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With the midterm cycle set to kick into higher gear after Labor Day, we have more disturbing examples of the Republican “divide and distract” strategy being deployed in the homestretch.
As we’ve been assessing, the GOP midterm strategy is to race-bait and scapegoat over immigration at every opportunity, trying to make the midterms a referendum on “us vs. them” politics. We call it “divide and distract” and the purpose is threefold: 1) to excite white grievance voters in the GOP base; 2) to keep the focus off the terrible Republican record on kitchen table issues; and 3) to distract from the simple fact that the main beneficiaries of the unified Republican control of the federal government has been the super rich — especially GOP donors — not the average Joe — who President Trump promised to fight for during his 2016 campaign.
While the ugly “divide and distract” strategy has Stephen Miller’s fingerprints all over it and is being deployed by Trump acolytes such as Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, the whole Republican Party has embraced it, including GOP leadership. For example, the lead story in this morning’s edition of Politico’s “Playbook” tipsheet highlights:
One Nation a conservative group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has spent a whopping $39 million this cycle. The group is up with two new ads hitting Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri on their support for “illegal amnesty.” The McCaskill ad not only dings her for supporting sanctuary cities … One Nation is spending $1.2 million in Indiana and $1.5 million in Missouri on the radio, TV and digital buy. The group is also up with ads in Arizona and Nevada this week.
According to Matt Hildreth, Political Director at America’s Voice:
We’ve known for months that the entire Republican election strategy was to run ads on race and fear mongering in order to divide and distract Americans. Nevertheless I’m still disgusted every time I see them. In America, we believe in looking out for each other, whether we’re white, black or brown, tenth generation or newcomer. Yet, these ads, pulled straight out of the white nationalist playbook, show just how low the Party of Trump — from the President to the Senate Majority Leader to Speaker Ryan — is willing to go.
Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman makes a similar assessments about the GOP’s ugly fall campaign strategy in analysis titled, “Republicans will make this election all about race. And the 2020 election, too”:
Republicans are in a pickle. The midterms are just two months away, Democrats seem more excited than ever, and the president’s approval ratings are anemic. Faced with the possibility of disaster, what message will they focus on for November? It sure is a mystery.
…Who could have imagined that the GOP would choose to campaign on racial resentment? Only anyone who has paid attention to Republican politics in the Trump era.
What’s more, this is the only kind of campaign it can run as long as Trump is president and dominates the party. Republicans may take a different path once he’s gone, or they may not. But any campaign that involves Trump will always be about race.
The primary reason, of course, is that Trump makes every campaign about race because that’s just who he is. There are some positions he adopts insincerely — I doubt he cares one way or another what his administration’s policies on health care or education are — but when it comes to getting rid of immigrants or his belief in the intellectual inferiority of African Americans, he speaks from the heart.
…Trump transformed the GOP’s view on how tricky issues of race should be handled. Until the 2016 Republican primary campaign, the prevailing wisdom in the GOP was that the party had to reach out to minority voters if it was to avoid one electoral disaster after another in the future. It still might be a party primarily of and for white people, but with enough subtlety it could keep its hold on white voters while bringing in enough supporters among rapidly growing minority populations to remain competitive.
Trump went in just the opposite direction, not only not reaching out to minorities but also making an appeal to xenophobia and racial resentment the foundation of his campaign. And it worked better than anyone could have imagined. It’s still true that in the long run the Republican Party can’t just rely on white voters, and white men in particular. But Trump showed that a white-nationalist campaign could win, at least in 2016.
…As conservative policy wonk Avik Roy said during the 2016 Republican convention, “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”
…Even if that strategy fails to keep the House in Republican hands or win most of the closely contested races around the country, Republicans will see no choice but to use it again in 2020. Trump certainly will.