Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with fellow candidate Donald Trump during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Sep. 9, 2015.
Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg/Getty

A new kind of Birtherism for the 2016 campaign

In August 2013, long before he was a leading Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump sat down for an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl for a chat about Trump’s racially charged conspiracy theory about President Obama’s birthplace.
But the interest wasn’t limited to the president. Karl asked, “Ted Cruz, born in Canada, is he eligible to be president of the United States?” Trump responded, “Well, if he was born in Canada, perhaps not. But I’m not sure where he was born.”
The ABC reporter tried to clarify, explaining that Cruz really was born in Canada, but the senator is legally a natural-born American citizen. “Look, that will be ironed out,” Trump said. “I don’t know the circumstances. I heard somebody told me he was born in Canada.”
That “somebody” was the journalist sitting a few feet away, who told him the facts a few seconds earlier. The entire conversation was bewildering.
Trump’s focus generally shifted away from birther garbage in the months that followed, but in an interview with the Washington Post late yesterday, the GOP frontrunner did his best to put Cruz’s birthplace back in the spotlight.
“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 when asked about the topic. “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. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.”
Trump added: “I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”
Oh my.
Let’s make a couple of things very clear. First, there are no questions about Cruz’s legal eligibility for the White House, and there is no legitimate controversy here. Second, Trump’s entire line of attack – Cruz might end up in the courts, “a lot of people are talking about it,” some states are considering keeping the senator off the ballot – is plainly ridiculous, even for him.
The reason this matters, though, has nothing to do with substance and everything to do with tactics. You’ve heard the expression, “Never let ‘em see you sweat”? Trump bringing up nonsensical questions about Cruz’s birthplace is strong evidence that the frontrunner is sweating over his rival’s growing strength.
If Trump weren’t scared, a cheap move like this wouldn’t be necessary.
For his part, Cruz responded by tweeting the infamous “jump the shark” scene from “Happy Days.”
Most political observers would probably argue that Trump jumped the shark quite a while ago, but Cruz’s mileage may vary.