Freedom Caucus Takes Majority Party Hostage

Freedom Caucus Takes Majority Party Hostage

Reprinted with permission from WashingtonSpectator.

Jim Jordan has been the Republican representative from Ohio’s 4th District for 11 years, so when he held a town hall meeting last February, it shouldn’t have been big news. But Jordan is an original founder of the Freedom Caucus, and unlike many of his colleagues now avoiding town hall meetings or hiring companies to recruit friendly audiences, Jordan didn’t attempt to close his meeting to his progressive critics. So when the congressman took heat from constituents on health care, abortion, gun safety, and Trump’s ties with Russia, the press got a story.

Jordan took it all in stride, telling reporters that democracy requires him to take questions from his harshest critics. While Jordan should get credit for not ducking his detractors, he can well afford to be magnanimous: in 2001, the 4th District’s lines were drawn so no Democrat could mount a real challenge, and after the 2010 census, Jordan’s district was gerrymandered again to further disenfranchise Democratic voters. From this bastion, Jordan is a force unto himself, able to ignore House Republican leaders and Donald Trump alike to join with his fellow Freedom Caucus members in pursuit of their agenda to remake America.

Jordan typifies what many believe is the profile of those 30-odd members of the Freedom Caucus: strident in their agenda, safely protected in unassailable election districts, and backed by lots of money and powerful interests.

The reality is more complicated—examining the fundraising records of the 2016 Freedom Caucus members, you’ll find that, with the exception of Ron DeSantis of Florida, they are underperformers. They spent an average of $894,550 per seat, or about half the $1.73 million average spent by Republican House incumbents overall.

Also, the simple truth is that all Republicans have benefited from two decades of state legislatures gerrymandering Congressional districts. Packing Democrats into districts in or near urban centers ensured that the 2016 Democratic class had an average winning margin of 41.5 points. The current class of Republican incumbents, meanwhile, averaged more than 60 percent of the total vote and a winning margin of 33.5. Isolate the Freedom Caucus members, and those percentages were just slightly lower—so the average Caucus member is no more secure than the average Republican in the House. Thus, based solely on election numbers, almost every House Republican could give Trump and Ryan a middle finger whenever they wanted.

Freedom Caucus members are also all white and, with one past exception, all male. But the real power of the Freedom Caucus comes from the group’s unique operation, and this it owes to two events—first, the rise of Newt Gingrich to House Speaker in 1995; and second, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that expanded the power of undisclosed money and conservative organizations.

Let’s start with how Citizens United is a key to the origin story of the Freedom Caucus.

While the official founding of the Freedom Caucus dates to January 2015, its true origins are found in the suburbs of Richmond, Va., during the summer of 2014. Eric Cantor represented Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and was both the House Republican Majority Leader and Speaker John Boehner’s designated heir-apparent.

Cantor spent most of that spring raising money to boost Republican candidates around the country for the upcoming 2014 midterms, largely ignoring his own approaching Virginia primary. His opponent, David Brat, was an economics instructor at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school near Richmond. Brat, a devotee of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, theologian John Calvin, and, of course, Ayn Rand, announced his challenge through the National Review and conservative outlets like Breitbart in order to hook up with a national conservative network.

No one took Brat too seriously, given Cantor’s position and his $6 million campaign fund.

But Brat, a Virginia Tea Party organizer, gambled he could beat Cantor’s money with his strong ties to conservative organizations like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and by actively working conservative media. Brat used the same strategy that Ted Cruz employed when he scored his big 2012 upset in the Texas Senate primary. North Carolina might also have been an inspiration if not a model for Brat: for over a decade, billionaire Art Pope, working with conservative activists (see Washington Spectator, April 2014) had created organizations to push moderate Republicans out of the Tar Heel state legislature.

