Witness this week’s heated exchange on MSNBC (of all places) between conservative provocateur Ann Coulter and Republican media strategist Liz Mair. Coulter insisted that Cruz — born in Canada but a U.S. citizen from the moment he left the womb, thanks to his mother’s citizenship — is not eligible to be president. Mair asserted with equal force that Cruz is eligible and at one point charged that Coulter is “in no way conservative.” Card revoked!
(Coulter is an ardent supporter of Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner; Mair heads the anti-Trump super PAC Make America Awesome.)
And Coulter — for those keeping score — has changed her position on this subject. That's awfully convenient, since no one would stand to gain more from Cruz's disqualification than Coulter's favorite candidate. But the flip-flop also makes you wonder how much of the birther punditry, in general — not just from Coulter — is genuine opinion and how much of it is pure provocation. For those to whom controversy is currency, these eligibility debates are money in the bank.
Neil Stevens of the conservative Red State blog, for one, questioned Coulter's principle, writing that she is a “fraud.” Conservative Review columnist (and former Cruz aide) Amanda Carpenter called out Coulter, too.
Meanwhile, conservative radio host Mark Levin and Breitbart editor-at-large John Nolte are feuding over Breitbart’s extensive coverage of the Cruz eligibility question. Levin said on his show last week that “just because [Trump] says something doesn’t mean I have to agree with it, like our friends over at Breitbart, who are going all kinds of crazy over the birther issue.”
Nolte responded in a lengthy post: “As ‘stupid’ as this issue may be for Levin, do we want to litigate it in front of the American people today or three weeks before the general election, when Cruz is either our presidential or vice-presidential nominee? Because you have to be wearing blinders to believe that will not happen.”
Levin then took to social media, posting a rebuttal on Facebook that was equal parts snarky and condescending. “John Nolte has spoken. Well, then, I guess I’m wrong,” Levin wrote, referring to Nolte as a “young, aspiring conservative writer.”
Cruz, of course, is doing his best to shrug off eligibility questions — wherever they come from. (Most recently, it came in the form of a Washington Post op-ed Tuesday from a constitutional law professor.) And Nolte’s contention that it’s better to debate the issue now makes some sense.
But Cruz has to be bothered by all the intramural acrimony and the harm it could inflict during the primary season. The eligibility argument hits particularly close to Cruz because it comes down to interpretations of the Constitution — and the Texas senator prides himself on Constitutional expertise.
In fact, the Constitution often serves as a sort of safety valve for Cruz when he finds himself in a bind. For example, when same-sex marriage comes up, he tends to emphasize his belief that the Constitution leaves marriage laws up to individual states — as he did when pressed by Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” in September — rather than his personal opposition to the practice.
Cruz’s reputation as a Constitutional purist is one of his strongest appeals among conservatives, who bemoan what they view as a pattern of overreach by the current, Democratic administration. So it would be incredibly ironic if Cruz were to be undone by Constitutional law.
Cruz has precedent on his side — John McCain and Barry Goldwater both won the GOP nomination, despite being born outside the United States — but there is at least a coherent case against his eligibility, and until a court rules, it's not 100 percent clear he's eligible. And as some in the conservative press make that case, Cruz finds himself in a position that he probably didn’t envision — having his Constitutional qualifications cast into doubt by a segment of the media that generally applauds his commitment to the Founding Fathers’ wishes. Cruz was the favorite of these folks, after all, long before Donald Trump decided he would run for president.
Which is all further proof that Donald Trump has completely upended our political process.