Democrats are pouncing on a 'vile' term that Republican presidential candidates won't stop saying

Following major losses in the 2012 election — including a 73-27 decimation among Latino voters — the Republican National Committee released an official “autopsy” of what went wrong and how the party could grow.

“If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies,” the autopsy report said.

More than two years and one campaign later, it’s unclear if the Republican field is fully heeding its own party’s advice.

Sparked by the release of current front-runner Donald Trump’s immigration plan, in the past week, multiple Republican candidates have resurrected the term “anchor baby,” a pejorative slang term popularised by immigration hard-liners a decade ago.

The term refers to children of non-US citizens who come to the US explicitly to give birth to children that will then be granted US citizenship.

The theory among those concerned about the practice is that it would be easier for the parents to obtain US citizenship — but US law requires children of non-citizen parents to wait until age 21 to sponsor family members to legally come to the US. Those concerns aren’t exactly unfounded — federal authorities have amped up enforcement against the multi-million dollar, so-called “birth tourism” business.

But Republicans are treading a thin line with Latino voters. Republican front-runner Donald Trump, whose focus on combatting illegal immigration has fuelled his campaign, has used the term to push an argument that the US should end so-called birthright citizenship.

And on Wednesday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) called for greater enforcement of the border to prevent women from coming to the US intentionally to give birth.

“That’s [the] legitimate side of this,” Bush said during a radio interview in New Hampshire. “Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”

When pressed in New Hampshire on Thursday about whether the term was offensive, Bush refused to back down.

“Do you have a better term?” Bush asked a reporter who questioned his use of the term. “You give me a better term and I’ll use it. I’m serious.”

After Bush’s remarks on Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said that not only was the term “anchor baby” not offensive — but that he’s also “happy” to use it.

Donald TrumpRick WilkingRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump poses with policemen

The comments come as most of the Republican presidential candidates have abruptly embraced the idea of ending birthright citizenship, which allows children born in the US to automatically become citizens.

Following Trump’s lead, eight of the lower polling candidates have called for the constitutional right, which most legal scholars argue is enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, to be revoked. 

Democrats have pounced Republicans’ call to end birthright citizenship. And the proficiency of the “anchor babies” slur, which some have labelled “vile” and racist, has brought renewed vigour to their attacks.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has been relentless, first attacking Bush on Twitter on Wednesday over the comments. 

When Bush didn’t back down on Thursday, Clinton went on the offensive again:

The Democratic National Committee has also jumped into the fray, blasting out statements condemning the term’s use.

“The phrase anchor babies is so vile in Latino politics that we don’t even have a word for it in Spanish,” Pablo Manriquez, the director of Hispanic Media at the Democratic National Committee, told Business Insider.

“It is unconscionable that he and his fellow GOP presidential nominees follow Trump down the slippery slope of criminalizing children — let alone with such a shamelessly foul term.”

As The New York Times has reported, Latino voters are expected to make up 11% of the 2016 electorate. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) won only 27% of Latino voters in 2012, a number that was particularly devastating because of the concentration of Latino voters in key swing states like Colorado.

While some right-leaning Hispanic groups have winced at the statements, not everyone think that the rhetoric will inflict lasting political damage.

Top Republican political strategist Liz Mair, who advised Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), told Business Insider it might have been smarter for Bush to focus on border security. But she said that the use of the term “anchor baby” won’t be as damaging as Romney’s high profile call for immigrants living in the US without permission to “self-deport.”

“‘Self-deportation’ implied a lack of sympathy for a full 12 million people and their American offspring. ‘Anchor babies’ implies a disdain for a much smaller group of people, and by the way, one that probably encompasses quite a few non-Hispanic immigrants who in many cases come from richer countries and who are more educated … who want to give their kids access to the US economy without ever having to deal with our ridiculous and almost un-navigable immigration system as it applies to better-educated and skilled prospective immigrants,” Mair said.

Still, Republicans who are perceived as being a better bet to win the nomination, however, are treading slightly lighter on immigration issues.

Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) have both said that beefing up border security and enforcing current laws could make altering the 14th Amendment irrelevant. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Bush have both reluctantly admitted that they would not try to alter the 14th Amendment, saying that it would be difficult.

And for his part, Rubio demurred when asked about so-called “anchor babies” during an interview on Thursday.

“When I talk about 13 million people in this country [illegally], I say 13 million human beings,” he told CNBC’s John Harwood Thursday.

“Anchor babies,” Harwood said. “People are talking about anchor babies.

“Those are human beings,” Rubio responded. “And ultimately, they are people. They are not just statistics. They are human beings with stories

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