It worked: Cantor had no idea he was in trouble until a month before the primary, when “Brat packers” took over the Virginia Republican Convention, replacing the leadership with Tea Party loyalists, and booing Cantor off the stage. By then it was too late.With just over 36,000 primary votes, Brat beat Cantor and his millions by a whopping 11 points. In fact, Brat’s overall spending for all of election year 2014 was less than $1.5 million, because he relied heavily on third-party conservative groups. With the examples of North Carolina, Cruz, and Brat’s race on the books, the handful of House Republicans chafing under Boehner’s rule now had an organizational model for resistance within the Republican Caucus.

After the 2014 midterms, the House Republicans met during January 2015 in Hershey, Pa., for a retreat to discuss their upcoming legislative agenda. According to conflicting accounts, the spark was the kerfuffle in which 25 Republicans voted against re-electing Boehner as Speaker. A group of House Republicans led by Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and including the newly elected Brat had formulated a plan for a unique caucus designed to pressure the Speaker’s agenda—the founders included Justin Amish (R-Mich.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and Mick Mulvaney (then R-S.C., and now Trump’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget).

After a few more members joined them, a blurb in The Wall Street Journal announced the founding of a nine-member organization called the Freedom Caucus to challenge the leadership.

Except that the Freedom Caucus didn’t come to challenge the leadership: it came to bury it. The Caucus announced that the era of cooperating with Obama was over (the White House probably had a good laugh over the notion that such cooperation had ever existed); it also put the House Leadership on notice to end “business as usual.”

And the Caucus scored big its first month. Working with the Heritage Foundation and its news site, the Daily Signal, among others, the renegades lobbied enough conservatives to close the Department of Homeland Security for several days. The Freedom Caucus demanded the agency stay closed until Boehner added amendments to defund Obama’s entire immigration policy.

With help from the Democrats, the House Republican leadership re-opened DHS, after which the Freedom Caucus set its sights on abolishing “Wall Street Welfare,” or the Export-Import Bank. It was a bloody fight, ending in a temporary Freedom Caucus win.

Now conservative media and activists joined the Caucus’s taunts that John Boehner was a “sellout” establishment enemy of conservatism. Boehner fought back, removing Mark Meadows and other Freedom Caucus members from leadership positions. Meadows, one of the Caucus leaders, made the fateful decision to take on Boehner himself, filing the motion that led to Boehner’s withdrawal as House Speaker and leader of the Republican Caucus.

Almost every House Republican could give Trump and Ryan a middle finger whenever they wanted.

Under Speaker Paul Ryan most of the Caucus members saw their rights and positions restored. And following the failure of the Trump health care reform bill, the Freedom Caucus emerged as a powerful lobby of elected officials operating within its own legislature.

Labeling the “Freedom Caucus” a lobbying effort is appropriate, because the organization goes far beyond the role of a traditional Congressional “caucus.” That is the least understood but most important key to the Freedom Caucus’s success.

Andrew Clarke, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, has studied the Freedom Caucus extensively and has produced articles and papers that detail how the members’ safe districts and support from outside conservative groups are only the beginning. The congressional operations of the Caucus are highly structured:

…the Freedom Caucus is a particularly strong institution. It has an elected hierarchy of faction leaders and, thanks to a tiered dues system, several full-time staffers coordinate their legislative actions. Strict bylaws also help unify the group. New caucus candidates must be vetted, and the caucus can boot members from the group. If 80 percent of the bloc agrees on a policy position, the whole group is required to stand as a united front. These features make it much harder to pick off individual faction members.

The Freedom Caucus has membership rules stricter than many country clubs. But once you’re in, you have the freedom to specialize on an issue or topic and work with non-members (though only Republicans) and other outside groups either to influence or to attack the leadership agenda.

In effect, the Freedom Caucus has done the impossible, creating a filibuster within the House of Representatives. That is where the rise of Newt Gingrich comes in, because the only reason the Freedom Caucus can create such havoc is because of actions taken by Gingrich in 1995.

It is a story told in detail elsewhere, but in the late 1970s, Gingrich led a group of conservative rebels who were the Freedom Caucus of their era. Shut out of both the leadership and powerful committees, Gingrich and his allies found ways to advance their agenda in defiance of the head Republican honchos.

