Though Donald Trump flirted for years with an entrance into politics, it was the election of Barack Obama — and the bogus claim that the first Black president was not born in the United States — that finally brought him into the civic sphere. Over a decade after Trump launched his political career on the back of a racist conspiracy theory, he has revived the claim for the first Black vice-presidential nominee in U.S. history: On Thursday, just two days after Harris was named Joe Biden’s VP pick, Trump suggested that she may not be eligible for the job.
“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements, and by the way the lawyer who wrote the piece is highly qualified, very talented,” Trump said in his coronavirus press conference. He was referring to a Newsweek column in which conservative law professor John Eastman claimed that Harris may not be considered a natural-born citizen — a requirement for the presidency — because of what he calls the original understanding of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. As Axios notes, “Eastman’s view on birthright citizenship and presidential eligibility is not accepted by constitutional law scholars.”
Earlier in the day, Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis also presented Eastman’s op-ed as grounds for a birther revival, calling the baseless concern “an open question, and one I think Harris should answer so the American people know for sure she is eligible.”
Democrats anticipated that the Trump campaign would run a campaign steeped in racism if the vice-presidential nominee was a woman of color. According to Politico, during the vetting of Senator Tammy Duckworth, the selection committee was concerned that Republicans would question Duckworth — born in Bangkok to a father who was an American citizen and Defense employee — on her legitimacy as a candidate. (The concerns would also be bogus: Duckworth is legally a natural-born citizen.) But with another Black nominee on the ballot, Trump is returning to his wheelhouse, questioning the citizenship of a candidate born in the United States.