When I reported the other day that GOP Senate candidate Tom Cotton had claimed ISIS is collaborating with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the border and kill Arkansans, a number of folks joked on twitter that if Cotton had thrown Ebola into the mix, he would have hit the Fox News Trifecta.
It turns out that at least two GOP Senate candidates are, in fact, linking Ebola to the border, and using that double jolt of fear to attack Dem Senate incumbents.
Case in point: Scott Brown, who is running against Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. In an interview with WGIR radio that was captured by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Brown was asked whether he favored travel restrictions on some passengers in and out of West Africa. He replied:
“We need a comprehensive approach and I think that should be part of it. I think it’s all connected. For example, we have people coming into our country by legal means bringing in diseases and other potential challenges. Yet we have a border that’s so porous that anyone can walk across it. I think it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist. And yet we do nothing to secure our border. It’s dangerous. And that’s the difference. I voted to secure it. Senator Shaheen has not.”
Brown has made a similar claim before, but this suggestion of Ebola-bearing foreigners alongside others harboring criminal or terrorist intent all casually strolling across the border, thanks to Democrats’ refusal to protect the country, appears to be his starkest version of it yet. And he is not the only one drawing this link. Thom Tillis, who is challenging Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina, recently charged that Hagan had “failed the people of North Carolina and the nation by not securing our border,” adding: “we’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it.”
Even some former Bushies have said this sort of talk is out of bounds. Sarah Fagan, the White House political director under George W. Bush, recently denounced it as “irresponsible” and “wrong” and a distraction from the seriousness of the challenges facing us.
Beyond GOP Senate candidates, a number of Republican lawmakers — including likely 2016 presidential candidates — have accused Obama of leaving the country vulnerable to Ebola. (In fairness, a handful of Democrats have also called for travel restrictions.) And as Jeremy Peters has detailed, Republicans have stoked fears of Ebola as part of a broader effort which includes attacks on Democrats as weak on ISIS and/or weak on the border, one that is designed to amp up the fear factor as much as possible heading into the midterms:
With four weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans have made questions of how safe we are — from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous — central in their attacks against Democrats. Their message is decidedly grim: President Obama and the Democratic Party run a government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm….
Playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base….Republicans said the hyperbole highlighted the perception that the president, with his no-drama air, often plays down the seriousness of the problems facing the country.
There may even more to the strategy than this. Democratic incumbents who have kept their races close in red or purple states have done so in part by refocusing campaigns on local concerns and women’s health and/or economic issues, and framing the contests as a straight choice between two contenders. Democratic operatives believe that invoking fears of Ebola — and fears of ISIS or of our supposedly insecure border — are about nationalizing the political atmosphere, preventing Democrats from keeping the focus where they want it, on state-specific issues (such as Tillis’ education cuts in North Carolina) or on particular GOP candidates’ vulnerabilities (such as Scott Brown’s record on outsourcing and abortion). Dems think this is also part of an effort to make the races more about the unpopular president by pumping up an anxiety-suffused sense that the country has run off the rails under Democratic rule.
And yet, to my knowledge, neither Scott Brown nor any other GOP candidates has lumped Ebola, ISIS and the border into one attack. Which is to say that some lucky Republican could still go out there and achieve that Fox News Trifecta if he or she has the courage to go for it.