One vehicle Gingrich favored was to create caucuses, such as the Conservative Opportunity Society. He would also join caucuses himself. I know this because in the early 1980s, a bipartisan caucus that Gingrich co-chaired with Rep. Albert Gore Jr., then representative from Tennessee, employed me. Thus I was once part of a conversation in which Newt offered that the House needed to emphasize governing over legislating by using “the paradigm of the presidential bully pulpit” to advance its agenda. (His agenda, incidentally, was a return to America pre-1965, pre–Great Society or, as Gingrich put it, “From 1607 down till 1965 … here’s how we did it until the Great Society messed everything up: don’t work, don’t eat.” Read the public statements of Freedom Caucus members like Jordan, Meadows, Brooks, and especially Brat and you’ll see similar “America lost its way in 1965” pap.)

Unlike the Freedom Caucus, however, Republicans at the time were in the minority and the Republican Minority Leader, Bob Michel, truly resented Gingrich’s attacks on his character and his leadership style—Michel, for example, allowed Republican committee leaders and members to cut deals with Democrats. In 1989, when Gingrich sought to become the number two leader in the GOP caucus, Michel did all he could to block him and briefly secured future Vice President Dick Cheney to the post.

But fate intervened—Cheney was named Defense Secretary in Bush 41 and Gingrich became the Republican whip. During the next six years, Gingrich would continue to encourage conservative Republicans to find ways to express themselves and work outside the official Caucus.

Gingrich then became Speaker in 1995 and suddenly he decided independence and individuality were luxuries his Republican coalition could no longer afford. Gingrich moved to reduce both the power of the committee leaders and their ability to make policy independently of the leadership by term-limiting committee chairs, slashing their staff and budgets, and giving the House Republican caucus more control over the rules.

In the name of “reform” Gingrich also banned the independent, bipartisan caucuses that had helped fuel his rise to power (some, like the Black Caucus, survived with support from outside groups). Gingrich shut down the Office of Technology Assessment, a bipartisan organization that provided scientific and technical information to congressional offices (its science had run afoul of the wishes of big donors in the oil, auto, and tobacco industries). Finally, to check the power of Democrats or Republicans who might challenge his agenda, Gingrich slashed the budget of Congress’s sole oversight branch, the General Accounting Office.

Most news organizations repeated the Gingrich claims that these actions were all in the name of savings and “reform,” though the outgoing Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey (D-Wis.) declared: “This has nothing to do with reform. This has everything to do with centralizing information in the hands of one man.”

Obey was correct—Gingrich effectively made the House Republican Caucus the sole controlling force in the House of Representatives. There is no greater evidence of this than the misnamed “Hastert Rule,” or government of and by the House Republican Caucus. Gingrich had promised his supporters in 1995 he would enforce an informal rule to pass legislation “by a majority of the majority party” and leave Democrats out of the process—and he delivered.

To the Freedom Caucus, it is their way or the highway.

Gingrich’s transformation of the House of Representatives from a largely open system to a “managed democratic institution” was never smooth, and there would always be factions, issues, and scandals to roil the Republican Caucus. But it wasn’t until the founding of the Freedom Caucus on the 20th anniversary of Gingrich’s ascent that a single group would consistently disrupt House Republican leaders.

It would be easy to suggest the Freedom Caucus members are just “democratic anarchists,” disrupting the House because they can’t express their viewpoints any other way. But you need only read the words of Mark Meadows or David Brat, or the caucus’s demands during March’s health care meltdown, to know the Freedom Caucus is a “managed democracy” on steroids. In both the DHS shutdown and the health care debacle, the caucus complained that compromise was another word for surrender and that failing to force the issue, as David Brat put it, would mean allowing the left-right establishment to run the government to pay off their cronies.

Simply put: to the Freedom Caucus, it is their way or the highway.

Political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein documented the decline of our political system in their book recently re-titled It’s Even Worse Than It Was. Mann and Ornstein’s culprit was political polarization generally, but mostly the “asymmetrical polarization” of the Republican Party by hardline conservatives. As they put it, Republican leaders decided control in pursuit of an agenda was more important than a democratic process to seek consensus:

[The Republican Party was] an outlier, using unusual and unprecedented parliamentary tactics and tools to delegitimize outcomes and actors from the other party and promote mass obstruction and nullification.

Last year, the British news magazine The Economist pushed the idea that the only time America resembles a true democracy is during the presidential primaries. To prove its point, The Economist used poll numbers and primary results to sort the 435 members of the House of Representatives the way a parliament would, to illustrate just how many points of view were being expressed by all the voters in the primaries. The result was that Hillary Clinton took a 28 percent plurality for a center-left faction, closely followed by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, representing social democrats and a populist party, respectively. The moderate conservative and fundamentalist factions of the GOP would have split 19 percent of the vote, with the Libertarians, at 1 percent, earning no seats. This fringe of right-wing groupings reflects the actual Freedom Caucus makeup, yet now this factional one-fifth minority of public opinion insists it gets to run the whole show in Congress.

American election laws only allow us to elect individuals, not parties representing points of view. Sadly, the last two decades have seen the political process in the House grow increasingly polarized as Gingrich’s “one-party majority rule” has become the norm. Gerrymandering, Citizens United, outside organizations motivating blocs of voters as state legislatures restrict voter rights, and “conservatives-only” media—in short, everything that makes the Freedom Caucus possible—are merely symptoms of a larger disease.

With the courts now taking action against gerrymandering and voting rights restrictions, and progressive groups like Indivisible organizing for change at the federal and state level in 2018, there is some hope for near-term change. But a few court rulings and a couple of elections will achieve little long term: for that, we need a serious overhaul of our political structure to expand both voting rights and elected representation.


Peter Lindstrom lives in Washington, D.C., and has been a political consultant for more than two decades. He also writes and regularly blogs for the website


Liberals Learn To Love The Freedom Caucus

Liberals Learn To Love The Freedom Caucus

Reprinted with permission fromThe Washington Spectator.

For progressives, the on-going civil war among House Republicans over Obamacare has inspired delicious schadenfreude as Trump and Republican leaders suffer at the hands of that small band of ideological House Republicans so committed to their political purity that they may be on the verge of derailing the entire Trump-Ryan agenda.

But though it is entertaining to watch this GOP catfight, progressives and anyone else who supports democratic values had better hope the Freedom Caucus stays committed, refusing to give an inch. I strongly suspect they won’t surrender, for they have an almost religious commitment to the notion of “repeal and replace.” Their rigidity might defeat Trump and House Speaker Ryan’s true master plan: of gutting health care to pass a huge, permanent tax plan for billionaires.

Confused? Don’t be—for Trump, Ryan, the House Republican leadership, and even the Freedom Caucus, this all goes back to the 2013 government shutdown and the 2015 budget reconciliation fight, which Obama largely won, outmaneuvering House Republicans to rewrite George W. Bush’s tax cuts and restore modest tax increases on the wealthiest Americans. Obama could do this because the Bush tax plan had a 10-year expiration date unless the Bush administration could produce a credible budget document establishing that the tax cuts wouldn’t increase the deficit after 10 years. They couldn’t.

But give credit to Bush: at least his team was honest enough to admit that, as every standard economic test determined, deficit reduction under his plan would never happen.

Fast-forward to February 2017, when Trump’s snake-oil-budget sales team was hoping to produce a document declaring they could fund a massive defense-spending increase along with the Ryan-Trump $3 trillion tax cut, with 97 percent of the gains going to the top one percent (Trump’s team readily admits the wealthy get the most in his plan). So they went to town with cuts, slashing both the State Department and EPA nearly in half, gutting public housing, and eliminating medical research.

Problem is, all the snake-oil budget wonks in Washington weren’t able to find more than half the savings needed to invoke that Senate rule that would make Trump’s tax plan permanent with only 51 votes. However, during the budget wars with Obama, then-House budget leader Paul Ryan and his flunky—er, right hand and future House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price, offered a plan to gut Obamacare to gain $1.2 trillion in savings. The savings were only on paper, but under Senate rules, that would be enough.

