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For evidence of the toxic influence that Donald Trump (and Republicans who are willing to abide by him) have had on the national discourse, look no further than this year’s two gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.
In Virginia, Republican Ed Gillespie has made national news for race-baiting, immigrant-demonizing attack ads that conflate Democrat Ralph Northam’s support for immigrants with support for MS-13.
And in New Jersey, another formerly-moderate Republican, Kim Guadagno, is trying to win office by going full Trump and fanning fears of immigrant crime.
Guadagno has made headlines for a campaign ad claiming that Democrat Phil Murphy wanted to protect murderers from deportation. As her ad says, “When asked about deporting criminal illegals, Phil Murphy said, ‘my bias is going to be toward having their back,’” which is a pants-on-fire misstatement because Murphy was talking about protecting Dreamers and immigrant youth when he said that quote.
The ad goes on to lump immigrants who commit crimes with the rest of the undocumented population, a race-baiting tactic that Republicans have been employing for years but that has become a theme in this year’s races after Donald Trump seemingly used it to his success in 2016.
Guadagno’s extremist tactics have been widely panned, with Joe Biden calling her ad “gutter politics” and the “return of Willie Horton,” while Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) called it “reprehensible and repugnant.” The New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial board wrote:
What Guadagno did is splice the video in way that is flat-out dishonest, a cheap attempt to whip up the most ugly and unfounded fears of unauthorized immigrants, and to use that fear to slime Murphy, her Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race.
It is this campaign’s Willie Horton ad, and another sign that Guadagno’s campaign can’t be trusted. She’s going entirely Trumpy, using distortion to fan fear of minorities and stir up the white vote.
Guadagno is down double-digits in the polls and her racist ad is widely seen as a last-chance, hail-Mary maneuver — especially since Trump did not win New Jersey. As Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told Politico, it “does smell of desperation.”
NJ.com, after speaking to Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, wrote that Guadagno’s ad would cause her to “hemorrhage support among Hispanic voters — a bloc that the Republican Party in the state has taken steps to court in recent years.” Guadagno had previously taken pains to court Hispanics, kicking off her campaign at a Mexican restaurant and naming a Cuban refugee as her running mate.
Polls show that only 2% of voters say immigration is a top priority. Meanwhile, 40% of voters say that immigration as an issue makes them more likely to support Murphy, while 24% say it makes no difference. Guadagno’s repugnant last-ditch maneuver, it seems, is backfiring.