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All the Leading Nativists Are Losing: Nevertheless, the GOP Persists in Following Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Lead

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Joe Arpaio, Kris Kobach, Jeff Sessions, Steve King Lose in 2020 GOP Primaries, Following 2018 Cycle Featuring Blowouts of Leading Anti-Immigrant Candidates


Joe Arpaio’s official loss in the Republican primary for Maricopa County Sheriff raises the question: if nativism is such a winning issue for Republicans, why are leading nativists continuing to lose elections? Perhaps more importantly, why do Trump and the GOP continue to double-down on their anti-immigrant, racist and xenophobic messages and ads that have backfired in every election since 2017?

William Gheen, President of the rabidly anti-immigrant ALIPAC, issued a plaintive tweet noting the following:

“In the era or error of Trump. All four of America’s top illegal immigration fighters have fallen. Farewell Joe Arpaio, Kris Kobach, Jeff Sessions, and Rep. Steve King. Who would have ever guessed after four years of Trump our top voices against illegal immigration would b gone…”

The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

If nativism was truly ascendent, then leading nativists would be winning in Republican primaries and general elections alike. But Joe Arpaio has joined Kris Kobach, Steve King, and Jeff Sessions as losers in 2020 Republican primaries, coming after a 2018 election cycle in which Corey Stewart and Lou Barletta were blown out by double digits in general election Senate races.

While the specific makeup and dynamics of each race differed, the consistent thread is this: many observers thought Donald Trump’s 2016 victory cracked the code on a new and winning electoral strategy for Republicans. One that replaced the GOP’s old Southern Strategy dog-whistle with a bullhorn attacking immigrants. But electorally, it’s failing and in many cases backfiring.

If immigrant bashing was such a successful singular force, why are its leading practitioners losing?

Nevertheless, Republicans persist in running on xenophobia. They’re hopelessly tied to the top of the ticket and attacks on immigrants remains the beating heart of Trumpism. Trump has forced a referendum on immigrants in America as part of a larger awakening on the role of white identity politics in the GOP. The majority has chosen and wants to be on the side of a more just and a more inclusive America.

We look forward to November, when all voters get to render their verdict on racism and xenophobia in our country.


  • Read our report on xenophobia backfiring in 2017-2019 races: Our recent deep-dive report documents how in contested races from 2017 through 2019 the Trump/Republican effort to replicate Trump’s 2016 electoral success by running on racial grievance and xenophobia has mostly failed.
  • Check out 2020 Ad Watch, a project of America’s Voice, for a searchable database of immigration ads this cycle