Progressives and anyone else who supports democratic values had better hope the Freedom Caucus stays committed, refusing to give an inch.

Ryan, of course, is now Speaker, Price is now Secretary of HHS and what most of the media fails to understand about the Ryan-Trump-Price AHCA plan is that it really doesn’t give a good goddam about health care services in any meaningful sense. Rather it is simply a plan Ryan’s team designed to produce $1.2 trillion dollars on paper so they could get started on the tax plan. The media still didn’t get it even after it was revealed that nearly 10 percent of the entire House health care bill was nothing but a detailed a plan to remove 377 PowerBall and MegaMillions winners from Medicaid, all to save a couple of million bucks.

Unfortunately for Ryan (and Trump) the Freedom Caucus remembers the 2015 reconciliation fight differently; at that time Ryan, Price, and Republican Senate leaders agreed to Freedom Caucus demands to repeal every penny of government funding for Obamacare. Today, they want it all and they want it now, not in a gradually implemented repeal that won’t take effect for several months (intended to give both Trump and Congress enough time to pass a tax cut and a new health care system—or so they say). Caucus members see Trump and Ryan as only seeking savings for their tax cut, while trying to score political points to preserve as many popular (or, as the Freedom Caucusers say, “pro-government”) Obamacare programs as they can.

Even more bizarre was the House leadership’s reaction to the fierce opposition from the Freedom Caucus, and Senators named Paul, Cruz, and Cotton. Ryan and his cohorts insist they were “surprised” by the Caucus’s reaction. That sounded a lot like Captain Renault telling Rick he was “shocked, shocked to find there was gambling going on” in the Café Americain in Casablanca. Because every Republican in Congress is well aware that the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus are the culmination of American right-wing ideology, and have no interest in compromising on their ideological principles.

The story goes back 70 years and involves two groups wholly dissatisfied with the post-WWII mainstream Republican Party: the anti-union/anti-communist corporate faction that included Charles Koch, Robert Welch, and Joseph Coors, all co-founders of the John Birch Society. And the religious fundamentalists, like Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell. There is no need to recount this history here, especially with so many excellent accounts of the Kochs, the rise of fundamentalism in the GOP, and the many sideshows, like the influence of Ayn Rand on conservative thought. Much of this is documented in the outstanding work of Washington Spectator contributor Rick Perlstein, who has brilliantly documented the rise of the new American right in his books.

But in the 1980s-1990s, as right-wing ideologues gained influence in the White House and Congress, they had a new problem: how to govern. Two individuals best represent what happened next, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. Both advocated a form of what comparative political scientists call “managed democracy.” To give you an idea what that means, most political scientists classify Putin’s Russia as an highly advanced “managed democracy,” i.e. not quite a full authoritarian state, because a few dissenting voices are still tolerated, but it is getting there.

Norquist’s version of “managed democracy” was essentially government by ideology: as he told his Harvard classmate, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, he would stamp out liberalism by recruiting politicians who “will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.” To the pure at heart, Republicans were as big a problem as liberals: thus, Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, along with groups like the Heritage Foundation that today define authentic conservatism for the party. More recently, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity was established to purge ideologically impure Republicans in primaries. Their decades of work inevitably led to the congressional Freedom Caucus, which stands for those who believe in governing from an ideological foundation.

Significantly, Norquist has never held public office. Newt Gingrich has, so his approach to “managed democracy” relied more on fixing the system, through gerrymandered districts, voter ID laws that both limit voting rights while controlling who is permitted to vote, and most important, Gingrich’s 1995 decree that House Republicans would govern by a “majority of the majority.” Today it is misnamed the “Hastert Rule,” but there is a better known and more appropriate term for “majority of the majority” and that is “one-party rule.”

