens and include new forms of high-powered weaponry.
"To his kind of judge, Cruz ironically wouldn't be eligible," the Harvard professor wrote in the Boston Globe.
"Because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and '90s required that someone actually be born on U.S. soil to be a 'natural born' citizen."
When Cruz pointed out that his former professor was a Democrat, Trump replied that several other scholars have voiced similar concerns. Cruz recently relinquished his Canadian citizenship, which he received at birth.