On Sunday, Donald Trump's campaign laid out a harsh immigration policy, which detailed not only the construction of a large wall along the southern border, but also an outright end to birthright citizenship. It took just days for the rest of the GOP to follow him down the rabbit hole. On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the first to take the bait, telling an MSNBC reporter at a campaign event that he too believed birthright citizenship should be brought to an end. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal threw his hat in the ring as well, tweeting Monday that the country "need[ed] to end [it]." This stance is curiously hypocritical for the GOP, which venerates the U.S. Constitution like it's some sort of pagan god. Worse still, most candidates' statements are so aggressively out of line with the 14th Amendment that it's hard to figure out exactly how much of the Constitution they actually understand.
In case you weren’t paying attention in civics class or fell asleep in U.S. History 101, the 14th Amendment states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” When Trump and his fellow GOP candidates decided to rail against the notion of a person’s automatic citizenship, they were essentially removing any realistic basis on which to build their argument. Their own history of Constitutional subservience did them in.
If you need any proof at all of just how much of a devoted Constitutional scholar each candidate believes him or herself to be, look no further than the most recent SCOTUS rulings on healthcare and marriage. Take former Arkansas governor and erstwhile Fox News host Mike Huckabee. In reaction to the historic June 26 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which granted all same-sex couples the right to marry, Huckabee wrote in an angry statement on his website:
I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat. … This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court's most disastrous decisions, and they have had many. The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President ... to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry took the theatrics a step further, promising to only appoint “strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written” to the High Court if elected president.
Both Perry and Huckabee were severely misunderstanding the action itself, of course. What the Court did in deciding in favor of Obergefell and his fellow plaintiffs was not an implementation of new legislation. Rather, the Court simply interpreted the law as it stood, and issued that interpretation to the masses in a final, irreversible ruling. Hardly a violation of the beloved Constitution.
Insisting that the Obergefell ruling was unconstitutional fit with both the GOP’s devotion to the document and the candidates’ overall game plan. It was easy to say that anyone who argued otherwise, or posed any sort of social change that allegedly didn't mesh with the law, simply didn’t trust or believe in the sanctity of the Constitution. But that sort of shallow dedication has now landed them in hot water.
By telling undocumented immigrants that their children — born on U.S. soil and therefore citizens of the United States under the 14th Amendment — should no longer be considered legal, but instead should be deported with their parents, the GOP has seriously overstepped its own ground rule: “Thou shalt not speak ill of, or legislate in opposition to, the Holy Constitution.” And that either means they honestly have no understanding of the playbook — or worse, that they do know it, and just don't care about the blatant hypocrisy.
Given the overall dissatisfaction that many Republicans currently feel about their own party — a recent Pew Research poll indicated that only 68 percent of Republican voters held a favorable opinion of the party, down 18 points since January — the sudden whiplash shift in dialogue might hurt GOP candidates in the primaries and, subsequently, in November 2016.
For candidates like Rand Paul, who infamously said in 2010 that he didn’t “think the 14th Amendment was meant to apply to illegal aliens," then in May 2015 told CBS’s This Morning, “We obey the Constitution because it protects the rights of all individuals,” an ever-shifting moral-compass that favors the law only when it matches their end goals will be their downfall. More and more of their one-time supporters will lose interest in their evolving platforms. But hey, at least it looks good on paper for now.