The Yiddish language has the perfect slang word to describe Jeb Bush. He is a schlemeil.
Translation: A bumbler, a fumbler, a person plagued by ineptitude. Or, to put it more inelegantly, a schlemeil is somebody who eludes a mud puddle only to step in dog poo.
The GOP establishment’s designated big bucks receptacle has already misspoken, backtracked, and clarified so many times, I’ve lost count. But what he said on Monday at the Texas border was truly classic. While trying to mend fences with Hispanics, he said that he hadn’t meant to suggest that the slur term “anchor babies” applied to them. No, no. Here’s what he meant: “Frankly, it’s more related to Asian people coming into the country.”
Well, that clears things up. He hadn’t meant to smear Hispanics. He was trying to smear Asians.
And this guy is supposed to be the smart Bush.
There was a time when most Asian Americans – a fast growing ethnic cohort that’s heavily concentrated in key Far West and east coast states – voted solidly Republican in presidential elections. They loved Ronald Reagan. They decisively supported George H. W. Bush in 1992, and they awarded Bob Dole a plurality of their votes in 1996. But since the dawn of this new century, they’ve trended heavily Democratic. In 2012, a whopping 76 percent voted for President Obama (the 53-point margin over Mitt Romney even outdistanced the 44-point Hispanic margin). In 2013, according to Gallup, 57 percent of Asian Americans identified as Democrats and only 28 percent called themselves Republicans – and that pro-Democratic gap was even more pronounced among Asian Americans aged 18 to 34.
We’ll cite the reasons for this historical reversal a few paragraphs south. For now, let’s just stipulate that Jeb’s smear will make it even harder for the Republicans to recoup.
Perhaps he just felt the need to post something on the Trump xenophobia scoreboard; after all, it’s de rigueur this summer to indulge the fears of Republican white people. Or perhaps – to truly give Jeb the benefit of the doubt – he wanted to call attention to the fact that some well-heeled Chinese parents visit America on tourist visas and give birth here. The number of people who do this is statistically small, but they’re thinking long term. When the children turn 21, a few decades away, they can sponsor the parents for emigration to America. As one Chinese expert tells the press, “(The parents) admire America’s clean air and food safety.”
But the issue here is Jeb’s tin ear. When he essentially says that it’s Asians who have an “anchor baby” problem – the term itself is taken as an insult – Asian Americans are reminded of the old stereotypes that plagued their community in the 19th century.
That was when white politicians routinely dissed Asian immigrants (one senator said that we would be “overrun by a flood of immigration of the Mongol race”). And even after the Fourteenth Amendment of 1866 guaranteed, in highly specific language, that children born on American soil are American citizens, federal authorities tried to prevent an American-born son of Chinese parents from reentering the country after a trip abroad. That case became United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, an 1898 Supreme Court ruling that reaffirmed the Fourteenth Amendment and Wong Kim Ark’s citizenship. (Donald Trump claims to know some lawyers who will change all that.)
But the problem, for the GOP, is that Asian Americans dislike the party for a slew of reasons. According to a nonpartisan Pew Research Center report in the summer of 2012, the GOP’s infamous social intolerance is a big turnoff (Pew says that Asian Americans support gay marriage by a wide margin) – but most importantly, the deal-breaker is the party’s hostility to modern disciplines like science and evolutionary biology.
As Lloyd Green, a Bush ’88 campaign counsel and later a Justice Department lawyer, wrote in 2013, “Asian American students tend to concentrate in the STEM jobs – sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” In the workplace, a disproportionate share of Asians are “a subset of high-tech America, and one thing is clear: high-tech America is not in love with the Republican party.” In short, most Asian voters – especially the younger ones – have no patience for a party that denies manmade climate change, curbs stem cell research (as George W. Bush did), and often uses a Biblical measure to peg the age of Earth.
Top all that with Jeb’s Asian-bashing, and you’ve got a new Republican recipe for electoral failure.
And after Jeb stepped in it, Trump tweeted this: “In a clumsy move to get out of his ‘anchor babies’ dilemma, where he signed that he would not use the term and now uses it, he blamed ASIANS.”
Anyone who lets Donald Trump take the high road must surely be a schlemeil.