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GOP is Running Xenophobic Campaign Ads Again, Ignoring the Failure of this Strategy in the Past Three Years

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“Americans want leaders to bring us together to solve problems, not politicians that incite division, create chaos and fail at governance”

Here they go again. The GOP is relying on anti-immigrant ads in hopes of mobilizing its core supporters and peeling off some independents. Karl Rove’s One Nation Super PAC is doing it. The Trump campaign is doing it. Expect Republicans up and down the ballot and across the nation to do it right through Election Day.

Below, we highlight three examples of the types of GOP xenophobic ads we’ve been seeing (for more, see our 2020 Ad Watch database):

Trump attacks Biden on citizenship for the undocumented: Trump’s new ad out today quotes Biden saying he wants to raise taxes and and give “citizenship for 11 million undocumented folks.” The narrator says “that means 11 million illegal immigrants competing for American Jobs. Eligible for free healthcare, Social Security, and Medicare” (read our take here on why we welcome a debate on a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants). 

Karl Rove’s Super PAC stokes fears of sanctuary cities: One Nation, Karl Rove’s big-money super PAC, has a four week, $4.2 million ad buy in Kansas supporting GOP Senate candidate Roger Marshall. The ad attempts to link Black Lives Matter protests with so-called sanctuary cities, which Rove’s group falsely characterizes as “safe harbor for criminal illegals.” 

Rove’s One Nation PAC attacks Alabama senator Doug Jones over the border wall: The new ad attacks Senator Jones for voting against $25 billion in wall funding and against the phony national emergency Trump declared (as the pretext to raid funds appropriated for schools for military families, FEMA preparedness and National Guard readiness). The ad features images of young immigrants jumping up on a wall and a shot of what looks like the 2018 caravan in southern Mexico.

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

Back in the day, many Democrats were alarmed by immigration-themed attack ads. Not so much today. In 2007, House leader Rahm Emanuel called immigration, ‘the third rail of American politics.’ Today, most Democrats have learned to lean in on, rather than run from, immigration issues. 

The smart Democratic candidates propose workable solutions – leading with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients, TPS holders and essential workers – and then pivot to the priority issues of the day. This ‘both/and’ strategy defangs the power of the xenophobic attack ads and makes the Republicans look out of touch. 

After all, while an important policy issue, most Americans are not voting on immigration. As this July 2020 Pew Poll captures, Republicans are more intense about immigration than Democrats. In October 2018, 67% of Republicans rated illegal immigration as a big problem, while only 23% of Democrats did. But in 2020, Republican concern has significantly declined. Pew finds that 43% of Republicans now rate illegal immigration a big problem, while 15% of Democrats say the same. 

Let’s not forget that even when concern over immigration was high in 2018, Trump nationalized the elections and the GOP ran on caravans, criminals and rank racism. Republicans suffered the biggest midterm defeat in American history.

Today, Americans face a range of historic challenges: a deadly pandemic, the collapsing economy, centuries of racial injustice, a fragile and costly health care system, and growing economic inequality. They want workable solutions rather than political theater. In the immigration arena, it means they want exactly what Joe Biden and the Democrats are offering: smart policies that create a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and a fair and humane system that treats immigrants not as a threat but as essential Americans.  

So, go ahead, Republicans. Attack Democrats for wanting popular immigration policies. Ignore your party’s failures on the top issues of the day. Use racism and xenophobia as if it will still work. The voters will have their say soon, and we’re betting that Americans want leaders to bring us together and solve problems, not politicians that incite division, create chaos and fail at governance.

See our deep-dive report titled, For Trump and the GOP, Xenophobia as a Political Strategy Has Backfired. It 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, and in many races, backfired.