The Slatest

Jeb Can’t Win: His “Anchor Babies” Remark Draws Fire From Hillary—and Trump

Jeb Bush talks with reporters at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 14, 2015, in Des Moines.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Jeb Bush’s attempt to echo Donald Trump’s un-PC talk on immigration by unapologetically using the derogatory term “anchor baby” is getting him hit from both sides of the aisle.

They’re not wrong!

Jeb first used the term earlier this week while weighing in on birthright citizenship— the granting of citizenship to anyone born in the country—which has become the latest topic du jour in the GOP race in the wake of Donald Trump’s proposal to end it. Bush is against going that far, but says that the U.S. government should do a better job of preventing pregnant women from crossing the border to have their children. “That’s [the] legitimate side of this,” the GOP hopeful said on Bill Bennett’s conservative radio show on Wednesday. “Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”

As you can tell by the “you know” that preceded the term, and the “as they’re described” that followed, the words anchor babies didn’t exactly roll off Bush’s tongue. That’s probably because, according to the Washington Post, it was the first time he’s uttered the term publicly on the campaign trail. It’s difficult to say whether Jeb intentionally decided to drop “anchor baby” into his talking point in a bid to appeal to immigration hard-liners or if it simply slipped out. (I’ve listened to the clip a dozen times, and could be convinced of either.) Regardless, he has decided to try to own it. Given the chance to walk it back on Thursday, Bush pressed ahead. “Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it,” he snapped at a reporter.

Bush’s tone is such a surprise because he has tried to make his campaign calling card his ability to play the grown-up, and he’s long taken a much more compassionate approach on the topic of immigration than much of his party. As recently as last year, Bush described coming to the United States illegally as “an act of love” people undertake for their families. Meanwhile, the Hispanic Leadership Network, a center-right group that Bush helped found and remains connected with, circulated a memo back in 2013 stressing to politicians that “tone and rhetoric” matter in the immigration debate. Among the tips offered by the group: “Don’t use the term ‘anchor baby.’ ”

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.