There wasn’t a moment of Ted Cruz’s CPAC appearance yesterday that wasn’t embarrassing for pretty much everyone involved. Cruz’s speech was precisely what we’ve come to expect from him at every public appearance: a sneering and self-serving rant that compensated for its lack of substance with one-liners and appeals to patriotism. He gamely tried to present himself as a hard-nosed fighter for conservative principles in Washington, and skipped right past the fact that every big fight he’s picked has ended with Ted Cruz losing. The crowd, of course, loved every moment of it.
But things didn’t get really sad until after Cruz’s speech, when the special Q&A session began and Cruz had to face down that most dogged of interrogators: Sean Hannity. The whole thing was a farce, with Hannity lobbing the softest questions imaginable at Cruz (“Why does Ted Cruz love America?” was among the more aggressive queries) and Cruz indulging in some mindless techbabble in comparing himself to Uber (“What I'm trying to do more than anything else is bring a disruptive app to politics.”) There were Bill Clinton impersonations, a “lightning round,” and jokes about pot brownies. Enthralling stuff.
At one point during the questioning, though, Hannity took things off the beaten track and brought up the circumstances of Ted Cruz’s birth. “I am asking this next question because I know the liberal media will, so we might as well get it out of the way for them,” Hannity began. “Your mother was an American citizen, you talked about your dad coming from Cuba, you were born in Canada, you had dual citizenship. There are a bunch of liberal birthers out there that would try to make the case that you’re not eligible.” Cruz replied that he’s an American citizen by birth and obviously eligible to run for president under the Constitution.
I loved this question. More specifically, I loved the fact that Sean Hannity asked this question. Ted Cruz is, in fact, eligible to run for the presidency – the Constitution doesn’t define “natural born citizen” in the section laying out presidential eligibility, but the overwhelming weight of legal opinion surrounding the matter affirms that someone who was a citizen of the United States at birth is a “natural born citizen.” So congratulations to future-president Ted Cruz.
Hannity is right that there is a small and badly confused segment of the population that challenges Cruz’s eligibility, though he’s wrong to characterize it as “liberal.” In fact, the most prominent voice questioning Cruz’s citizenship is everyone’s favorite clown-wigged birther numskull, Donald Trump. In 2013, Trump told ABC News that he wasn’t sure Cruz is eligible. “If he was born in Canada, perhaps not,” Trump said, “I heard somebody told me he was born in Canada.” Just last month, Trump told reporters in Iowa that the accident of Cruz’s Canadian birth is “a problem. It could be a difficult problem, but he admits that he was born in Canada.”
Trump’s involvement in the Cruz birther brigade is what makes Hannity’s umbrage at the fringe movement so very amusing. When Trump was embarrassing himself and the nation with his circa-2011 hunt for Barack Obama’s “real” birth certificate, he had no friendlier ally in the media than Sean Hannity.
To be clear, Hannity was never a “birther” himself. He was more of a birther enabler – he’d adopt a “just asking questions” posture and call it “odd” that the White House refused to accede to the demands of loopy conspiracy theorists and release Obama’s long-form birth certificate. But he’d sympathize with the birthers and lament that they were being “crucified and beaten up and smeared and besmirched.”
In early 2011, Trump grabbed headlines by announcing that he’d sent a team of investigators to Hawaii to uncover the truth about Obama’s birth certificate. That was a lie (there’s no evidence Trump ever sent anyone to Hawaii) but Hannity was more than happy to invite Trump onto his television program and offer a safe, welcoming venue to discuss the findings of the fake investigation he never launched.
Hannity has, of course, since hardened his attitude towards birthers and birtherism now that they’re targeting Republican Ted Cruz instead of socialist Barack Obama. But Trump is still very much welcome on Hannity’s Fox News program. He last appeared on February 17, when Hannity asked him if he was serious about running for president. So when Hannity warns that the media will help make an issue of Cruz’s Canadian birth, he’s actually attacking himself for giving a platform to the country’s most prominent Cruz birther. Congratulations, Sean: the “liberal media” is you.