I have argued that Donald Trump is pushing the issue of Ted Cruz’s Canadian birth to wedge evangelical voters in Iowa. The state’s largest Republican voting bloc does not likely believe his professing to faith in a Christian God. My argument was that Trump is combating one kind of suspicion with another. If evangelicals won’t believe Trump is a natural-born Christian, they won’t believe Ted Cruz is a “natural-born citizen.”

That was before watching Thursday’s debate. Trump did not appear to be fear-mongering. What I saw was something closer to concerned citizenship. (I understand, regarding Trump, that this sounds charitable.) I saw an older man taking a younger man to task for jeopardizing the prospects of the Republican Party. He was chiding Cruz for reckless and irresponsible behavior. Here’s what Trump said:

The fact is, there is a 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 one percent chance, and it’s far greater than one percent because (inaudible).

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 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.

Trump has cited Lawrence Tribe as one of those “great constitutional lawyers” who said Cruz shouldn’t run. Fact is, Tribe didn’t say that. He said the question isn’t settled. In all of American history, the U.S. Supreme Court has never decided a case on the eligibility of a presidential contender. Therefore, Tribe concluded, nothing is settled.

Cruz parried by saying that “the chances of any litigation proceeding and succeeding on this are zero.” He may be right. Federal law allows for any person born of an American parent here or overseas to have the rights and privileges of citizenship. But he may be wrong. The U.S. Constitutional calls for candidates to be “natural-born citizens,” which may mean just one thing: You must be born in America to be America’s president.

Who is right? We may find out sooner than later. Bloomberg reported Thursday that a Houston attorney by the name of Newton B. Schwartz Sr. filed suit in federal court this week asking for clarification of “natural-born citizen” and thus whether Cruz can run.

The 85-year-old trial lawyer asked that the case be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court before the Iowa caucus to avoid “chaos.” “The country will be in chaos if he’s elected president or vice president and this goes to trial then,” Schwartz told Bloomberg. “If he gets cleared, he gets cleared. Let’s just get this thing settled before the primaries.”

That’s pretty much was Trump was saying Thursday. It’s not settled, and he’s right. But of more concern, Trump said, is the danger the question poses to Republican prospects up and down the ballot in 2016. As he said, “You can’t do that to the party.”

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John Stoehr

Follow John on Twitter @johnastoehr . John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer. This piece originally appeared in The Editorial Board.