A new ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee is being criticized for using racist tropes about black men to criticize a Democrat hoping to unseat a GOP congressman in a tight race.
Antonio Delgado is running for Congress in New York’s 19th Congressional District. The Harvard Law School graduate and Rhodes scholar was previously a lawyer at one of the country’s largest lobbying firms. He was also a rapper — and the NRCC wants voters to believe that his past lyrics disqualify him from representing them in Washington.
The ad features cuts of Delgado in 2018 campaigning for the seat interspersed with darkened videos of the candidate rapping about sex, using the n-word and critiquing white supremacy. Delgado's critics — including his Republican incumbent, Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) — have repeatedly brought up his decade-old past as a hip-hop artist to argue that he is not the best person to represent this predominantly white, Upstate district.
The racial overtones of the ad were not lost on viewers.
And the NRCC was unapologetic about what it was putting before voters. “SoundCloud rapper Antonio Delgado faces his own anti-American lyrics in new NRCC TV ad in NY-19,” Jesse Hunt, national press secretary for the NRCC, tweeted.
Democrats seized on the uproar over the ad.
“Blatant racism in 2018 by the @NRCC,” tweeted the Democratic National Committee’s deputy communications director, Sabrina Singh.
And DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake told the Fix:
Republicans' racist attack ads failed to work in 2017, and they will fail again in 2018. Democrats like Antonio Delgado are going to be elected to Congress because they are talking about the issues that matter most to people, from jobs to health care, from education to affordable housing, while Republicans are resorting to dog-whistle politics.
But Hunt said the Democrats brought this on themselves, telling the Fix:
“If Democrats are upset about Antonio Delgado’s own rap lyrics being used in ads then they shouldn’t have nominated him."
In July, Faso told the New York Times that Delgado's lyrics are “inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America. . . . It’s his responsibility as a candidate to answer for the controversial views he expressed in his lyrics and whether he continues to hold these views today.”
Gerald Benjamin, director of the Benjamin Center at State University of New York at New Paltz, told the Times that the criticism of Delgado was “about culture and commonality with the district and its values” and added that “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture."
The challenge for the GOP is one of credibility along with consistency. There isn't much of a track record of the Republican establishment challenging the leader of its party to face his own past, which includes making sexually suggestive comments, appearing in pornographic magazines and films, and using racially charged language. To some, it seems that if the GOP believed that using this type of language disqualified one from moving to Washington to enter public service, this same standard would conclude that President Trump should vacate the Oval Office.
But that logic doesn't really apply in our current political climate. The NRCC knows its base — and those voters are firmly behind Trump. And it would be no surprise if those voters found the vulgar language disqualifying for Delgado, a young black fan of hip-hop, even though they find it so endearing and attractive coming from Trump, who campaigned against political correctness and promising to return America to the time that caused his supporters less “cultural anxiety."
A larger challenge for the GOP is that this ad seems to be the latest example that the party of Lincoln has little interest in improving its standing with black voters. The district, which Trump won by six percentage points over Clinton in 2016, is overwhelmingly white. But its minority population is not insignificant. According to Census Reporter, 4 percent of the district is black, 2 percent is Asian and 8 percent is Latino. Voters in all of these ethnic groups tend to vote against the GOP, and in a race this tight, every vote maters. According to the September Monmouth University poll, 45 percent of potential voters back Delgado while 43 percent of potential voters back Faso. Nine percent are undecided.
It is likely that the voters who continue to stand proudly beside Trump will be persuaded against backing Delgado, someone whose image likely reminds them of the NFL players, hip-hop artists and Democratic lawmakers regularly attacked by the president. But winning the battle could cost the GOP the war in the long term. The next generation of voters is more likely to look like Delgado and less likely to want to be represented by a party that stokes racial stereotypes in search of a win.