CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — Donald Trump escalated his attacks on Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president on Saturday, devoting a solid four minutes of his speech at a campaign rally here to the subject.
"[Cruz] was born in Canada," Trump said at the Surf Ballroom here, his second of two stops today in Iowa. "Whether we like it, don’t like it, he lived there, he was there, he was born in Canada, I guess his parents voted in Canada, a lot of things, I mean a lot of things happened here. So if you’re born in Canada, it’s immediately a little bit of a problem."
Cruz was born in Calgary and spent the first four years of his life in Canada — but he was born to an American citizen mother, who conferred American citizenship at birth. Although the Constitution does not define the term "natural born citizen," the general legal view is that he is eligible to run and that if someone holds citizenship at birth, as Cruz did, then they are a natural born citizen.
Despite this, Trump has increasingly raised questions about Cruz's eligibility to be president over the past week, though Saturday's sharp rhetoric on it stood out, as Trump baldly stated that Cruz is not a natural born citizen:
"You can’t have a person who’s running for office, even though Ted is very glib and he goes out and says 'Well, I’m a natural born citizen,' but the point is you're not," Trump said. "You gotta get a declaratory judgment. You have to have the courts come up with a ruling. Or you have a candidate who just cannot run. Because the other side will immediately bring suit and you've got that cloud on your head, and you can't have that cloud on your head."
Trump encouraged Cruz to pre-empt any litigation by going to court to get a declaratory judgment, which Trump had previously done on Twitter this week. Cruz said on Thursday that he's "not taking legal advice from Donald Trump."
On Jan. 5, Trump told the Washington Post that the issue of Cruz's birth was "precarious," but stopped short of saying that he believes Cruz is not a natural born citizen, instead saying that “people are bringing it up." Trump has for years questioned President Obama's birth, as well.
Cruz has shrugged off Trump's attacks beyond tweeting a video of Fonzie from Happy Days jumping the shark and blaming the media for making it into an issue. Cruz, who is leading Trump in the polls in Iowa, is currently on the last day of a six-day bus tour across the state where he has been repeatedly forced to talk about it by reporters asking about the attacks. Cruz's campaign even provided a copy of his mother's birth certificate to Breitbart on Friday.
But it's not clear yet if, and to what extent, voters care. As Trump laid out how he thinks that Cruz's candidacy would immediately lawsuits from the Democrats, a few people in the crowd nodded along and said "right." And some in the crowd appeared swayed by Trump's argument, including Claire Irvin, 61, who told BuzzFeed News that Cruz's birth is "a factor. We already have a president whose birth has been in question and never looked at." She said she was glad Trump began bringing it up because she had been unaware of the issue.
But others didn't agree. Cruz "is legal, and he can prove it," said Brian Dirksen, 53. "Trump just gets things going to get people talking."
"It's a non-issue," said Jay Hammer, 45. Cruz's "mom was a U.S. citizen, so he's a U.S. citizen."
"Sounds like some muddy water to me," Leon Marker, 51, said of Trump's charges. "I don't know if he's trying to create problems for Cruz or if he's trying to come off helpful like he tried to make it sound here today."
Voters at Cruz's bus tour events this week mostly weren't buying Trump's birther attacks and said they believed Cruz's explanation of why he's a natural born citizen.
But it has entered the consciousness: Cruz got an audience question about the issue at a campaign stop in Mason City on Friday.