On Monday afternoon, former President Donald Trump shared a social media post falsely accusing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — an intraparty rival in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries — of being disqualified from being able to run for the White House based on her citizenship status.
Haley, who also served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations during his four-year term in office, is the daughter of Indian immigrants. She was born in the United States in 1972, making her qualified to run for president.
On his Truth Social profile, Trump shared a screenshot of a post from The Gateway Pundit, a far right website which alleged that, because Haley was the daughter of immigrants who weren’t yet citizens when she was born in South Carolina, she was disqualified “from the presidential or vice presidential candidacy under the 12th Amendment.” The post from The Gateway Pundit relied on commentary and flawed theorizing from Paul Ingrassia, a lawyer and former Trump administration intern.
Per his LinkedIn profile page, Ingrassia received his juris doctorate from Cornell Law School, where he studied General Practice Law. However, the reference section of the U.S. Constitution maintained by his alma mater contradicts his position on birthright citizenship, noting that a person’s parents do not have to be citizens in order for them to be considered a “natural born citizen,” one of the requirements to be president, if they themselves were born in the country. Indeed, the question has been settled federal caselaw, based on Section 1 of the 14th Amendment and Supreme Court precedent, for over 125 years.
Critics condemned Trump for spreading the falsehood about Haley, noting that it was similar to other “birtherism” claims he’s made in the past, particularly against politicians of color or those who have immigrant parents. Trump infamously attacked former President Barack Obama during his tenure in the White House, falsely claiming that he had lied about being born in Hawaii. He also attacked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), alleging that he wasn’t a naturally born citizen during the 2016 GOP primaries, and Vice President Kamala Harris, making similar claims about her during the 2020 election.
“The birther claims against Nikki Haley are totally baseless as a legal and constitutional matter,” Harvard Law School professor emeritus Laurence Tribe wrote in an email to NBC News.
Tribe went on:
I can’t imagine what Trump hopes to gain by those claims unless it’s to play the race card against the former governor and UN ambassador as a woman of color — and to draw on the wellsprings of anti-immigrant prejudice by reminding everyone that Haley’s parents weren’t citizens when she was born in the USA.
Trump has indeed made xenophobia — including against people born in the U.S. — a centerpiece of his campaign. In the spring of 2023, he promised in a statement to “sign an executive order making clear to federal agencies” that “future children of illegal aliens will not receive automatic U.S. citizenship.”
Barring a complete change in stare decisis from the U.S. Supreme Court’s long-stated opinion on birthright citizenship, an executive order of that kind would not hold up against precedent. Trump’s statement was widely condemned by political observers, who noted that he was likely trying to use an anti-immigrant dog whistle to stir up his far right base of support.
Trump’s attacks against Haley may not be random, either. Although he has a commanding lead among Republicans in the Iowa caucus, Haley is within single-digit numbers of matching Trump’s support among voters in New Hampshire, with a recent CNN/University of New Hampshire poll showing Trump receiving 39 percent support among voters planning to take part in the state primary later this month, and Haley attaining 32 percent support.
If Haley were to close that gap even further, it could give her the momentum needed to mount a serious challenge to Trump within the GOP primaries — especially since the next state to participate in those contests would be her home state of South Carolina.
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