A big controversy erupted last week surrounding Senator Ted Cruz’ eligibility to be President of the United States. The controversy began when Donald Trump—the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination—indicated that Cruz’ birth in Canada (to a U.S. citizen mother) casts doubt that he is a “natural born citizen” as the Constitution requires. Donald Trump’s attack on Ted Cruz’ eligibility is no doubt related to Cruz’ rise in the polls, especially in Iowa where Cruz has been leading.
Now, I don’t really want to rehash the argument over whether Cruz is eligible to be President. I happen to think he is. Yes, he was born in Canada and yes his father was not a U.S. citizen at that time. But, his mother was a U.S. citizen and according to U.S. law in 1970 he was a U.S. citizen at birth. Even if someone wants to claim that a law passed by Congress can never define what a “natural born citizen” is, I think this Harvard Law Review analysis persuasively argues that, yes, Cruz is a “natural born citizen.”
No, what really bothered me about the whole “natural born citizen” debate is that it was yet another sign that Donald Trump’s candidacy is fracturing the Republican party. I saw again and again last week in the comments sections of conservative blogs how fiercely Trump’s supporters defend him. They go wherever Trump tells them to go, even if Trump is moving the conservative goal posts in a moderate or liberal direction.
Immigration has defined Trump’s candidacy. He wants to build a wall to stop the flood of illegal immigrants into the U.S., ostensibly because illegal immigrants from south of the border are stealing our jobs, getting free welfare, and changing our culture. Because many of Trump’s supporters are blue collar, I can understand why immigration is so important to them. I share many of their concerns.
Ironically, however, while Trump’s supporters are concerned about illegal immigrants taking over this country, I am concerned about Trump and his supporters hijacking the conservative movement. A recent poll showed that Trump’s biggest group of supporters in the Republican Party are registered Democrats (registered Republicans are the smallest group at 29%). That tells me we have a lot of old-school Democrats who are disaffected with the modern progressive Democratic party. In turn, these Democrats have flocked to the Republican party. In theory, I don’t mind that too much. What I do mind, though, is when these registered Democrats want to start redefining conservatism.
Think about this for a moment. Since time past conservatives have been for smaller government and lower taxes. Now, though, the leading candidate in the GOP field is a man who supports raising taxes and thinks single-payer healthcare is a good idea. These ideas have historically been anathema to conservatives. Yet, to many Trump supporters, he is more conservative than Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and pretty much everyone else out there. This what I mean when I say I am concerned about Trump’s supporters hijacking the conservative movement. He is moving the conservative goal posts and his supporters are loudly agreeing with him—almost militantly at times. That scares me.
For Trump supporters, they are the true “natural born citizens” and Trump is the leader of them all. Traditional conservatives must either agree with them or be cast out -- labeled members of the “establishment.” I admit that Trump’s presence in the race has some positive impact, but I also fear that the lasting impact of Trump’s candidacy is redefining “conservatism”—making it much more nativist and Dixiecratic in its identity. That kind of “conservatism” is incompatible with traditional conservatism, which is why I believe the Republican Party is fracturing. What it will become, I cannot say. But I’m pretty sure it will look nothing like the Republican Party we used to know.