Let me get this straight: Ted Cruz wants to play the victim to Donald Trump’s bully? Really?

I know Americans have a little trouble with history. They are generally a forward-looking people. So I’ll hold off, for a moment, on the birther controversy that swarmed around a president who was “accused” of being born in Ireland.

For now, let’s just go back to 2012. That’s when Cruz’s father had something interesting to say about President Barack Obama.

“Go back to Kenya!” Cruz’s father told a crowd at a Tea Party rally in Texas.

Cruz has since tried to laugh this off. He claims that someone in the crowd shouted “Go back to Kenya,” and that his dad jokingly repeated the phrase.

Ha ha ha!

But it’s not so funny when this kind of conspiracy-fueled bigotry is used against you. Now it’s Ted Cruz -- who has spent his whole life portraying himself as the most loyal and patriotic American of all -- who is being smeared. Even as Cruz himself feels free to smear “New York values.”

Indeed, if Cruz wants to be dismissive about New York as well as his own father dabbling in birther conspiracies, well, of course others are going to use those same tactics against him.

In defending himself against Trump, Cruz has noted that a quite a few leading Republicans have immigrant parents.

Which is a good point. Which is also why it's so terrible that these Republicans have stood by for so long while others in their own party employed nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Sadly, this is an old and familiar story.

There was once a man who wanted to be president but he may have had a dark secret in his closet. Not only was a parent born in a country outside of North America, but the man himself may have been born in Canada. Or Ireland. And political opponents were hounding him about it night and day.

I speak, of course, of Chester A. Arthur and Arthur P. Hinman. Back in the 1870s Arthur -- whose father William was born in Antrim, Northern Ireland, before emigrating to Canada, then to Vermont -- was a New York City lawyer who’d never held elective office.

But at the 1880 Republican convention in Chicago, Arthur’s name began to circulate as a possible vice presidential candidate. The presidential candidate was James Garfield, from Ohio, and party bosses believed someone from New York might nicely balance the ticket.

Alas, there was the question of Arthur’s birth.

The Democratic opposition, led by Hinman, began to circulate rumors that Arthur had actually been born in Ireland and did not come to the U.S. until he was a teenager. These rumors were swept aside quickly, though the same could not be said about whispers regarding Arthur’s mother and an ill-timed trip to Canada.

Arthur’s mother was born in the U.S. but may well have met Arthur’s Irish-born father during the time he spent in Canada. This, of course, would make Arthur ineligible for the presidency.

Well, it’s a good thing Arthur was only serving as vice president, right?

That all changed when Garfield was assassinated in Washington in 1881.

Hinman eventually published his findings in a book entitled How a Subject of the British Empire Became President of the United States.

Little was done, though, especially when Arthur decided not to run for president in 1884.

And so, now, we have the Cruz birther debate. But Cruz and all of his Republican cronies sat back and had little to say as the forces of intolerance -- the 21st century Know Nothings -- grew stronger and stronger in their own party.

Well, now, have fun dealing with that. Perhaps all of these people should consider what another Republican, Abe Lincoln, once said.

“As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty …where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

* Contact sidewalks@tdeignan.blogspot.com.