Vanessa Cárdenas: “Republicans’ embrace of MAGA extremism, including on immigration, may resonate among some GOP base voters, but alienates the broader American electorate in the process.”
Washington, DC – Tonight, on the debate stage in Milwaukee, Republican presidential candidates will compete over who can be the ugliest on immigration. Meanwhile, while missing from the debate stage, Donald Trump will loom over the proceedings and this week released a new immigration blueprint that manages to outdo even the previous Trump/Stephen Miller cruelty.
Yet, while the ugly discussion may resonate with the Republican primary electorate, recent election cycles show that a full-fledged embrace of MAGA extremism and white nationalism, including on immigration, alienates many American voters in general elections. It is not for a lack of trying. In each of the last several election cycles, the Republican strategy has been to make a massive investment in immigration and make it a top messaging priority. While Republicans have made it a top issue for their base, immigration has much less resonance among the general electorate. The dynamic of taking extreme positions in the primary process to be competitive in the MAGA-fied GOP has been costly and has contributed to electoral losses and underperformance (see examples from 2022 and past cycles of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020). While a different party might have responded with moderation or appeals to the broader American electorate, the GOP has gone in an even more dangerous nativist and nationalist direction for 2024.
According to Vanessa Cárdenas, America’s Voice Executive Director:
“There are serious questions about the political efficacy of the GOP’s obsession with the border and immigration issues. And despite their massive investments in nativism repeatedly failing to deliver at the ballot box, they appear fully committed to doubling down on that same strategy this time around. Republicans’ embrace of MAGA extremism, including on immigration, may resonate among some GOP base voters, but alienates the broader American electorate in the process. The American public wants solutions to our broken immigration system, not draconian cruelty, legislative obstruction, and dangerous white nationalist conspiracy theories.
What we will see on the debate stage tonight won’t be good faith proposals to solve challenges and improve the lives of Americans, but the cynical politics of strategic racism deployed in an attempt to scare enough voters with lies about non-white migrants to deliver power. But this hasn’t worked in the last several election cycles and we all should be skeptical of the hype that this will be the year it works for them.”
America’s Voice Pre-Debate Resources and Background
- Republicans’ Use of Dangerous White Nationalist Conspiracies and Lies: AV’s ongoing tracking has identified more than 500 examples of elected Republicans or GOP campaigns that employed the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory over the last year since last August – this comes after 700 examples of Republicans echoing these white nationalist conspiracy theories in the ‘22 election cycle.
- Media Guide, “Covering Immigration in the GOP Presidential Primary,” with context for those covering the debates and campaign trail in light of the fear-mongering and extremism expected by GOP primary candidates. Access the media guide here.
- Blogs and Analysis on GOP Presidential Field and Contenders: Gabe Ortiz, writer and editor for America’s Voice, has written a series of blogs that lay out what you need to know about each candidate’s views on immigration and the reality that the entire GOP presidential field is embracing and mainstreaming anti-immigrant policies and politics. (Also read Top Five Things to Know About SB 1718, the signature DeSantis anti-immigration bill that is harming the Florida economy).
Additional Details on Past Election Cycles and How GOP Nativism Alienates General Electorate
- In 2022, Republicans made a massive investment into a nativist electoral strategy, and as our report details, it largely failed to deliver. America’s Voice ad tracking project found 3,200 different paid communications from Republicans and their allies from the ‘22 cycle that employed anti-immigrant attacks.
- In 2020, Steven Miller told Reuters that Joe Biden’s immigration stance would prove to be “a massive political vulnerability” in the 2020 campaign. Between April and June 2020, the Trump campaign spent more on immigration ads on Facebook than on any other issue and our 2020 ad tracking project and report found that at the presidential level, Trump ran 157 unique ads that employed xenophobic messaging.
- In 2018, the GOP was fully behind the nativist election strategy (remember the “migrant caravan” focus late in the campaign?). The number of immigration-related TV ads — and the amount of money spent on them — increased fivefold from 2016 to 2018. Wesleyan Media Project found that on Facebook, between August 1 and September 30, 23.3 percent of the Republican ads on the digital platform discussed immigration, while 80 percent of Republican TV ads in the cycle moved their nativist message. The Stephen Miller-led strategy of focusing on immigration and migrant caravans backfired on Republicans, who saw Democrats win by the largest midterm margin in American history.
- In 2017, Steve Bannon claimed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s embrace of aggressive nativist dog-whistling would be key to his victory. It wasn’t. He lost by 9 points. Research also found that Gillespie’s xenophobic ads backfired among all groups who saw the ad, including white voters.