MSNBC's O'Donnell and Frank Rich Talk Up Anti-Cruz Birtherism

On Monday's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, host O'Donnell and Frank Rich of New York magazine talked up the possibility that GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz is not really a natural-born U.S. citizen and therefore not eligible to serve as President.

Rich, a former New York Times columnist, praised GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump as "brilliant" for pushing the issue, and the two at one point laughed it up together when Rich cracked that a wall should have been built to keep the Cruz family from crossing from Canada into the U.S. Rich: "The problem could have been solved if we had built a wall on the Canadian border and Canada paid for it. Then, the Cruzes never would have entered and we wouldn't have this problem."

The two cited Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe as their primary source without noting his liberal political bent.

They also did not divulge that, while Professor Tribe came down on the side of the view that Senator Cruz probably is eligible to serve as President, the liberal law professor showed further bias as he used the issue to needle Cruz for supporting an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as he suggested that Supreme Court justices appointed by a President Cruz might be more inclined to rule against Cruz being a legitimate President.

Referring to Professor Tribe having made appearances on both Thursday and Monday's The Last Word show, host O'Donnell raised the issue at about 7:25 p.m. ET:

All right, now, to what we just heard from Professor Tribe about natural-born citizen -- and it is, it turns out to my surprise, I only started studying this last week -- it turns out to be a complex question constitutionally about exactly what did they mean? And, at that time, when they were writing it, you know, they were avoiding a lot in writing the Constitution. They knew that there were people being born in the United States at that time who would not get citizenship -- slaves. None of them would get citizenship. The natives on reservations, none of them would get citizenship.

The MSNBC host added:

So they were very conscious of this, and so the ambiguity by the constitutional scholars who have studied it, they feel there's a certain intentional failure to define this specifically, and so you're left with this guesswork of, "What did they mean?" in searching all these extra sources at the time. And Ted Cruz just doesn't want anyone to get deeply involved in that scholarship right now.

Rich had sudden respect for Trump as he began:

He sure doesn't. And Trump -- look, Trump is brilliant. I mean, he may not, he's not a sophisticated legal mind, and he probably never, didn't know who Laurence Tribe was until three days ago.

He added:

Trump has honed in on the fact that it is ambiguous, we don't know. It may have to be litigated. And so how can a national political party roll the dice? Even if they love Ted Cruz -- whole swaths of the establishment Republican Party despises Ted Cruz at least as much as they do Trump -- how can they roll the dice one someone who could be tied up in court for two years?

Or this could have to, you know, this could be a Bush V. Gore kind of thing going up to the last minute. They can't really take that chance. And so now we're seeing Cruz who was sort of riding high in Iowa starting to fall a bit. And this may be a factor that feeds Trump...

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Monday, January 11, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC:

7:25 p.m. ET
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: All right, now, to what we just heard from Professor Tribe about natural-born citizen -- and it is, it turns out to my surprise, I only started studying this last week -- it turns out to be a complex question constitutionally about exactly what did they mean? And, at that time, when they were writing it, you know, they were avoiding a lot in writing the Constitution. They knew that there were people being born in the United States at that time who would not get citizenship -- slaves. None of them would get citizenship. The natives on reservations, none of them would get citizenship.

So they were very conscious of this, and so the ambiguity by the constitutional scholars who have studied it, they feel there's a certain intentional failure to define this specifically, and so you're left with this guesswork of, "What did they mean?" in searching all these extra sources at the time. And Ted Cruz just doesn't want anyone to get deeply involved in that scholarship right now.

FRANK RICH, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: He sure doesn't. And Trump -- look, Trump is brilliant. I mean, he may not, he's not a sophisticated legal mind, and he probably never, didn't know who Laurence Tribe was until three days ago.

O'DONNELL: That's his first quote of Laurence Tribe ever.

RICH: Ever, yes, exactly. Nonetheless, Trump has honed in on the fact that it is ambiguous, we don't know. It may have to be litigated. And so how can a national political party roll the dice? Even if they love Ted Cruz -- whole swaths of the establishment Republican Party despises Ted Cruz at least as much as they do Trump -- how can they roll the dice one someone who could be tied up in court for two years?

Or this could have to, you know, this could be a Bush V. Gore kind of thing going up to the last minute. They can't really take that chance. And so now we're seeing Cruz who was sort of riding high in Iowa starting to fall a bit. And this may be a factor that feeds Trump (INAUDIBLE).

O'DONNELL: Yeah, you know, Costa there in our opening saying the polls are tightening in Iowa because of this. And over the weekend it gets revealed that Ted Cruz's mother was on the voter list in their neighborhood in Canada. There's her name right there with her husband on the voter list in Canada. They say, people are saying, "Well, that could be accidental because it's just, they come by to do a door-to-door poll, and someone could have said something that wasn't true." There's no paper evidence she was ever a citizen of Canada. Ted Cruz was, though, and, you know, he was, and so his case is unique. John McCain was never a citizen of anywhere else. Barry Goldwater was never a citizen.

RICH: Exactly.

O'DONNELL: All those things.And the other thing is, all the cases we point to where we say, "Oh, well, doesn't this help us?" None of them became President. John McCain didn't become President. This never got legally tested. Barry Goldwater never became President, you know. None of them ended up in the presidency. And so we've never had this test.

RICH: It's just too grey. I mean, look, the problem could have been solved if we had built a wall on the Canadian border and Canada paid for it. Then, the Cruzes never would have entered and we wouldn't have this problem. But I do think as long as, you know, a market abhors uncertainty, and that includes a political market. And so as long as this is an unsettled question -- and it clearly is -- Cruz has an enormous problem. It really may take him out.

O'DONNELL: We have reporters out there in the field at these Cruz events asking people and going, "Oh, I didn't know that, that he was born in Canada." Like, a week ago, they didn't know he was born in Canada. Now they do.

RICH: And we all know, you know, from South Park, Canada is not universally beloved...

2016 Presidential Appointments Judiciary Canada Immigration Sudden Respect Conservatives & Republicans MSNBC New York Magazine New York Times Harvard University U.S. Supreme Court Lawrence O'Donnell Frank Rich Ted Cruz Donald Trump Laurence Tribe John McCain


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