A few years ago, a center-right group called the Hispanic Leadership Network, hoping to help Republicans win Latino votes, gave GOP officials and candidates some advice: it's time to change the party's rhetoric.
"When talking about immigrants: Do use 'undocumented immigrant' when referring to those here without documentation," the group advised. "Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens.' Don't use the term 'anchor baby.'"
Jeb Bush was not only active in the group, he even helped chair it for a while. Nevertheless, the Republican presidential hopeful ignored the advice last week, and somehow managed to make matters worse late yesterday. MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma reported:
Bush said that he used the term ["anchor baby"] specifically to refer to fraud -- sometimes called "birth tourism" -- in a "specific, targeted kind of case" involving mothers who travel to the United States only to win citizenship for their unborn children. "Frankly, it's more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children in that organized effort taking advantage of a noble concept which is birthright citizenship," Bush told reporters at a bustling Mexican restaurant just miles from the U.S. border. [...] "And by the way, I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness that somehow you have to be scolded every time you say something," he said.
Part of the problem here is that Bush simply isn't telling the truth. We've heard the recording -- when the Florida Republican used the term "anchor babies" last week, he wasn't talking about Asians and "birth tourism." He very specifically referred to Mexico, border enforcement, and "our relationship with our third largest trading partner."
There may be a way for Bush to get out of this self-imposed mess, but demonstrable dishonesty won't help.
But just as important is the fact that the GOP candidate, while trying to put out one fire, may well have started another. Using a controversial phrase, seen by many as a slur, is itself problematic, but Bush's defense yesterday amounted to, "I didn't mean that group; I meant that other group."
The percentage of Asian-American voters doubled in the United States between 1996 and 2012. Why Republicans would take steps to alienate them on purpose is a bit of a mystery.
In fairness, Bush isn't the only one struggling -- the entire GOP field is treading on thin ice so long as the party is focused on mass-deportations, "anchor babies," and the possible elimination of birthright citizenship. But whether Republicans realize it or not, they chose to put themselves in this position -- it wasn't Democrats who pushed the GOP onto the thin ice; Republicans strolled out there all on their own.