In today’s Republican House, no bill passes unless a majority of the Republican House majority supports it. Thus the Obamacare battle now comes down to Ryan and Trump using their “majority of the majority” tactics to cow both the House and Senate into passing a bill masquerading as “health care reform” to finance their wet dream of a tax plan for the super rich. Meanwhile, a small clique of ideological purists who insist the Ryan-Trump bill is a political sell-out that protects too much of Obamacare is standing in the way. So despite universal opposition to their bill being loudly expressed by medical societies, hospital associations, the AARP, and dozens of other interest groups, House Republican leaders are doing all they can to strongarm the bill’s passage. And a few Freedom Caucus leaders are invoking their version of Martin Luther’s message to the Diet of Worms: “Here I shall make my stand, I can do nothing else.”

The irony here is that progressives or anyone else who opposes Trump’s larger agenda now have no choice but to cheer on the Freedom Caucus. While its members may not support a single principle progressives believe in, they are political insiders, and for now, the only hope America has of derailing the train before it leaves the station.

Obama On The Birth Of Birtherism

Obama On The Birth Of Birtherism

This article originally appeared in the Washington Spectator

Perhaps President Obama was waiting for the prime opportunity to describe “birtherism” as a symptom of a broader pathology afflicting the Republican Party. Lucky for him, that moment arrived during a joint press conference last week with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when CBS News reporter Margaret Brennan asked Obama if he bears any responsibility for the polarized politics that brought us “someone as provocative as Donald Trump.”

“I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things,” Obama said. “But being blamed for their primaries and who they are selecting for their party is novel . . . I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example. I don’t remember saying ‘Hey, why don’t you ask me about that? Why don’t you question whether I’m an American?’”

Obama returned to the theme later that day, when, at a state dinner, he described the United States as a land of extraordinary opportunity. “We see this in our current presidential campaign. Where else could a boy born in Calgary run for president of the United States?”

Revenge is a dish best served cold—and it’s even better when there’s a bemused smile on the face of the server. It was Trump who seized upon fringe claims about Obama’s birthplace, and who even went so far as to hire his own private eye to go to Hawaii to “investigate.” More recently, it was Trump who went full “birther” on Ted Cruz. Trump didn’t come up with the idea that Obama wasn’t a citizen; he just made it his own.

Nor was Trump first in line with questions about Cruz’s U.S. citizenship. When Cruz took his first steps on the road to the presidency shortly after taking his Senate seat in 2013, prospective opponents began to float questions about his place of birth. The Texas senator immediately declared himself a natural-born citizen. Eventually, just to play it safe, he renounced his birthright Canadian citizenship.

At the time, I wrote in The Washington Spectator that Cruz was hoping to inoculate himself for the upcoming presidential race. Though I’m a political consultant and researcher, not an attorney, I concluded that while there is a mountain of reasons to vote against Cruz, claiming he is Canadian is a dead end, because the senator met a “natural born” citizen test.

The Canadian birth question had been almost forgotten—until Trump asked, “Are we so sure about that?” With a bit of help from the media, the discussion came roaring back into the public eye. In fact, the media fell so hard for Trump’s pitch that even The Washington Post’s KidsPost—a news source geared to the middle school set—declared that “a court might have to decide” if Cruz can be president.

Courts are deciding and dismissing lawsuits without ruling on the merits. But the question remains: are there merits?

The short answer is absolutely not. Cruz’s status is no different than Obama’s, McCain’s, Mitt Romney’s—or Mitt’s father George, who, after serving in Nixon’s cabinet, briefly ran for the presidency in 1968 even though he was born in Mexico.

What changed is the arrival of Donald Trump, who’s a genius at manipulating both message and media. Trump has made sure that doubts about Cruz’s citizenship will linger, perhaps peeling off 10,000 votes here or there among voters who buy Trump’s claim, as disingenuous as it is.

How disingenuous? Remember the debate in July, when Trump referenced a Boston Globe op-ed by liberal jurist Laurence Tribe that had “raised serious questions” about Cruz’s citizenship? Tribe had consistently argued that Ted Cruz is not only American, but a “natural born citizen.” Yet Tribe also observed that it is Ted Cruz’s originalist friends who say he can’t be president.

