Recent polling out of the Republican primary in the Georgia gubernatorial race has Michael Williams struggling in the single digits. But as the state senator ramps up his campaign in the last days before facing off against four other candidates on May 22, Williams has found a way to pull fresh attention — and outrage — to his effort.
On Tuesday, the campaign announced the candidate was going on the Michael Williams Deportation Bus Tour. Calling himself the “most outspoken anti-illegal candidate in Georgia’s history,” Williams plans to wheel the bus through Georgia’s “sanctuary” cities to highlight his call for tougher immigration control.
“We’re not just going to track them, watch them roam around our state. We’re going to put them on this bus, and send them home,” Williams says in a video released by the campaign.
The bus in the video is painted gunmetal gray. “Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molesters, and other criminals on board,” the words on the rear door state. “Follow me to Mexico,” is stamped above the bumper.
“If you’re as tired as I am of politicians that do nothing but talk, and you want to see this bus filled with illegals, vote Michael Williams on May 22,” Williams, an early backer of Donald Trump’s presidential bid and co-chair of the president’s 2016 Georgia campaign, says in the clip.
“Amen for your desire to enforce Immigration laws that are already on the books. Vote no for amnesty and open borders,” a supporter chimed in on Twitter.
“Did y’all lose your minds down there in Georgia?” another fired back in response.
Williams’s new ad is a bid for attention, but it also fits with a larger pattern playing out across national races heading into election season.
Some GOP candidates are not only trying to appear ideologically tight with Trump, but they’re also jockeying to mirror the president’s rhetoric. It’s accompanied by a crass style calibrated to rally the base and outrage liberals, playing on hot topics such as guns and immigration.
The results are candidates “going out of their way to be pro-Trump in almost cartoonish fashion,” Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told Reuters last week. “It’s kind of shameless.”
The Georgia governor’s race has another recent memorable example of a candidate trying to out-Trump his competition. Earlier this month, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, stirred controversy in his own bid for the GOP gubernatorial primary. He released a campaign video in which he brandished a gun at a “young man interested in one of my daughters.”
The video, following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and renewed debate over gun control, did not go over well with liberals. Kemp’s response: “I’m conservative, folks. Get over it!”
Ohio lawmaker Christina Hagan also channeled immigration fears in her fight to be the GOP candidate for Ohio’s 16th Congressional District. Images in a Hagan campaign video appeared to show hundreds of Mexican migrants jumping over a border wall. As CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski pointed out, the footage is from Morocco.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has also couched her bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Trumpian terms.
“I’m politically incorrect and proud of it,” Blackburn said in an October video announcing her candidacy. “I am 100 percent pro-life. … I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts, thank God.”
When announcing her campaign for U.S. Senate seat, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), like Blackburn, evoked Trump and language meant to tweak the other side of the partisan divide.
“Like our president, I’m tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses,” McSally said in her campaign video. “I’m a fighter pilot, and I talk like one. That’s why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of oversized and get the job done.”
But the 2018 candidate to pull most directly from the president is also the figure Trump most fully rejected.
West Virginia’s Don Blankenship, a Republican, pitched his campaign for Senate as an anti-establishment crusade against the GOP mainstream. The former coal magnate’s infamous campaign video was hyper-Trumpian, featuring racially tinged broadsides and even Trump-worthy nicknames — the candidate memorably referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as “Cocaine Mitch.”
Yet the president urged voters to throw their support behind the mainstream GOP candidates, not Blankenship, a man who boasted he was “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship lost the race.
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