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GOP’s Predictable Xenophobia Playbook Again Fails in Louisiana Gubernatorial Run-off Election

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So Much for Those Trump’s Coattails…

Republicans keep relying on racial incitement and xenophobia in races across the country, but in election after election, the strategy is failing. The latest example comes from the gubernatorial runoff election in Louisiana, won by Democrat John Bel Edwards over Republican Eddie Rispone, a Trump clone whose campaign featured a significant focus on ugly immigration attack ads and welcomed President Trump for three visits in the final month.

As the following ad examples demonstrate, Rispone and Republican allies made racial and immigration fear-mongering a core part of their homestretch strategy, but one that apparently failed to move the needle beyond the core, Trumpian base:

  • RGA Right Direction PAC ad that erroneously attacked Edwards for supporting “free taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants” and for opposing a ban on “sanctuary cities”
  • Eddie Rispone ran a Willie Horton-style dog whistle calling for a “crackdown on illegal aliens”
  • Eddie Rispone nationalized the race with an ad featuring  Trump attacking Edwards on benefits for “illegals” and falsing characterizing Democrats as “open border extremists” 

Check out the America’s Voice 2020 Ad Watch website for links to all the Louisiana ads and other searchable categories

According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “The Republicans’ electoral playbook in the Trump era is as obvious as it is ugly: focus on race-baiting and xenophobia in an attempt to divide and distract the electorate from the key kitchen table issues that directly affect their lives. But voters across the country are tired of the fearmongering and are increasingly rejecting the GOP’s transparent ugliness and lies in states as varied as Louisiana, Virginia and Kentucky. While we don’t expect Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign and openly white nationalist Stephen Miller to adjust course, we do expect that the GOP attacks will continue to fall flat in the face of disciplined candidates who remain focused on issues such as healthcare and who are interested in finding solutions to the challenges with our immigration system rather than exploiting the system for political gain. We’ve seen this show before, and we know that it will continue to fail with a broad coalition of voters who won’t fall for the GOP’s deceiving tricks.”

Meanwhile, the Louisiana results also highlight that Trump’s visits and association also may not have been a net positive for the GOP – an ominous sign for down-ballot Republican candidates next year. As Politico highlighted last week, African-American voter engagement and enthusiasm in Louisiana was high, with John Couvillon, a Republican pollster in Louisiana, attributing that fact in part to “backlash over Trump’s outsize involvement in the contest.” As Republican strategist and Trump critic Tim Miller assessed after the Louisiana gubernatorial runoff, “If you had any doubt that Trump was a human repellent spray for suburban voters who have a conservative disposition, Republicans getting wiped out in the suburbs of New Orleans, Louisville and Lexington should remove it,” referring to the recent gubernatorial elections in Kentucky alongside the Louisiana results.

Below, see examples and links of other recent election cycles and races featuring xenophobia backfiring on the GOP:

  • In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race, some observers predicted Republican Ed Gillespie’s reliance on ugly MS-13 ads would power him to victory. He ended up losing by 9 percentage points. Notably, polling found that the racialized tone of the gubernatorial race helped to energize black voters in the homestretch of that race – similar to what happened in Louisiana this weekend.


  • In the 2018 midterms, Trump and many Republicans relied on a closing argument that emphasized immigration and migrant caravans. But xenophobia again backfired, with Democrats winning the popular vote by the largest midterm margin in history, flipping 40 House seats, limiting Senate losses, and making huge inroads in state capitals and state legislatures. Republican pollster David Winston wrote that the GOP focus on immigration in the closing days of the 2018 midterms homestretch lost votes and backfired (see here for more assessments of the 2018 cycle and xenophobia backfiring).