Donald Trump's uncontrollable birtherism: Trump is now questioning Marco Rubio's eligibility to run

After Marco's surprising 2nd place finish in South Carolina, Trump returns to the ugly "anchor baby" scourge

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published February 22, 2016 3:35PM (EST)

  (AP/Reuters/J Pat Carter/David Becker/John Locher)
(AP/Reuters/J Pat Carter/David Becker/John Locher)

Donald Trump telegraphed his birther takedown of Ted Cruz before he even entered the race for the White House, saying nearly a year ago that the Texas senator born in Canada faced "a hurdle" that "no one else seems to have."  Of course, as Cruz surged ahead of the Iowa caucuses to challenge Trump's longstanding dominance at the top of the crowded GOP field, Trump's birther dogwhistles only grew louder and now that the Donald faces another upshot challenger in South Carolina second place finisher Marco Rubio, the Birther-in-Chief has returned to his ways, suggesting the Cuban-American lawmaker may be ineligible to run for president.

Following Rubio's surprise second place finish in Saturday's South Carolina primary, Trump retweeted a blog post suggesting that both Cruz and Rubio are ineligible to run for president:

When pressed about his apparent endorsement of what might become his third birther expedition -- in 2012, Trump repeatedly pressed for President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate -- on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, Trump simply replied, "I think the lawyers have to determine it."

"Let people make their own determination," Trump later argued, adding that "I’m not sure."

Wrestling with the ugliest parts of the GOP's nativist base has proven fatal for even some of the most conservative Republican presidential candidates (Scott Walker's three different positions on birthright citizenship in one week tanked his campaign last summer), but for leader and main instigator Donald Trump, his campaign of open xenophobia feeds off staking out some of the most controversial position to generate headlines and stir his base.

Even though Trump saying he's unsure of Rubio's eligibility is an about-face from a January interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, it's no surprise that Trump has now gone after both Cuban-American presidential candidates. He is nothing if not eventually consistent in his birtherism. Although, to be more accurate, Trump's questioning of Rubio's eligibility is more in line with his arguments on so-called anchor babies than it aligns with his history of birtherism.

"The parents have to come in legally," Trump said of children born to undocumented parent in the U.S., talking to reporters in New Hampshire back in August. "Now we’re going to have to find out what’s going to happen from a court standpoint. But many people, many of the great scholars say that anchor babies are not covered (by the 14th Amendment). We’re going to have to find out."

Rubio, whose parents came to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s, was born in Florida in 1971. His parents were not U.S. citizens at the time.

The Constitution states only a “natural-born citizen” can be president, though it does not explicitly define that phrase. A Fort Lauderdale man filed a lawsuit in December against both Cruz and Rubio questioning whether they fit the definition of “natural born citizen” needed to be president.

As recently as last month, however, Trump was asserting Rubio's eligibility to run for president in an effort to undercut Cruz's.  "He was born here. He was born on the land," Trump said of Rubio. "Ted was not born on the land, and there's a very strict reading that you have to be born on the land."

For his part, Rubio dismissed Trump’s last turn to birtherism and the debate over birthright citizenship as just a shameless grab for attention.

“This is a pattern. This is a game he plays. He says something that’s edgy and outrageous and then the media flocks and covers that and then no one else can get any coverage on anything else,” Rubio said on “This Week.” “And that worked when there were 15 people running for president. It’s not going to work anymore.”

“I’m going to spend zero time on his interpretation of the constitution with regards to eligibility,” Rubio added.

While Rubio never hopped on the "anchor baby" bandwagon last summer, declining to call for a repeal of birthright citizenship, Cruz did rush to join Trump's demagoguery. Now, Donald Trump is leading in 10 of the next 14 states set to vote in Republican primaries or caucuses over the next two weeks, while Rubio and Cruz struggle to set a realistic  path toward the nomination.

Trump Says He's 'Not Sure' If His Opponents Can Legally Be President

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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