By Uche Onyebadi
NEARLY four years ago when Donald Trump led a bitter “birther” campaign against Barack Obama who was then running for a second term of office, Republicans were his willing cheerleaders. Then, Trump tried to use the issue to launch his presidential campaign. The loquacious billionaire was all over the place, questioning Obama’s real place of birth, and coming up with bizarre theories about the president being of Kenyan origin. Trump even went as far as claiming that the birth certificate Obama put out online was fake. He promised Americans that he had set up a sort of hit-squad to produce Obama’s real birth certificate that will show that he was born in Kenya, a factor that will disqualify him from running for office.
Most of America outside the Republican Party saw Trump’s “birther” movement as most frivolous and unnecessary side-show to the real issues that confronted their country. But the Republican hierarchy let that political wound fester and even gave it their tacit support. Anything that might derail Obama’s campaign for reelection was most welcome by the GOP leaders. So, they allowed Trump to wallow in that movement of self-delusion. Unfortunately for them, Trump’s “birther” appeal fizzled out, and he quietly bowed out of the political stage.
Last month, Trump re-launched his “birther” campaign with a re-focused target, Ted Cruz, his rival to win the Republican Party ticket for the race to win the US presidency. Since then, he has not relented on his crusade. Trump believes the fact that Cruz was born in Canada, although of a United States mother, disqualifies him from running for the highest office in the land. His contention is that Cruz is not a natural-born American as stipulated in the rules about who can run for the US presidency. Trump stumps around telling his various audiences that should Cruz win the Republican Party ticket, he will most likely be taken to court by the Democrats over his citizenship status and that legal process might cost the Republicans a fair shot at the presidency.
Cruz, who had all along avoided taking on Trump in his campaign, last week opened up a volley of attacks at Trump during their latest political debate. At issue was the “birther” question and other jabs at Trump for having “New York values,” a euphemism for liberal attitude toward a number of core moral issues Republicans value, from same-sex marriage to abortion.
Last Sunday, Trump took things a notch higher by firing more cruise missiles at Cruz. He said this about Cruz in an ABC interview: “Look, the truth is, he’s a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him. He’s a very –- he’s got an edge that’s not good. You can’t make deals with people like that and it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for the country. Very nasty guy.”
Trump’s “birther” campaign against Cruz appears to be gaining some traction. Last week, a Reuter’s poll showed that about 25 percent of Republican voters think that Cruz’s birthplace is enough to disqualify him from running for the US presidency. In the same week also, Newton B. Schwartz, a Houston, Texas-based attorney, who says he is not a Trump supporter, went to court asking it to make a declaration about Cruz’s “natural-born” status.
There is little doubt that Cruz’s recent gains in the polls precipitated this recent onslaught from Trump. The billionaire admitted as much in their debate last week when he acknowledged that he wants Cruz’s birth status clarified by the court “because now he’s doing a little bit better” in the polls as the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are now a matter of weeks.
Nothing to this birther issue
During the same debate, Cruz fired back, noting that Trump had dismissed the “birther” issue last September. Cruz said “There’s nothing to this birther issue. Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have. I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa. But the facts and the law are really clear. Under longstanding U.S. law, the child of a U.S. citizen abroad is a natural born citizen.”
The point is that the “birther” issue which Republicans used against Obama is now like a pointed dagger pointing at Cruz’s heart. However, the Republican Party hierarchy is obviously enjoying the altercation between two of their top candidates, much as they enjoyed the “birther” issue when Obama was the object of attack.
It is not lost on anyone why the Party’s administration appears reluctant to intervene in the fray between Cruz and Trump. If there was a way the Party’s chieftains can wish away both candidates, it would do so. It is not a hidden truth that Trump and Cruz are not favoured by the Party’s top guns.
Unfortunately, the so-called “establishment” candidates, primarily Jeb Bush, are not doing well at the polls. Initially, the Trump lead at the polls was seen as hurricane that would blow away. But, he has persisted at the top. And that is worrisome to the party highest echelon.
Winning the party’s primary election is not the same as winning the presidency.