In a column published last week on the conspiracy theory website WND, author Jack Cashill noted that questions had been raised about whether four of the 17 candidates in the GOP field were really "natural born citizens" and therefore eligible to run for President. Ted Cruz has already dealt with those questions publicly -- the Canadian-born senator from Texas renounced his citizenship with that country last summer in anticipation of a 2016 bid -- but Cashill also listed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) among those who were suspect.
We tend not to hear much from the "birther" activists anymore. For a while, these right-wing critics were obsessed with President Obama's birthplace, ignoring all evidence in order to turn a ridiculous conspiracy theory into a cottage industry.
But with the president already thinking about his post-White House plans, and the 2016 election season underway, even the most unhinged conservatives no longer see much of a point in focusing on Obama's origins. They're just not going to force him from office.
And while it's tempting to think the entire strain of nonsense is behind us, TPM reports that this may be wishful thinking. The birther "movement" has effectively surrendered in its crusade against President Obama, but what about some of his would-be successors?
Though the line between satire and sincerity can seem blurry in far-right media, the WorldNetDaily piece does not appear to be a joke. It starts with a passive-voice classic -- "The question has been raised for Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and even Rick Santorum" -- and proceeds from there as if this were a legitimate area of inquiry.
It goes so far as to argue, "No one doubts that Jindal was born in the United States, but what is not clear is where the loyalty of his parents lay and whether Jindal is a natural born citizen under the law."
I've read this a few times, and I'll confess, I'm still not sure what that's supposed to mean.
And what about Santorum? Why is he included in the mix? Jack Cashill, the author of the WorldNetDaily piece, told TPM, "Because his father was born in Italy and there's some question as to whether his father was a citizen at the time Santorum was born. That's a strange case. Only the purest of the constitutionalists would take up that challenge."
I'm sure Santorum is relieved.
But I'm still stuck on, "The question has been raised." By whom? When? Why? Cashill told TPM, "Especially in very strict constitutional tea party circles it's a very lively topic.... It is an undercurrent. It's not enough to turn an election, but it's enough to cost like 1 percent of a potential electorate."
There is, to be sure, a considerable distance between one article on WorldNetDaily and months of scuttlebutt in non-fringe campaign circles. But as we've seen many times, bizarre ideas can make their way from the far-right fringe to the conservative mainstream with surprising speed.
There is literally no reason to question the presidential eligibility of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum, but if your weird uncle sends you an all-caps email on the subject, now you'll know why.