Ted Cruz went hard against Donald Trump in the Republican debate on Thursday night in South Carolina, raining criticism on the front-runner for his party's nomination for questioning Cruz's legal ability to run for president, drawing boos and cheers for both candidates.
"I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling," Cruz said. "But the facts and the law are quite clear. The child of a citizen born abroad is a natural U.S. citizen."
In recent weeks, Trump, other Republicans, and some constitutional scholars have questioned whether Cruz, who was born in Canada of an American mother and Cuban father, is eligible to run for the highest office in the United States. The criticisms have echoed the so-called "birther" movement, which questioned Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship.
The common view, however, is that Cruz is in fact eligible to run.
Cruz said that under "birther" theories — which he said would require candidates for president to be born in U.S. soil of two American parents — would not only disqualify him, but also Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Donald Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland.
“Donald’s mother was born in Scotland, she was naturalized," Cruz said.
"On the issue of citizenship, I'm not going to use your mother's birth against you," Cruz said.
Trump responded initially by saying he "didn't care" whether Cruz was a natural-born citizen or not because he was certain he was going to win. Immediately afterwards, however, Trump said that "very, very fine constitutional attorneys" feel that Cruz is not eligible to run.
"There's a big question mark on your head," Trump said. "And you can't do that to the party."
Trump then painted a hypothetical scenario in which he won the nomination and decided to offer the vice-presidency to Cruz, asking what would happen if the Democrats bring a suit and the courts decide that "we can't bring [Cruz] along for the ride."
Asked by the debate moderator why he had not brought up Cruz's birth before, Trump responded with candor.
"Because now he's doing a little better," Trump said. "He never had a chance. Now he is doing better, and he probably has a four or five percent chance."
Cruz rebutted Trump by saying that he would be happy to consider Trump as a VP.
"If you happen to be right," Cruz said about Trump's questioning of his eligibility, "you can keep the big job."
"I would rather go back to building buildings," Trump responded.