Jeb Bush got himself in some hot water last week for unapologetically using the term “anchor babies” in response to a question about birthright citizenship. On Monday, the one-time Republican frontrunner somehow managed to make things even worse.
Asked at a Texas campaign event whether he was afraid using the derogatory term would alienate Hispanic voters, Jeb explained that he was not. His reason? He was really talking about Asians when he deployed the term last week.
“What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts—and, frankly, it’s more related to Asian people—coming into our country, having children, and in those organized efforts taking advantage of a noble concept which is birthright citizenship,” Bush said in a lengthy response during which he called it “ludicrous” to suggest the term was insulting, especially since he is personally “immersed in the immigrant experience.” (For those keeping score at home, this is at least the second time that Bush has cost himself with a casual aside on the campaign trail.)
[Update 6:06 p.m.: While it was unclear from his comments, it's possible that Bush was trying to allude to so-called birth tourism, whereby a foreign family, often Chinese, pays handsomely to have their child in the United States. That, though, was clearly not the context in which Bush used the term earlier this week—nor is it a significant driver of immigration.]
As I explained last week, Bush’s defiant use of such inflammatory slang was so striking in the moment because, in a GOP nominating contest currently dominated by anti-immigrant belligerence, Jeb has tried to present himself as the levelheaded, compassionate adult. Meanwhile, the Hispanic Leadership Network, a center-right group that he helped found and remains connected with, was already on the record urging politicians not to use the term. The fact that Bush used it while defending birthright citizenship only made things even more bizarre.
Bush’s latest immigration-themed stumble illustrates a larger point that my colleague Jamelle Bouie made last week: The GOP’s current Donald Trump-led immigration debate won’t just cost its eventual nominee with Hispanic voters—it’s also likely to turn off other immigrant communities as well, particularly Asian Americans. “This rhetoric matters to them too,” Jamelle wrote. Thanks to Bush, they’ll no longer have to read between the lines.