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The Wacky Birther Cases Against 4 GOP Presidential Candidates, Explained

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The birther movement is made up of people who consider themselves "strict constitutionalists." The Constitution states the following regarding qualifications for President: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States." Birthers make much hay out of the phrase "natural born" citizen, which is not defined in the nation's founding document.

For the purposes of determining presidential eligibility, a "natural born" citizen is understood to be someone who gains citizenship "by birth" or "at birth," as opposed to being naturalized as a U.S. citizen, according to a 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service. Birthers contest that understanding, challenging both candidates who were born outside of the U.S. to at least one American parent and candidates who were born inside of the U.S. to foreign parents.

The birther movement most vociferously opposed President Barack Obama's candidacy. But over the years birthers also have challenged George Romney, who was born in Mexico; Barry Goldwater, who was born in Arizona before it became a state; John McCain, who was born in Panama; and even Mitt Romney, who was born in Michigan but whose aforementioned father was born in Mexico.

Now, there are four Republicans running for President in 2016 who've captured the birthers' attention: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). Jack Cashill, an author and columnist for WND, the conspiracy theory website that has been something of a birther movement hub, told TPM last week that these birthers remain "constitutionally opposed" to those candidates' eligibility even though they're still likely "ideologically aligned" with the candidates.

Here's how the far-right fringe challenges the candidacies of the four GOPers.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Ted Cruz is the only candidate out of the four being targeted by birthers who was not born on U.S. soil. Cruz was born in 1970 to an American mother and a Cuban father who were working in Calgary, Alberta. The family moved to Texas when Cruz was 4 years old, and his father, Rafael Cruz, was eventually naturalized as an American citizen in 2005.

Cruz formally renounced his Canadian citizenship last year in anticipation of a presidential bid. But that didn't satisfy everyone, as birthers of various stripes from self-styled "constitutional sheriff" Richard Mack to current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump continued to express skepticism about the Texas Republicans' eligibility.

Cruz's campaign doesn't have much to worry about, though. The 2011 Congressional Research Service report stated that term "natural born" citizen most likely includes "those born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent who, prior to the birth, had met the requirements of federal law for physical presence in the country."

"Senator Cruz has not spent a single moment on this earth where he was not an America citizen, indeed a natural born American citizen because his mother was and is an American," Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler told TPM Wednesday in an email, pointing to a Harvard Law Review article written by a bipartisan pair of former solicitors general that said as much.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Marco Rubio was born in 1974 in Miami to Cuban parents. Mario and Oriales Rubio received permanent residency in the U.S. in 1956, before Fidel Castro rose to power, and were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 1975, the year after their son was born.

But the birthers don't take issue with where Rubio was born. Instead, they argue that he is not eligible to run for President because of where his parents were born. They began making their case as far back as 2011, when Rubio's name was being bandied about as a potential vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney.

Charles Kerchner, Jr., a retired U.S. Navy officer from Pennsylvania who unsuccessfully challenged Obama's eligibility to serve as commander-in-chief in federal court, argued that Rubio could not run for higher office because, according to Kerchner's interpretation, a candidate for President must be born to two U.S. citizens. He also claimed that Rubio, as the son of Cubans, was entitled to dual citizenship, which those who consider themselves strict constitutionalists consider a barrier to the presidency.

"Marco’s father passed Cuban citizenship at birth to Marco Rubio under Cuban law, U.S. law, natural law, and international law," Kerchner wrote on his blog. "Being a dual citizen at birth, Marco Rubio is NOT a 'natural born Citizen of the United States.'"

But contrary to Kerchner's argument, Cuba doesn't recognize dual citizenship. Regardless, the Congressional Research Service report, citing references in federal and state court cases and historical analyses, stated that any person born in the United States is a "natural born" citizen—even if born to foreign parents.

"There is no provision in the Constitution and no controlling American case law to support a contention that the citizenship of one’s parents governs the eligibility of a native born U.S. citizen to be President," the report added.

Rubio's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal was born four months after his parents immigrated in 1971 from Punjab, India to Baton Rouge so that his mother could attend Louisiana State University. He dropped his given name, Piyush, in favor of "Bobby" when he was a child, inspired by his favorite character on "The Brady Bunch."

Birthers argue that Jindal, like Rubio, is ineligible to be President not because of where he was born but because his parents were foreigners. Kerchner, the Navy ex-commander who sued Obama, was at the birther vanguard in regards to Jindal, too.

"Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was born a Citizen of India via his Citizens of India father and mother. They had only recently arrived in the USA when Bobby was born," he wrote. "By being born in the USA he is a 'born Citizen' of the U.S. at birth. But Gov. Bobby Jindal is definitely NOT a 'natural born Citizen' at birth of the United States."

Jindal even released his own birth certificate, although it wasn't in response to any birther chatter. The governor shared it with The Advocate newspaper, which had gotten his middle name wrong in print, after he endorsed a birther-inspired bill that would've required candidates for federal office to show proof of birth in the U.S. in order to get on the ballot in Louisiana.

Jindal's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

Rick Santorum was born in 1958 in Winchester, Virginia. While his mother is American, his father immigrated to the United States from Italy, which the strictest of constitutionalists believe disqualifies him from running for President.

Conspiracy theory website WND said in 2011 that Santorum's mother provided information showing that her late husband became a U.S. citizen before she gave birth to her son, which should have satisfied the most die-hard birthers. But not Kerchner: he was still peddling "100% proof" that Santorum's father was naturalized as a citizen after the former senator's birth on his blog in 2012.

To show just how convoluted birther logic is, Kerchner's attorney on the Obama lawsuit, Mario Apuzzo, wrote a blog post this year that declared Santorum a "natural born citizen" eligible to run for President. That blog post cited the same application Santorum's father had filed for a certificate of citizenship that Kerchner used to argue the former senator was actually a "dual citizen" of Italy and therefore ineligible to run for President.

Santorum's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

This post has been updated.

About The Author

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Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.