Tribe understands the legal concepts behind “originalism” better than most conservatives. Under Tribe’s (and almost every other legal scholar’s) interpretation of the Constitution, there is no doubt that Cruz is a natural-born American. But as Tribe’s article pointed out, Cruz and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, among others, have professed a devout faith in a “pure originalist doctrine,” which has inspired a lot of angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments over what the founders meant when they invented the term “natural born.” To borrow a phrase from Justice Scalia, conservatives abandoned common sense to argle-bargle a few legal notions to conclude Cruz can’t be president.

If you read the hot mess that is Article II, Section I of the Constitution, it seems incredible that the founders didn’t think all this through. (You can learn more about that here.) But remember—the Constitution was a blueprint for a system of government that didn’t exist yet. So when several delegates demanded language to protect us from foreign threats, the drafters slapped down some confusing legalese they lifted from British legal sources that defined who was a “subject of His Majesty’s Crown.”

Like Trump followers today, a few of the founders had an irrational dread of immigrants, particularly foreigners who might seize the U.S. government. To be fair, foreign leaders seizing countries was a legitimate concern back in the 18th century.

After Tribe’s op-ed, law historian Mary Brigid McManamon concluded in a Washington Post op-ed that while Senator Cruz is unquestionably American through “blood rights,” he is not truly “natural-born.” Rather, he is in a legal hybrid category known as “naturalized at birth.”

Most legal scholars will reject McManamon’s claim on the grounds of equal rights. For centuries England extended “natural born” status on sons born overseas to British fathers. The United States adopted similar laws, granting natural-born status to the sons of overseas American fathers, while sons of mothers married to foreigners could only be “naturalized at birth.”

Which brings us back to George Romney. Born in 1907 in Mexico, Romney’s Mormon father and his three wives (there was a reason the elder Romney fled America) were all natural-born Americans. So, when the issue of George Romney’s birth came up in 1968, legal scholars and even the Congressional Research Service, concluded Romney was a natural-born American.

Ted Cruz is George Romney’s mirror image: if it had been Cruz’s mother who was the naturalized Cuban-American, while his dad was Delaware-born “Ralph Welcome Cross” instead of “Rafael Bienvenido Cruz,” the senator would have automatically made the natural-born club. That is why legal scholars now say that it is impossible to imagine that any federal court would rule that American males would today have more rights than a natural-born American female.

But none of this matters because Cruz’s case will never be heard in court. After dozens of rulings in lawsuits involving both George and Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Barack Obama, the federal courts have effectively declared no citizen has any standing to sue a candidate over presidential eligibility.

Lawsuits challenging Cruz’s eligibility—filed in Florida, New York, Alabama, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania—are going nowhere. The suits in New York, Florida, and Illinois have been tossed out. On March 10, a state judge in Harrisburg heard arguments on a similar case and said he will present his ruling soon.

Not that the Cruz birthers will give it up; it’s part of Trump’s “Real White Americans vs. the Aliens” politics. And he’s learned that it works. Recall that in 2000, Trump briefly ran for the Reform Party nomination, even contesting the California primary, where he lost by almost two to one. Back then the Donald was the opposite of the personality we see today. He wanted voters to support his plans for universal health care and tax reform that cut rates for the middle class while raising them on the wealthy. As part of that effort, Trump made his now notorious appearance on “Meet The Press,” where he declared himself a liberal who supported abortion rights.

Because the Reform Party self-destructed in 2000, most of us never saw “Wonky Trump”—savaged by leftists who split from the Reform Party to back Ralph Nader and outflanked on the right by Pat Buchanan, who received standing ovations declaring White America under attack by hordes of Mexican immigrants and asserting that his first act as president would be to send troops to seal off the Mexican border, with orders to shoot anyone trying to cross.

Trump today is all about “testicular fortitude,” not real policy. His only issue is protecting “us” from the dreaded “them”—to that end, he transformed his chief rival, Ted Cruz, into an alien.


Peter Lindstrom is a political consultant and researcher. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Flickr user e OrimO