As the final, frenzied push towards the first presidential voting begins, Donald Trump has unveiled a riveting new television ad that perfectly sums up Trumpism in all its xenophobic glory — and also perfectly captures the problem Trumpism has created for the Republican Party.
The ad, which is set to run extensively in Iowa and New Hampshire, has it all. It reiterates his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, and links this directly to the need to combat “radical Islamic terrorism.” It also again vows to “stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for.” All of this leads up to the grand conclusion, in which Trump himself vows to “make America great again.”
But here’s something notable: Trump’s spot looks very much like the heavily-immigration-themed ads run by California Governor Pete Wilson in the 1990s. Wilson helped secure passage of the infamous “Proposition 187,” which sought to bar illegal immigrants from a range of state services and is widely believed to have driven Latinos away from the California GOP and set it on a path into the demographic wilderness.
Note this footage from the new Trump ad showing dark hordes breaching the border:
Now compare that to one of the ads Wilson ran as part of his 1994 gubernatorial campaign, which served up similarly grainy footage of similar dark hordes invading the country. As Brian Beutler noted, this depiction of “illegal immigrants as invaders” offers a striking parallel to today’s Trumpian rhetoric. That parallel should make it hard to avoid reckoning with the possibility that Trump’s appeal to GOP voters just might be partly rooted in the raw appeal of his xenophobia and demagoguery about immigrants, and not just in anxieties that are legitimately traceable to the impact of immigration policy on GOP voters’ economic prospects, as some right-leaning commentators have suggested. Now Trump’s ad has helpfully brought this comparison to full circle.
If you think this comparison is a stretch, note that California Republicans also see warnings for today’s GOP in the wrong turn the party took in that state in the 1990s. E.J. Dionne’s terrific new book on American conservatism features an interview with GOP state chairman Jim Brulte, who says this: “California is the leading edge of the country’s demographic changes. Frankly, Republicans in California did not react quickly enough to them, and we have paid a horrible price.”
Or as one California Democrat puts it to Dionne: “The one thing no one can stop is that every month, the rest of America looks more like California.” Other Republicans, such as pollster Whit Ayres, broadly agree with this analysis and its ominous portents for the GOP’s hopes in future national elections.
Now, it remains unlikely that Trump will actually win the nomination. But even if he doesn’t, the question then becomes: Whither the forces Trump has unleashed inside the GOP? Trump’s candidacy — and to a somewhat lesser extent, that of Ted Cruz — is framed around the idea that the way to win the White House is by unleashing the power of white backlash. This is plainly obvious in Trump’s case, but Cruz, too, has repeatedly suggested a GOP victory must be powered by evangelicals and “Reagan Democrats,” i.e., culturally conservative blue collar whites. Cruz has engaged in more sophisticated demagoguery about Muslims and has flatly ruled out any form of legalization for undocumented immigrants.
By contrast, Marco Rubio’s long-term strategy seems to be framed broadly (though he has diverted from it at times) around the idea that the way to win is to make peace with diversifying, culturally evolving America, in hopes of cutting into Dem voter groups. (Demographics expert Ruy Teixeira’s hard look at the numbers suggests this may be the better course.) Which will GOP voters choose? We’ll soon find out. And if it’s the latter, and Rubio wins the nomination, how far he has to go in pandering to the forces Trump and Cruz are unleashing in order to get there will also bear watching.
Update: The original headline on the above item contained a word that some readers found offensive. My intention was solely to characterize in blunt terms what I believe is the tacit xenophobic message that Trump is trying to send with his new ad. It was not meant in any way as an endorsement of that sentiment. But I apologize to those who did find the term offensive, and I’ve changed the headline to remove it.
