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Why Ted Cruz ‘birthers’ are not the same as Obama birthers

President Obama's birth certificate, which was released in 2011.

This post, from 2013 when questions about Cruz's presidential eligibility were first questioned, has been updated.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) released his birth certificate two years ago, seeking to put to rest questions about whether the Canadian-born senator is qualified to run for president in 2016.

Immediately, parallels were drawn to President Obama's 2011 release of his own birth certificate, which also was meant to end lingering questions about his eligibility to be president. And now that Cruz is a GOP presidential front-runner, his eligibility is being called into question, too -- most notably by Donald Trump on Tuesday and early Wednesday.

And for the few in the birther and media watchdog communities, they see hypocrisy. Why is the media not utterly denouncing those who question Cruz's eligibility in the same way they have denounced the "birthers" who questioned -- and continue to question -- Obama's?

Because the only thing these two situations seem to have in common is that they involve a birth certificate and a presidential candidate.

Questions about Cruz's eligibility have everything to do with interpretation of the law; the questions about Obama's eligibility had everything to do with a dispute over the underlying facts -- more specifically, conspiracy theories about whether the president was born in the United States, as he claimed, and whether he somehow forged a birth certificate that said he was born in Hawaii.

In Cruz's case, nobody is disputing the underlying facts of the case -- that Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and a mother who was a U.S. citizen. As we wrote in March 2013, that makes him a U.S. citizen himself, but it's not 100 percent clear that that is the same thing as a "natural-born citizen" -- the requirement for becoming president.

Most scholars think it's the same thing, and the Congressional Research Service said in 2011 that someone like Cruz "most likely" qualifies to run for president. But to this point, there is no final word from the courts, because while foreign-born candidates have run -- including George Romney and John McCain -- none of them has actually won and had his eligibility challenged.

Obama was also born to a mother who was a U.S. citizen, meaning that if he had been born outside the United States -- the centerpiece of the birther argument -- the situations might be parallel. But birthers weren't and aren't making a legal argument about Obama; they were disputing the facts about where he was born and accusing him of perpetrating a massive fraud.

One is a legal question that, as we have noted, most experts believe is basically moot; the other is a conspiracy theory.

Some will accuse the media of instituting a double standard when it comes to these two cases because Cruz is a Republican and Obama is a Democrat. But nobody is accusing Cruz of lying about his past as part of a vast conspiracy to become president. It's just not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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