Watch: Cruz, Trump Spar Over Cruz’s Eligibility

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz battled over Cruz’s eligibility to be president during Thursday’s GOP primetime debate on the Fox Business Network.

Cruz sarcastically stated, in response to a question on his eligibility, “I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics of the evening.” He continued, “back in September, my friend Donald said that he had had his lawyers look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there. There was nothing to this birther issue. Now, since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed, but the poll numbers have. And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa. But the facts and the law here are really quite clear. Under long-standing US law, the child of a US citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen. If a soldier has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why [Sen.] John McCain (R-AZ), even though he was born in Panama, was eligible to run for president. If an American missionary has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was eligible to run for president, even though he was born in Mexico. At end of the day, the legal issue is quite straightforward, but I would note that the birther theories, that Donald has been relying on, some of the more extreme ones insist, that you must not only be born on US soil, but have two parents born on US soil. Under that theory, not only would I be disqualified, [Sen.] Marco Rubio (R-FL) would be disqualified, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified, and interestingly enough, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified, because, Donald’s mother was born in Scotland.”

Trump protested, “but I was born here.” Cruz continued, “I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you.” Trump responded that this “wouldn’t work.”

Trump then countered that Cruz was misrepresenting his poll numbers. He further stated, “This isn’t me saying it. I don’t care. i think I’m going to win fair and square. i don’t have to win this way. … Laurence Tribe and numerous — from Harvard, of Harvard, said that there is a serious question as to whether or not Ted can do this, okay? There are other attorneys that feel — and very, very fine constitutional attorneys, that feel that because he was not born on the land, he cannot run for office. Here’s the problem. We’re running, We’re running. he does great. i win. i choose him as my vice-presidential candidate, and the Democrats sue, because we can’t take him along for the ride. I don’t like that, okay? the fact is — and if, for some reason he beats the rest of the field, he beats the rest of the field…I already know the democrats are going to be bringing a suit. you have a big lawsuit over your head while you’re running, and if you become the nominee, who the hell knows if you can even serve in office. So, you should go out, get a declaratory judgment. Let the courts decide.”

When asked why he was raising the issue now, Trump said, “Because now he’s doing a little bit better. No, I didn’t care before. It’s true. No, it’s true. Hey look, he never had a chance. Now he’s doing better. He’s got probably a 4 or 5% chance.”

Trump continued, “The fact is, there’s big overhang. there’s a big question mark on your head, and you can’t do that to the party. You really can’t. you can’t do that to the party. you have to have certainty. even if it was a 1% chance, and it’s far greater than 1%, because he wasn’t born — I mean, you have great constitutional lawyers that say you can’t run. If there was a — and you know, i’m not bringing a suit, i promise, but the democrats are going to bring a lawsuit, and you can’t — you have to have certainty. you can’t have a question. i can agree with you or not. but you can’t have a question over your head.”

Cruz responded, “Well, listen, I’ve spent my entire life defending the Constitution before the US Supreme Court, and I’ll tell you, I’m not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.”

Trump then stated, “you don’t have to. take it from laurence tribe. Take it from your professor. Take it from your own professor.”

Cruz added there was “zero” chance of litigation on this matter succeeding, before stating that Tribe is “a left-wing, judicial activist Harvard law professor, who was Al Gore’s lawyer in Bush versus Gore. He’s major Hillary Clinton supporter. And there’s a reason why Hillary’s supporters are echoing Donald’s attacks on me. Because Hillary wants to face Donald Trump in the general election.”

Trump then cut in that Tribe wasn’t the only person lawyer who back his arguments up.

Cruz then said that since Trump “kindly” offered him the VP slot, he would be happy to consider Trump as VP, so if Trump’s attacks are right, he’ll end up being president. Trump responded that if his campaign doesn’t work he thinks he’ll go back to construction, but that he thinks he will be the nominee. Cruz responded that he’d love to have Trump build a wall.

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett