For a brief period of time, Thursday night’s Republican debate became a war over moms.
Specifically, about the citizenship and naturalization of two of the candidates’ mothers.
During the debate, GOP front-runner Donald Trump continued what’s been a weeklong habit of challenging Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over his Canadian birth, questioning Cruz’s eligibility to be president in the process.
Trump has said over the last few weeks that Cruz, who was born in Canada and has a Canadian passport, isn’t eligible to become president, The Washington Post reported.
“There’s a big question mark over your head,” Trump told Cruz during the debate.
Trump’s claims may be his way of trying to keep Cruz down, as the Texas senator has risen in the GOP polls in recent weeks. Cruz recently edged out Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the polls, and now sits only behind Trump.
Cruz has sometimes rebutted these statements, often reminding Trump that anyone born to a U.S. citizen gains citizenship upon their birth. So even though Cruz was born in Canada, his mom’s citizenship made him a “natural-born citizen” of the country, which, according to that thing called the U.S. Constitution, allows him to be president.
Other than that, Cruz has tried to focus on the real issues. But that didn’t work during the GOP debates Thursday night when Cruz engaged Trump by saying that Trump’s mother was born in Scotland, which means, at least according to some people’s definition of a “natural-born” citizen, that Trump may also be ineligible for the presidency, Yahoo News! reported.
But “I’m not going to use your mom’s birth against you,” Cruz said at the debates.
“Because it wouldn’t work,” Trump retorted.
But really this exchange is another example of politicians using their mothers to highlight an issue or gain lost ground over their political competitors.
Part of this is because moms are a powerful voting demographic, whether it be soccer moms, hockey moms or single moms. For example, Sarah Palin tried to further her political agenda by targeting moms in her speeches, either by talking specifically about how policies would affect mothers, or trying to get voters to sympathize with mothers to further their political agenda, Slate’s Jacob Leibenluft reported in 2008.
Some politicians, though, will use their moms to spread hopeful messages. President Abraham Lincoln — yes, we’re going back to Honest Abe — would sometimes talk about how his mom’s prayers influenced his life, CNN reported.
“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life,” Lincoln said.
This has only continued throughout the years, with politicians either acknowledging their mothers during speeches or offering tributes to honor the parent. We already know Jeb Bush often praises his mom and the way she raised him.
For Mother’s Day back in 2014, then House Speaker John Boehner posted a heart-felt tribute to his mom on Facebook, saying her work ethic helped shape his own, CNN reported.
President Barack Obama has also sometimes mentioned how his mother’s parenting ability has made him into a better leader.
And 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney used his mother’s own political run for his own political gain. He told reporters that Lenore Romney’s failed senatorial run helped shape his own political beliefs and how he planned to succeed in his own election, The Washington Post reported.
“If there’s one thing he learned, maybe it was, ‘I’m not going to run for anything until I’m damn well ready,'” Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the Post. “He is a world-class candidate compared to his own mother. It’s the difference between night and day. … Experience is everything. He’s had a ton of experience, and she hadn’t had any.”
Female politicians will also use their status as a mother to further political gains. This usually comes in three different ways, according to WBUR’s Hinda Mandell. Some will use their “mom status” to drive their political narrative, while others will merely only list their status as a mom in their political biographies or only reference their motherhood during speeches to help build their characters.
“So what does this all mean?” Mandela wrote. “I’d argue that motherhood is useful for candidates — but only for those who are challengers, and certainly not for those running for re-election. … After all, they can point to a congressional track record without having to highlight skills that motherhood taught them.”
It remains to be seen if it will work for Trump or Cruz.