* PAUL RYAN VOWS AMBITIOUS NEW GOP AGENDA: The Wall Street Journal reports that House Speaker Paul Ryan is hoping to use the Lower Chamber in 2016 to frame a broad, proactive, GOP policy agenda that helps influence the presidential race. But:
Aides to Mr. Ryan, who in a speech last year called for “a complete alternative to the left’s agenda,” say the effort will be clearer after this week, when the House is expected to vote on a measure to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal part of the Affordable Care Act.
So we’ll be hearing about this new agenda soon, after the gazillionth vote to roll back Obamacare. But no worries: Ryan promises that this agenda will also include the GOP’s long-awaited Obamacare alternative — one of these days, anyway.
* HILLARY TO ROLL OUT NEW TAX PLAN: In the wake of news that the 400 highest-earning Americans paid an effective tax rate of 23 percent in 2013, Hillary Clinton signaled over the weekend that she’ll soon unveil a broad plan that goes beyond the “Buffett Rule” to push that effective rate up:
“As president, I’ll do what it takes to make sure the super-wealthy are truly paying their fair share,” Clinton said in a statement….She called billionaire Warren Buffett’s plan, which would set the minimum effective tax rate for those earning $1 million per year at 30 percent, “one idea that would help achieve greater fairness in our tax system.”
Bernie Sanders’ tax plan is also expected soon, and it likely will increase top rates more than Clinton’s would, igniting an intra-Dem debate over tax fairness heading into the early contests.
* BERNIE MAKES BIG PUSH IN IOWA: The New York Times has a nicely reported look at how Bernie Sanders’ campaign is ramping up its organization in Iowa, in hopes of bucking the conventional wisdom that Clinton is likely to win the first contest:
The campaign has quietly assembled an extensive ground game here, with 100 paid staff members and with trained volunteer leaders for each of the state’s 1,681 caucus precincts….The recipe for a Sanders upset in Iowa calls for a large turnout of voters under 45 and those at the lower end of the economic scale, appealing to their anger at Wall Street, the influence of money in politics and the hollowing-out of the working class.
If Clinton wins Iowa, that would offset a Sanders victory in New Hampshire, probably putting Clinton on track to winning the nomination. But if she loses there, she’ll likely lose both initial contests. Thus, a great deal is riding on Iowa.
* GOP CANDIDATES MUM ON OREGON STANDOFF: As an armed group has taken over parts of a federally-owned wildlife refuge in Oregon, the GOP candidates have been mostly quiet:
There was relative quiet from some more conservative Republican presidential candidates who had previously called for the government to release more of the land it owns. The issue has become a larger one in the GOP primary contest as states such as Colorado, Idaho and Nevada may play a bigger role in determining a nominee in a large, fractured field.
Meanwhile, the group, which is led by one son of far-right hero Cliven Bundy, is prepared to dig in for “as long as it takes.”
* STAKES ARE ENORMOUS IN 2016: Paul Krugman frames the stakes of the 2016 presidential race:
Whoever the Republicans nominate will be committed to destroying Obamacare and slashing taxes on the wealthy — in fact, the current G.O.P. tax-cut plans make the Bush cuts look puny. Whoever the Democrats nominate will, first and foremost, be committed to defending the achievements of the past seven years. The bottom line is that presidential elections matter, a lot, even if the people on the ballot aren’t as fiery as you might like. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
* SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON BENGHAZI: Glenn Kessler offers the definitive look at the claim by some family members of Benghazi victims that Hillary Clinton privately told them the video was to blame for the attacks. While some family members say she said this, Kessler talks to three family members who say she didn’t say any such thing, including Ambassador Chris Stevens’ father.
Clinton herself has denied telling the families this, and now it appears that at least some of the family members themselves agree.
* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, TRUMP-HAS-GOP-OVER-A-BARREL EDITION: RNC chair Reince Priebus:
“I’m not one of these people that think that Donald Trump can’t win a general election. I actually think there is a huge crossover appeal there to people that are disengaged politically that he speaks to.”
Yeah, sure you think that, Reince. Better treat Trump fairly, or who knows what he might do, right?