So That Was Weird

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Back in September 2013 we got an email from a TPM Reader with a subscription to Ancestry.com who’d decided to poke around to see about Ted Cruz. TPM Reader JR had come up with a 1974 voter list that appeared to show that not only Ted Cruz’s father Rafael was a Canadian citizen (that’s part of the public record) but that his mother Eleanor was too. This was during the lead-up to the Cruz-inspired 2013 government shutdown. So I assume JR was inspired by Cruz’s mounting prominence. But that’s purely my speculation. In any case, JR sent us an email with a link to the document on Ancestry.com.

As an offshoot of my genealogy I’ve been checking on political people’s family trees (seems important to put some context to their lives and attitudes–also the inter/intra connections thru their relatives) Any hoo, I just started on Rafael’s tree. This popped out at me.

While this looks like an area directory it is listed as Canadian Voters List. It seems to indicate that Ted’s mother Eleanor voted or was eligible to vote in 1974 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Am I wrong? If she was an American citizen when Ted was born in 1970 –being eligible to vote in 1974 seems rather quick change in citizenship status.

Now, as it happens, I had and still have an account at Ancestry.com too. So I took a look. And sure enough, it did seem to show that. So the next day I talked to David Kurtz and we decided we’d try to report it out.

We did that and managed to confirm that the document was what it appeared to be, a list of eligible voters and citizens. So we took the document to Sen. Cruz’s senate office to ask them for a response. They asked for some time to review the document, which we said was fine. When they got back to us they said in so many words, who knows what it means but whatever this document says Eleanor Cruz never became a Canadian citizen. Then-Communications Director Sean Rushton also pointed out that Cruz’s father’s name was spelled ‘Raphael’ rather than the correct ‘Rafael’. (You can see the actual response here.)

That put it back in my court to decide whether we would publish a piece or not. I mulled it over for a few days and decided we wouldn’t, at least not yet. There wasn’t any single reason but it was mainly because at the time Cruz wasn’t even a candidate for president. And, as we note in the piece we published this evening, the document is far from conclusive proof that Eleanor Cruz was a Canadian citizen. It is merely a government document that identifies her as a citizen. And even that wouldn’t necessarily mean that Cruz wasn’t eligible to serve as President.

As I’ve noted in other contexts, all the ‘natural born’ stuff means is that you were born as an American citizen rather than becoming one through the process of naturalization at some later point. If Eleanor Cruz had become a Canadian citizen she might well have retained her American citizenship as a dual citizen, in which case I think Cruz would still be eligible. I believe that in any case of ambiguity the constitutional requirement should be interpreted flexibly. First, because absent a clear constitutional impediment, we should give citizens the right to vote for who they want. Second, because the initial reason for the requirement – to prevent a de facto foreigner from becoming head of state of a republic whose real independence was still very much in question – is hardly a major issue today.

In any case, the story remained in our files until last week when the Cruz eligibility issue started to heat up thanks to Donald Trump. And as it heated and simmered and then started to bubble a bit, I couldn’t help but think back to this weird document that on its face identified Cruz’s mother as a Canadian citizen. So I started nudging and mentioning it to David Kurtz, who was as he often is in these situations, some mix of bemused and cautious and entertained. Until yesterday when I said, we should go back and look at this again. So I asked Senior Editor Catherine Thompson to go back and re-report the story. (It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a talented journalist and editor.) What she came up with confirmed in more depth what we thought we knew two years ago: this was an official government document, compiled to provide a list of citizens over the age of 18 who were Canadian citizens and thus eligible to vote. We wanted to go a little deeper on making absolutely certain that there wasn’t another couple named Rafeal and Eleanor Cruz in Calgary at the time. We managed to settle that going back to phone books from the time.

So we were getting ready to publish late this afternoon. I was out to grab a soda when I got a message from Catherine that Breitbart.com had just published a story based on the same document we’d shared with Sen. Cruz’s office two years before. Needless to say this was a highly surprising and not welcome development. When I got back to the office I read the piece, which was clearly written to bend over backwards to make clear that there was certainly no way the document could really mean that Eleanor Cruz had actually become a Canadian citizen. And it included unrebutted claims from the Cruz campaign that were clearly not true. Still, as I said, the document definitely doesn’t prove she was a citizen. There are other explanations – the most likely of which is just that there was some misunderstanding on the part of the person who spoke to the Cruzes about whether they were citizens.

So what to do?

Some quick thinking. It’s as relevant as it was before Breitbart published and our piece gave a more evenhanded explanation of what the document was and what it might mean. So we reworked the piece slightly to take account of the Breitbart piece and published. The piece is right here.

If you have questions about the piece, I’m answering them here in The Hive.

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