Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks fluent Spanish and married a woman who was born in Mexico. That still doesn't make him Hispanic -- despite self-identifying as such on his 2009 Florida voter registration form, which was obtained by The New York Times and published on Monday. A spokesperson for Bush couldn't explain to The Times why he chose to characterize himself that way.
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush is many things. Hispanic isn't one of them.
A photocopy of the 2009 voter-registration form is online here. There's no ambiguity in this story -- in the field labeled "race/ethnicity," the Florida Republican had a variety of choices. He identified himself as "Hispanic" and signed the document, affirming that all of the information on the form is true.
It wasn't; Jeb Bush is not Hispanic. As Daniel Strauss explained, "The former governor hails from the influential Bush political dynasty which, New York magazine noted, helped settle Plymouth Colony. Bush's family has been described by Slate's Jacob Weisberg in his book The Bush Tragedy as 'New England WASP.'"
Jeb Bush is the son of George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. He is no more Hispanic than his siblings, each of whom are white.
I suppose it's possible that Bush simply made a mistake when filling out the form, but as of this morning, that's not yet the explanation offered by his spokesperson. Instead, Team Bush doesn't seem to know what to say in response to questions, which isn't a good sign.
Jeb Bush did learn Spanish and his wife is Mexican, but, not to put too fine a point on this, that doesn't actually change his "race/ethnicity." Looking for a political parallel, it would be like New York City Mayor Bill Bill de Blasio identifying himself as African-American because his wife is black.
It's hard to say just how politically damaging this could be for the former governor, since we don't yet know what Bush was thinking when he improperly filled out the form. That said, if the former governor intentionally tried to mislead people and/or tried to benefit personally from claiming a racial identity that is not his own, it would be yet another problem for a Republican candidate who's struggled of late to find his footing.
Postscript: Let's not forget that in Republican circles, how candidates describe their ethnicity has been considered quite important in recent years. A few years ago, you'll probably recall, GOP officials were eager to attack Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over her claims to Cherokee ancestry. It's admittedly not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it's likely to be difficult for Republicans to say Warren's identification was of critical importance, but Jeb Bush's identification is irrelevant.