“Is there any empirical data that Trump’s nativist, race baiting close to the campaign is actually a strategically smart move?”
President Trump and the GOP’s closing electoral argument — that the strongest nation on earth should cower in fear of immigrants — is both desperate and racist. The press can’t get enough of it, and the assumption of many is that it is an effective strategy.
But is it? Below we note some of the questions, critiques and commentary with respect to the xenophobic demagoguery of Trump and the GOP.
Will the Ugly Fear-mongering “Work” Electorally?
- The Daily Beast politics editor Sam Stein asks the right question on Twitter: “Is there any empirical data that Trump’s nativist, race baiting close to the campaign is actually a strategically smart move?”
- Axios co-founder Mike Allen, a reliable barometer of Beltway conventional wisdom, assessed that “Trump has created a political variant of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (commotion, in this case): For every incendiary action that stirs die-hard Trumpers, there is an equal opposite reaction among Trump-haters. GOP officials tell us the negative reaction is the far worse variable here. And, here’s the dirty little secret among Republicans: All they really needed was the Kavanaugh fireworks to electrify their base, and exploit one of the most favorable Senate maps imaginable.”
- An important Politico story by Rachel Bade, Carla Marinucci and Elana Schora entitled, “’Trump has hijacked the election’: House Republicans in panic mode,” finds that House GOP strategists, “are profoundly worried that Trump’s obsession with all things immigration will exacerbate their losses … they now fear Trump went overboard — and that it could cost them dearly in key suburban districts, from Illinois to Texas. … “Trump has hijacked the election,” said one senior House Republican aide of Trump’s focus on immigration. “This is not what we expected the final weeks of the election to focus on.” …“His honing in on this message is going to cost us seats,” said one senior House GOP campaign source.”
Of course, the ugly race-baiting and fear-mongering is not just coming from President Trump and the White House. The entire GOP has adopted or enabled the cynical and ugly focus on immigration this cycle, with leadership-affiliated Super PACs being among the worst offenders. America’s Voice has been tracking these anti-immigrant attack ads and featuring some of the ugliest examples at the America’s Voice “Divide and Distract” website, which includes a searchable database of the worst of the worst immigration ads we’ve seen this cycle.
What’s at Stake?
- Matt Viser of the Washington Post writes a piece entitled, “Midterms test whether Republicans not named Trump can win by stoking racial animosity” and correctly points out that the ugliness and race-baiting strategy on display is a GOP-wide problem: “The 2016 election confirmed that a potential president could run — and win after stoking racism. Now, in their closing days, the midterms are shaping up as a demonstration of whether the entire Republican Party can succeed by following his lead. By running so overtly on racially tinged messages, the GOP is putting that explosive form of politics on the ballot. If Republicans maintain control of the House, the notion of running a campaign built on blunt, race-based attacks on immigrants and minorities will have been validated. A loss, on the other hand, might prompt a number of Republicans to call for a rethinking of the party’s direction — but that would collide with a sitting president who, if anything, relishes over-the-edge rhetoric.”
- Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, a libertarian writer, notes, “If the GOP succeeds next week at the ballot box, politicians all over the country will conclude that they can advance their careers by vilifying minority groups, frightening voters predisposed to xenophobia, and dividing Americans. No incentive structure is more dangerous to a multiethnic nation. Politicians in other nations marshaling similar tactics have sparked sectarian violence, campaigns of ethnic cleansing, and civil war. Trump happens to preside over a country where such extreme outcomes are unlikely. But that does not change the character of his tactics or the moral obligation to stand against them.”
- And Greg Sargent of the Washington Post sums up the stakes, writing: “If Republicans hold the House, it means unshackled Trumpian ethno-nationalism and personal self-dealing, a validation of xenophobic panic and naked authoritarian abuses for campaign purposes, and more plutocracy and inequality. If Democrats win the House, it will mean the beginnings of a real check on those things. The only way the latter will happen is if those who dread unchecked Trumpism vote in large enough numbers to make the latter a reality.”
Does the Virginia’s 2017 Governor’s Race Serve as the Template for the 2018 Midterms?
- In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Republican Ed Gillespie relied on race-baiting MS-13 ads down to the stretch in hopes of overtaking Democrat Ralph Northam. Governor Northam resisted our cries that he engage on immigration and instead stayed focused on his top issue — healthcare.
- The final polls had the candidates in a tight race and many pundits predicted a Republican come-from-behind upset. Steve Bannon predicted Gillespie would win, telling the Washington Post just days before the election that Gillespie endorser “Corey Stewart is the reason Gillespie is going to win,” and saying to the New York Times that Gillespie has “closed an enthusiasm gap by rallying around the Trump agenda … And I think the big lesson for Tuesday is that, in Gillespie’s case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward.”
- Final results? Northam won going away, by a whopping 9%. Yes, Republican turnout was up, but Democratic turnout was up by twice as much. As our Election Eve polling showed, the backlash effect to Gillespie’s racism and xenophobia — among young people, people of color, suburban voters, independents, and reluctant Republicans — created a backlash effect that overwhelmed the ugly Gillespie strategy.
- As Geoff Garin, the pollster for Northam, recently told Robert Draper of the New York Times, “Gillespie ran the kinds of MS-13 ads that are now running in other parts of the country. We measured a real backlash to that advertising with suburban voters, in part because it connected Gillespie to the anti-immigrant thrust of Trump’s persona.”
Trump’s reliance on racism and xenophobia is appalling, but not surprising. If it turns out that this desperate strategy doesn’t work after all, let’s hope those assuming it will work are prepared to admit that.