Immigrant groups are picketing his events. His recent remarks about “anchor babies” have outraged Latino and Asian organizations. Democrats are attacking him in both English and Spanish.
More trouble for Donald Trump? No, the target of all this ire is Jeb Bush.
The former Florida governor’s defense of the term “anchor babies” — a phrasewidely deemed offensive by Hispanics and other minorities — has ignited new attacks against him from Democrats and taunts from Trump, his top Republican presidential rival.
The criticism comes amid Bush’s continuing struggle to gain traction in a GOP primary race that he was expected to dominate but that is now defined by Trump as the clear front-runner. In a worrying sign for some supporters, the Bush campaign acknowledged in a New York Times report Tuesday that it has taken steps to tighten spending even as the former governor maintains an aggressive fundraising schedule.
On immigration, Bush has sought to portray himself as the moderate in the GOP field, favoring a path to legal status for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and dismissing Trump and other rivals for endorsing a new border wall or mass deportations.
But Bush’s remarks over the past week have allowed Democrats to lump him with Trump — who also defends the “anchor babies” term — and he has stumbled in his attempts to minimize the damage. On Tuesday, Bush revived controversial comments he has made about cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood, saying incorrectly that the organization does not provide women’s health services.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Republican presidential hopeful struggling to gain traction, suggested Tuesday that Bush — who hasn’t held elective office since 2007 — is too out of step to be the party’s nominee. He cited Bush’s remarks in recent weeks about immigration, women’s health and the Iraq war as examples of missteps.
“When you haven’t been in a relevant campaign as a Republican since 1998, you’re going to continue to make the kind of mistakes that we see Governor Bush making,” Christie said on the “Laura Ingraham Show.”
Bush campaign officials dismiss such criticism — and the candidate has appeared particularly flustered by the “anchor babies” flap.
Until last week, Bush had not used the term in public this year, according to a Washington Post review of his comments. His 2013 book, “Immigration Wars,” describes the complexities of illegal immigration, but the phrase never appears.
The trouble for Bush began a week ago when he used the term unprompted in the final minutes of a radio interview with host Bill Bennett, who was education secretary under Ronald Reagan.
When Bennett asked Bush about Trump’s doubts about the constitutionality of birthright citizenship, Bush said: “This is a right of the 14th Amendment. I just don’t think it’s legitimate to say that we’re going to change our Constitution and that’s going to solve our problems.”
He continued: “But if there’s abuse, if pregnant women are coming in to have babies just because they can do it, there ought to be greater enforcement. That’s the legitimate side of it. Greater enforcement, so that you don’t have these ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”
The next day, Bush defended his words and suggested that he was referencing terminology used by others. “Do you have a better term?” he snapped at a reporter in Keene, N.H., adding: “You give me a better term and I’ll use it.”
When reporters asked about the subject again on Monday during a visit to the border town of McAllen, Tex., Bush said people need to “chill out,” casting criticism as an attempt to enforce political correctness.
Then Bush created a new problem for himself by adding parenthetically that “frankly, it’s more related to Asian people.”
The reaction over the past week from Democrats, including presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, and from pro-immigration groups has been fierce.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who represents a state with a significant Asian population, called Bush’s comments about Asians “derogatory and offensive” and urged him to apologize for “insensitive behavior.”
The Alliance for Citizenship, a group pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, planned to picket Bush fundraisers in Colorado and Utah on Tuesday to protest his comments. Dawn Le, a spokeswoman for the group, said in an e-mail that Bush “can’t pander to Latinos in one breath and then insult Asians and Asian-Pacific Americans in the next. Jeb’s remarks suggest how he might lead as President — by following Donald Trump down to the bottom of the barrel.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said in an interview Tuesday that using the term “anchor babies” broadly is offensive because it “implies that Hispanics are having babies for the sole purpose of staying in the United States. . . . And it’s dehumanizing. Jeb Bush knows that.”
Traveling in Tokyo on Tuesday as co-chairman of the U.S.-Japan Caucus, Castro said he faced questions from business and government officials there about Bush’s comments regarding Asians. “For him to shift the blame to Asians is absurd,” Castro said.
Bush aides cite reports by the New York Times and the Huffington Post detailing how Chinese gangs have operated dozens of illegal “birth tourism” facilities in California for wealthy Chinese women.
Longtime friends said that Bush meant nothing offensive by using the term “anchor babies,” and that his long history of working with and supporting Hispanics — and his fluency in Spanish — will help him erode Democratic advantages among Latinos and other minority groups.
“I’ve known Jeb for over two decades and had a lot of conversations with him about immigration. I’ve not once heard him use that word in conversation,” said Ana Navarro, a Miami-based GOP strategist and Bush supporter. “He was not using it as his own language, much less as a [pejorative] slur. He was using it as a descriptive term of reference, used by other people.”
Jorge Arrizurieta, another longtime Bush friend from Miami, wrote in an e-mail that the “idea that Jeb Bush, given his track record, family, background, and history was trying to offend Latinos is absolutely absurd and shows how desperate the Democrats are.”
During a campaign stop Tuesday in Colorado, Bush invoked his life experience to argue that allegations of insensitivity are ridiculous. He noted that his wife was born in Mexico and that their three children faced taunts when they were young about their skin color. His daughter and two sons are expected to stump for him in English and Spanish — and Bush says he’ll campaign in both languages to boost GOP support among Latinos.
“I’m 62,” he said in Englewood, Colo. “When I was 17, I fell in love with Columba Garnica de Bush. It’s going to be really hard for me to get lectured about the politics of immigration.”