Donald Trump this week injected "anchor babies" into the immigration debate and Florida's Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were pulled in. Both got burned, in different ways.
Rubio and Bush sought to massage the issue, saying they did not want to get rid of the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship but do want a crackdown on clear abuses.
But Bush made the political mistake of calling the children "anchor babies," which some consider a slur. Hillary Clinton, who is dealing with a growing email problem and may need a distraction, jumped all over Bush with tweets and a video. Just about every liberal and immigrant rights group criticized him as well.
For Bush, points with the conservative base probably aren't worth the distraction and implication Trump is getting the better of him. Or the damage it could do in a general election. Or that Bush looks like a hypocrite.
Rubio, true to form, used more finesse.
He said Tuesday that abuses should be looked at but didn't say "anchor babies," calling such children "human beings" in an appearance on CNBC.
That provoked unwanted problems on Rubio's right. Twitter and a story on Breitbart News are littered with scorching comments that harken back to Marco "amnesty" Rubio, part author of the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill.
"Being born in the USA with two ILLEGAL lawbreaking parents is not where exceptionalism comes from, YOU are out of touch, BYE,BYE Marco," JimWinchester wrote on Breitbart.
In a final twist Thursday, Bush called attention to his rival's past. Rubio was born in Miami in 1971, four years before his Cuban-immigrant became citizens. So while his parents were legal residents for a decade, as Rubio told Fox News on Thursday night, he's a technical beneficiary of birthright citizenship.
(Birthers enter stage right.)
"Now, if people are here legally, they have a visa, and they have a child who's born here, I think that they ought to be American citizens," Bush said in New Hampshire. "People like Marco Rubio, by the way, that's how he came. You know, so to suggest that we make it impossible for a talented person like that not to be a candidate for president — or Ted Cruz. I mean, I think we're getting a little overboard here, and we're listening to the emotion rather than to the reality of this."
As far as anchor babies, Bush said: "What I said is that it's commonly referred to that. I didn't use it as my own language. You want to get to the policy for a second? I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens."