It is often pointed out that Trump, by closing on a message of racism, hate, xenophobia and ethno-nationalism, has placed those things on the ballot. That’s true, but what’s really on the ballot is the Trumpist GOP’s fusion of xenophobic ethno-nationalism with the GOP’s orthodox regressive plutocratic agenda.
That latter element also comprises Trump’s ongoing corruption and self-dealing — we still have no idea how much Trump personally profited off the GOP tax cut — which Republicans are openly signaling that a GOP House will allow to continue undisturbed. It seems crazy that the straight-up declaration that Republicans will protect Trump and his administration from accountability and scrutiny would be seen as a positive that energizes Republican voters. But that’s where the Trump-era GOP has taken us, and this perversity, too, is very much on the ballot on Tuesday.
Many of the lies that sustain this fusion were on display during Trump’s final rallies in Georgia and Tennessee. Trump falsely claimed that Democrats favor open borders and are behind the Central American migrants working their way through Mexico. He falsely claimed that Democrats are the ones who will take away people’s health care. He falsely claimed that Democrats want to obliterate Medicare, and that he’s the one who wants to protect Social Security from cuts.
This is in keeping with the endless lies that Trump has employed to hype the migrant “caravan” into a national emergency. Republicans are running ads across the country painting immigrants as criminal invaders alongside many others that traffic in undisguised race-baiting directed at specific Democratic candidates who happen to be nonwhite.
Republicans are also relentlessly — and falsely — claiming they are the ones who will protect people with preexisting conditions. GOP-aligned groups have been falsely claiming that Democrats want to cut hundreds of billions from Medicare, recycling a lie from previous election cycles. Trump has also been claiming that if Republicans win the elections, they’ll immediately push through a massive tax cut for the middle class, which is almost certainly complete nonsense. Republican candidates have been falsely claiming that the GOP tax cut paid for itself.
It’s useful to separate the lies into different buckets. The lying about immigration and the relentless race-baiting on one side, and the lying about Medicare and Social Security on the other, in a sense reinforce one another. Both are about frightening old people — that is, the aging white GOP base.
By contrast, the lying about immigration on one side, and the lying about health care and taxes on the other, are working at cross purposes with one another. In this regard, a deep split has opened up in GOP messaging. The immigrant-bashing and race-baiting messaging is about galvanizing the GOP’s blue-collar white base in red-state Senate races, and about limiting GOP losses in the House by energizing that base in redder districts.
Meanwhile, in the messaging directed at suburban areas where the most competitive House races are unfolding and control will likely be decided, the hardcore immigration talk is much quieter, even as Republicans are employing the lies about health care and taxes to hold onto suburban and educated whites who are alienated by Trump’s misogyny, racism and cruel ethno-nationalist agenda.
Indeed, Politico reports that many Republicans now fear that Trump’s strategy of closing on hate-mongering and xenophobia could cost them the House:
They now fear Trump went overboard — and that it could cost them dearly in key suburban districts, from Illinois to Texas. Many of them have cringed at Trump’s threats to unilaterally end birthright citizenship, as well as his recent racially-tinged ad suggesting that immigrants are police killers. The president’s drumbeat, they say, is drowning out news any incumbent president would be negligent not to dwell on: that the economy added a quarter-million jobs last quarter, and unemployment is below 4 percent.
We have to hope that these Republicans are right to worry. The race still appears close: The Democrats’ generic-ballot lead stands at just over eight points, which is barely outside what might be needed to overcome GOP structural advantages such as gerrymandering and geographic sorting. The final Upshot-Siena polls seem to offer good news for Democrats, but numerous hard-fought races that will decide control of the House could tip either way.
Defeat the lies
The more obvious reason to hope that all the Trump/GOP lies get repudiated is that validation of them as a successful campaign strategy would be a terrible outcome. This wouldn’t just encourage future GOP campaigns to double down on stoking xenophobic and racial panic. It’s worse: The Trump strategy of sending in troops to prop up the campaign fiction that migrants pose a national emergency is a serious act of official misconduct.
This goes beyond Trump: Republicans are largely all in with this move. Meanwhile, Brian Kemp, the GOP candidate in the Georgia gubernatorial race, is now using his position overseeing the election as secretary of state to investigate Democrats for allegedly “hacking” the voter registration system with no evidence. The terrible precedent that such brazen abuses of governmental power to manipulate electoral outcomes will set for future elections seems obvious on its face.
The other reason to hope that all these lies get repudiated is centered on the very truths they are designed to obscure — that is, on the actual stakes in this election that all the lies are designed to cover up. If Republicans hold the House, Trump — having closed on xenophobia and hate — will be emboldened to go harder into his ethno-nationalist agenda: more restrictions on asylum seekers; a revived version of the family separations; possibly even an effort at an executive order to force a court battle over birthright citizenship.
On top of that, the GOP lies about preexisting conditions are designed to conceal the fact that if they win, Republicans will try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They very likely will try to cut entitlements as well, or if not, they’ll try to deeply slash other safety-net programs.
A Democratic House would hold out at least the possibility of negotiations on saner immigration solutions and compromises, and would halt the drive to repeal Obamacare. It could mean accountability in the form of an effort to get Trump’s tax returns. (Republicans have openly said voters should support them to prevent such accountability.) It could also mean congressional hearings into Trump’s use of the military for political purposes, and into Trump’s governing fiascoes, such as the administration’s bad-faith-saturated immigration cruelties and health-care sabotage.
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.