GOP debate moves seamlessly from birthright citizenship to English as official language

In our latest installment of the Republican Party finding every which way to alienate Latino voters, Donald Trump has followed up our national discussion about whether birthright citizenship as established by the 14th Amendment is in fact constitutional by sparking a debate over whether it’s okay to speak Spanish on the campaign trail.

It all started when Trump responded to Jeb Bush’s claim that “El hombre no es conservador” (The man is not conservative), by saying “I like Jeb. He’s a nice man. But he should really set an example by speaking English while in the United States.”

At which point, he presumably provided Jeb’s campaign with a list of the burn centers close to Bush’s Miami headquarters.

Jeb, who’s been taking a lot of heat lately for taking a lot of heat from Trump without hitting back in a serious way, decided that this particular insult was worth responding to, offering a remarkably thoughtful response:

Donald Trump is trying to insult his way to the presidency. It’s not gonna work. People want an uplifting, hopeful message. People come to this country to pursue their dreams. Sometimes they start without speaking English. But they learn English. And they add vitality to our country.

To say you can only speak English is kind of ridiculous, if you think about it….This is a diverse country. We should celebrate that diversity and embrace a set of shared values. Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in those shared values. He wants to tear us down. He doesn’t believe in tolerance. He doesn’t believe in the things that have created the greatness of this country.

That’s a reasonable, measured statement, which means it’s earned Bush precisely zero points with Republican voters. One need look no further than the rest of the Republican field to see who’s won this round, with Carly Fiorina commenting on the exchange today by saying she believes English is the official language of the United States (it isn’t).

As the rest of the candidates weigh in, I’m not getting my hopes up that too many of them side with Bush.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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25 Responses to “GOP debate moves seamlessly from birthright citizenship to English as official language”

  1. emjayay says:

    Bush’s use of Spanish always seemed like a mistake to me. Annoying to a lot of English speaking people. And given the obvious longstanding attitudes of Republicans to minorities, maybe not all that persuasive.

    And really, what is so uplifting and hopeful about Jeb!’s message anyway? All I know is a promise of a pie in the sky supported by nothing 5% growth rate, meddling in one brain dead person’s situation, and running a corrupt election to elect his brother. Oh, plus a whole raft of the proven worse advisers in history. Where’s the uplift and hope exactly?

  2. DGT says:

    My European friends told me a joke.

    What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Tri-lingual

    What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual

    What do you call someone who speaks only one language? American

  3. ComradeRutherford says:

    I had a similar experience when I travelled to India. I met an older British man who was speaking English, but I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. And he said he was the local school’s English teacher! For example, he spoke about how a ‘slip’ had occurred 100 years ago and covered part of the town. It took be a long time to figure out that he meant a landslide.

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  5. Bill_Perdue says:

    Campaign hysteria Number 34R

    The US is a multilingual nation and that ought to be recognized as a part of a constitutional amendment that codifies full rights for immigrant and imported workers, dual citizenship if desired, full and free documentation for all working people without fines, feess and waiting periods and which criminalizes discrimination in wages housing and accommodations for immigrant and imported workers.

    Neither the Democrats or the Republicans will support that.

  6. 2karmanot says:

    What? Trumps speaks English. Seriously?

  7. FLL says:

    Dead on target.

  8. BeccaM says:

    2016: The Republican Xenophobe Election.

  9. Naja pallida says:

    I think I prefer the idea of him sticking a thumb in the eye of the bigots.

  10. nicho says:

    He’s not fluent, but he can speak it — and since the mass is all written down — and his parts would be pretty limited, I’m sure he could hack it. And he could also revert to Latin.

  11. nicho says:

    And US residents (in general) are mocked in other countries because they are ignorant of other languages. My European friends speak a minimum of two languages. Some speak as many as five.

  12. Naja pallida says:

    He’s not fluent in English, so probably wouldn’t feel comfortable conducting an entire mass in it anyway. :)

  13. MoonDragon says:

    A long time ago, when the Earth was green, and I was in grad school, the wives of two of my fellow TAs, one Puerto Rican and one non-hispanic/non-latina Texan, were unintelligible to anyone but each other. They were both speaking English, but with accents and slang totally idiosyncratic to PR and TX. I’ve spent time in the Florida pan handle and had issues with local pronunciations. If we are to unify the nation with a single language, will we also require a standardized pronunciation that represses the local cultures of the US?

  14. slavdude says:

    Not only that, but the United States has never been monolingual. Even the colonies had their share of non-English speakers (not just the Native Americans, but also African slaves, various German sects, the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, and the French settlers in parts of the Old Northwest and New England).

  15. Naja pallida says:

    Many European countries recognize more than one language. Especially in ethnic regions. Even in countries that do have an ‘official’ language, like say Italy, they still acknowledge minority language speakers. And almost all European countries teach English in grade school.

  16. Indigo says:

    OMG! You said “Carly Fiorina!” That got me laughing right there. She’s the most remarkably underinformed incompetent in the zoo. How did she manage to break the glass ceiling? Oh, wait . . . I’m beginning to suspect something unsavory . . .

  17. Indigo says:

    Don’t bother with the #illbemoving threat. Nobody believes it, besides it makes you sound like Rand Paul or somebody like that.

  18. Sally says:

    Speak it? They show no signs of being able to read it or think in it. They all come across as functioning idiots.

  19. Sally says:

    So now I guess instead of renaming the mountain (again) Trump’s first official act will be to stomp his feet, wave his topknot, and “Make English the official language of America!” Lord knows we are tired of street signs in Arabic and Spanish; 1st grade textbooks in French and Chinese; Holy Bibles in Greek; and so many more things that aren’t true. But if The Donald decrees it; so shall it be. I do hope the GOP will be happy under the Trump monarchy (and having new nude photos of his wife released monthly…maybe they can convert it into an official calendar?) and theocracy. I’ll be moving.

  20. nicho says:


    Pope’s Mass Sept. 23 in Washington DC will be in Spanish

  21. 2karmanot says:

    Jebya has all the charisma of soggy Wonder Bread.

  22. nicho says:

    Give everyone a 7th Grade English exam. Those who flunk will have their citizenship revoked.

  23. percysowner says:

    This may actually have more blowback than Trump might think. Someone in another forum pointed out that in Florida Latinos are often Cuban and in New York, Puerto Rican. Both can differentiate themselves from the “Mexicans” that Trump has attacked. But attacking their language suddenly moves the debate from us good, legal Latinos vs. those bad illegal immigrants and puts it squarely on “we don’t like brown people who speak with an accent”. Not a great move.

  24. MoonDragon says:

    I would be immeasurably more impressed by calls for English as the official language if those calling for it would could speak it with any degree of fluency.

  25. nicho says:

    And ironically, Spain recognizes multiple languages – Castellano, Catalan/Valencian, Basque, Galician, Occitan, Aragonese, and Asturian.

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