On September 15, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), ran Facebook ads that warned of an alleged Biden effort set on “housing ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS in your neighborhood!” The fear the NRSC was looking to generate with this racist fiction harkens back to the blockbusting and neighborhood racial covenants of the Jim-Crow era. They paid Facebook to deliver this xenophobic message over 2.1 million times to users over a 48-hour period. They did this with the hopes of further seeding their racialized zero-sum politics of division and build a list of supporters they can continue to mobilize with this message.
The NRSC ran some of these ads on behalf of Senator Chuck Grassley, who will face a potentially competitive Senate reelection campaign. Other ads that peddled this xenophobic dog-whistle featured the image of Donald Trump. This fundraising and base-building strategy all but ensures Republican Senate candidates will not be able to distance themselves from Trump as they need to mobilize this base to win their elections.
This is not the first time the NRSC has run Facebook ads employing this particular xenophobic message. Starting in late June, the NRSC has paid Facebook over $183,900 to distribute ads with this message over 5.7 million times.
Currently led by Senator Rick Scott (FL), the NRSC is a powerful party committee that sets the tone for Senate campaigns. They will help fundraise and provide air cover for Republicans in all the competitive Senate races in 2022. The tone and messages they amply thus have significant implications. Though the NRSC’s reliance on strategic xenophobia for their campaigns is not new, it should still be deeply concerning that one of the two major political parties is delivering racialized dehumanizing rhetoric over 5 million times to supporters online because they believe strategic racism is their ONLY path to more power.
An additionally disturbing fact is that Sen. Scott’s NRSC is funding these ads with the support of generous contributions from leading American corporations. Some of the corporate PACs funding the amplification of strategic racism include:
- UPS – $15,000
- American Airlines – $15,000
- Lowes – $15,000
- Verizon – $15,000
- Delta Airlines – $15,000
- Ford – $15,000
- Walmart – $15,000
- T-Mobile – $15,000
- General Motors – $15,000
- PNC Bank – $15,000
Coincidentally, on the same day, third-ranking House Republican, Elise Stefanik, also dropped xenophobic Facebook ads. Laundering the white nationalist ‘replacement theory,’ Stefanik delivered her ads to over a million Facebook users that same day.
It is important to remember that these digital ads can reach a vast number of voters for relatively little sums of money. Unlike TV advertising, these ads are actively building a list of emails and phone numbers of potential donors and volunteers for Republican party campaigns. The precise targeting capabilities of digital advertising also lends itself to more aggressive rhetoric, a tendency that has led campaigns to employ dehumanizing language that has been echoed by perpetrators of mass racist violence.
Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they are going to continue to rely on the dangerous politics of racial division in an attempt to win elections. They may be successful in this effort, especially if their twin project of voter suppression continues unabated. But two questions remain. Will America’s leading corporations continue to fund Republican’s racist and xenophobic political tactics? And will Democrats call out the Republicans’ cynical political gains and boldly deliver on their promises that are wildly popular with the majority of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, future-oriented America.