In a piece for The Guardian, Sabrina Siddiqui captures the Republican party’s attack ad strategy: mimic Trump, stoke fear of immigrants; attack Democrats for standing up for immigrants; and sow divisions.
The piece is excerpted below and available in full here.
The outline of a child skips across the sidewalk as the narrator of a political ad targeting Matt Cartwright, a Democratic congressman in Pennsylvania, ominously declares: “A young girl, raped by an illegal given sanctuary in Philadelphia”.
“She was five years old. Her life will never be the same,” the voice concludes.
In another spot, aimed at Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat from Arizona, a white woman locks the doors and windows of her home as police lights flicker outside. “They talk about solving illegal immigration, but nothing happens,” she opines. “We who live here are forgotten.”
Other attack ads flash images of tattooed gang members behind prison bars while accusing Democratic incumbents of failing to secure America’s borders.
The stark imagery embodies much of the Republican messaging on immigration ahead of the November midterm elections. Donald Trump, while stumping for Republican candidates across the country, has railed against illegal immigration and sounded the alarm over MS-13, a transnational criminal organization that represents less than 1% of gangs in the United States.
Trump has also touted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agency, which is tasked with apprehending, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, as the last line of defense between Americans and violent criminals. That seems a deliberate strategy, talking up the agency’s often controversial actions as a way of stirring up a Republican base fearful of immigration.
Many Republicans have refashioned themselves in the president’s mold, echoing the sharp rhetoric that makes little distinction between bad actors and the majority of undocumented immigrants already in the country or seeking refuge at its borders.
“I don’t know if the Republican party at the national level has one message on immigration,” said Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. “But the message is not one that is constructive or hopeful in the local elections.”
The president’s tactics are reminiscent of the nativist tone forged during his 2016 presidential campaign, which he launched by declaring most immigrants crossing the US border from Mexico were ‘rapists’ and ‘killers’.
But whereas candidate Trump’s incendiary rhetoric was rebuked by most Republican lawmakers, the party has increasingly rallied behind the politics of fear – as part of a bid to mobilize a conservative base that remains overwhelmingly behind the president.
“We used to say the Republican party was divided between a pro-immigrant wing and an anti-immigrant wing. That’s no longer the case,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the progressive immigration group America’s Voice, which recently launched an anti-immigrant ad tracker.
“You have a Trumpian party that has decided that stoking fear and ‘othering’ refugees and immigrants is the only way they can compete in elections.”
It’s a far cry from Republican efforts to reform its image with Hispanic voters in the aftermath of elections that showed the influential voting bloc fleeing the party in droves.
The majority of political advertising remains focused on issues such as healthcare, jobs and education. A CNN analysis nonetheless found that candidates and committees have spent more than $150m this year on immigration-related TV spots – more than five times the amount spent in the 2014 midterm elections.
Aguilar said there was little doubt that Trump’s views on immigration were prevailing in Republican politics. The challenge would be for the party to reclaim its message and convince Hispanic voters that their policies were not antithetical to their values.
“I understand if you’re talking about MS-13, it is a problem,” he said. “But to have a good policy, you need to strike that balance between enforcement and border security and continuing to be a welcoming nation.”
“I just think that more positive message is missing.”