Ed Gillespie, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia this year, has been running an ugly, race-based, fear-mongering campaign that demonizes immigrants and throws around nonsensical threats about MS 13. It’’s an ugly embrace of Trump’s tactics and if he wins, Republicans should brace themselves for a whole new crop of crazy in their candidates for 2018 and beyond.
Gillespie’s “unhinged” ads
Gillespie has released four ads that, as Vox described:
dwell at length on the evils of MS-13 (which are quite real) and then say [Democrat Ralph] Northam’s name a bunch, thus attempting to create a link between a brutal criminal organization and an Army doctor turned pediatric neurosurgeon.
It reaches a climax with boldface type screaming “RALPH NORTHAM: WEAK ON MS-13,” without raising any specific respect in which Northam is allegedly weak on MS-13.
According to Gillespie, Northam is somehow weak on MS-13 because he once voted against banning so-called “sanctuary cities”. There are no sanctuary cities in Virginia today, but Gillespie hasn’t been letting the facts stop him.
What a Gillespie win might mean for the GOP’s future
Gillespie is currently behind in the polls, but the race is close enough — and the uncertainty of off-year elections high enough — that he still might win. That’s bad for Virginians, who already have a hard-right legislature that doesn’t reflect the priorities of its diversifying electorate. It’s bad for democracy and people who don’t think that elections should be won on hyperventilation and race-baiting. And it’s bad for Republicans, because more crazy in their party is the last thing they need.
As Tom Steyer, president of NextGen America, said on a press call today:
Gillespie has descended to a very low level of division and radicalization. If it works, Republicans across the country are going to conclude that that’s where they have to go, just as Gillespie has concluded that from Trump.
Paul Krugman said something similar in a New York Times column earlier this week:
Whatever happens in Virginia, the consequences will be huge. If Gillespie pulls this off, all the worst impulses of the Trumpist G.O.P. will be empowered; you might think that things can’t get even worse, but yes, they can.
If, on the other hand, Northam wins … it won’t just be an omen for the 2018 midterms. It will also encourage at least some sane Republicans to break with [Trump], a man they privately fear and despise (see Corker, Bob).
Vox further spells it out: if establishment Republicans are still wondering where all these right-wingers in their party keep coming from, they should look no further than the Gillespie campaign. Because even though Gillespie probably doesn’t believe all the things he’s saying about MS-13, Republican base voters might:
The goal of these Gillespie ads, of course, is to persuade swing voters. But the universe of partisans is larger than the universe of swing voters. And, naturally, communications from party leaders feel more persuasive to party loyalists than to floaters. So while Gillespie’s ignorant demagoguery may or may not sway the tiny slice of swing voters he needs to persuade to win, it will definitely persuade the large mass of GOP loyalists — people whose views on abortion or gun regulation would lead them to back Gillespie no matter what he said or did — that a crackdown on fake sanctuary cities is what the state needs to stay safe. Long story short, if party leaders say ridiculous things, your party’s rank and file will believe ridiculous things.
And that’s not good news for the GOP – or the country.