After falling for right-wing media talking points about ending birthright citizenship and “anchor babies,” Republican presidential candidates Gov. Scott Walker (WI) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) are scrambling to justify and backtrack their offensive rhetoric.
Conservative media have spent years complaining about “anchor babies” and “birth tourism,” and calling for an end to birthright citizenship -- a constitutional guarantee -- and recently they've found a sympathetic ear with Republican presidential hopefuls. Donald Trump called for dismantling the 14th Amendment as part of his immigration plan, a platform that quickly won him acclaim from right-wing pundits and outlets.
In turn, contenders Jeb Bush and Scott Walker offered their opinions on the matter. Walker told NBC's Kasie Hunt on August 17 that we should “absolutely, going forward” end birthright citizenship, and in an interview just two days later, Bush called for better enforcement to prevent "'anchor babies', as they're described, coming into the country" -- Remarks the two men are now frantically walking back.
Bush received heavy criticism for his use of the slur “anchor babies,” and despite initially defending his remarks and telling reporters he didn't believe the slur was offensive, Bush has since changed his tune. During an August 24 news conference, Bush claimed that when he was talking about “anchor babies,” he wasn't referring to Latinos, but instead, the term is “more related to Asian people.” Bush's attempt to backtrack landed him in the midst of yet another right-wing media talking point, birth tourism.
Bush is trying to have it both ways here. He's trying to use the phrase “anchor babies” to reassure the base that Donald Trump isn't the only one who knows the downsides of birthright citizenship. But he's trying to tie it to a policy issue that actually does exist, rather than one that (to all appearances) does not.
What's more, it's clear Bush was referring to Hispanic immigrants with his initial remarks about “anchor babies.” As MSNBC's Steve Benen explained:
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.”
Similarly, Walker received widespread media attention for his week-long effort to explain his call to end birthright citizenship. Three days after parroting the right-wing media talking point, Walker moved to refusing to take a position on birthright citizenship, arguing that until the border is secure, “any discussion about anything else is really looking past” what we need to do. By August 23, Walker had completely backtracked, stating he was not seeking to repeal or alter the 14th Amendment. As The Washington Post's Dana Milbank summarized the week's events, “Walker has spun himself into a triple axel -- and landed on his face.”
And while Bush and Walker may be trying their best to sweep their initial condemnation of the 14th Amendment under the rug, it's not hard to see where they initially got their talking points.
Conservative media figures going back to Glenn Beck in his Fox News days have railed against so-called “anchor babies” and “birth tourism,” the former a derogatory slur and debunked myth used against U.S. born children of non-citizens, the latter of which represents a sliver of births that experts have repeatedly pointed out are "extraordinarily rare" and an insignificant immigration problem. As Salon's Simon Maloy wrote, this “grossly nativist and legally dubious” rhetoric has nevertheless found a receptive audience among conservatives.