U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Friday stop in Columbia had the marks of a healthy presidential campaign: Ardent supporters. A full house. And opponents watching from the fringe.
An aide of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump sat in the back of the University of South Carolina’s alumni center to gauge the crowd. Supporters of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida passed out anti-Cruz fliers.
But, over an hour-long forum on constitutional issues, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson did not ask Cruz, a Harvard-educated attorney, to respond to Trump’s questions about Cruz’s eligibility to run for president.
Trump raised the issue again during the GOP debate Thursday in North Charleston, about the same time that news was breaking that a Texas attorney has filed a federal lawsuit asking a court to decide whether Cruz, if elected, can serve.
At question is whether Cruz meets the requirement of being “natural born,” a phrase not defined in the Constitution.
Most legal experts say Cruz, born in Canada to an American mother, qualifies to be president because he took on his mother’s U.S. citizenship at birth. But other constitutional scholars have come forward recently to cast doubt on that interpretation.
Trump warned Thursday that Cruz would be tied up in lawsuits if he becomes the GOP nominee. But Cruz dismissed Trump’s “birther” challenge as political, saying, “Since September” — when Trump himself dismissed the issue — “the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have.”
On a steady rise, Cruz is in second place in South Carolina, which holds its GOP presidential primary on Feb. 20, with 22 percent support among Republican voters, trailing Trump at 33 percent. In Iowa, where voters cast ballots Feb. 1, Cruz has narrowed Trump’s lead to less than 1 percentage point – a statistical tie.
But Cruz’s targets Friday were Democratic President Barack Obama and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, not Trump.
Cruz called images of U.S. sailors, kneeling with their hands up after their capture by Iran, “disgusting.”
“To see this president say, 'I'm so sorry,' and then trying to send these theocratic tyrants $150 billion to be used to develop weapons to try and kill us. It is the height of lunacy.”
Offering “a word of encouragement,” Cruz said, “The worse it gets, the more people wake up. ... Sometimes, things have to get really bad to startle people out of their slumber. And I'm convinced 2016 will be an election like 1980.”
Cruz received standing ovations for pledging a full repeal of the president’s health-care law and for telling law enforcement officers that “this vilification, this demonization (of them), it will end on Jan. 20,” inauguration day.
Swiping at Clinton, Cruz pledged to “run against the bipartisan corruption of Washington, which nobody embodies more than Hillary Clinton.”
“Everything he said, I love,” said David Edwards of Columbia, after he and his family heard Cruz speak. “We had the same feeling for (Ronald) Reagan, and people can’t stopping talking about him.”
“We love our country very, very much. We love the freedom. ... All of that has been trashed in the last administration, so we’re all frustrated,” said Edwards, who added he is impressed by most of the GOP candidates.
“But Cruz, he’s got that proven record. He’s very conservative, loves our country. He has the presence of leadership that no one else up there does.”