Donald Trump has already made his feelings about undocumented immigrants painfully clear. From calling all Mexican immigrants “criminals” at the start of his presidential bid to his recently announced plan to repeal the constitutional right to birthright citizenship, the mogul-turned-politician has a problem with America’s southern neighbors.
That problem apparently extends to fellow Republicans who manage to show any kind of compassion for the families who come to the United States without documentation. On Monday, GOP presidential contender Donald Trump released a campaign ad blasting Jeb Bush for showing a rare bit of compassion on immigration. However, the campaign video has a serious racist message that portrays all Mexican immigrants as criminals. It’s a stereotype that has worked for the GOP before—but might backfire for the Republicans now that it’s being wielded by Donald Trump.
The mogul-turned-politician has a problem with America’s southern neighbors.
The video is short but nasty. The clip opens with a slide promising “Jeb Bush’s thoughts on illegal immigrants.” In a span of less than 30 seconds, the mugshots of three undocumented men accused of murder plays against a voice-over and short clip of Jeb Bush circa 2014 explaining during an interview at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library that those who cross the Mexican border come to the United States as an “act of love,” not out of malicious intent.
The ad closes with a slide saying, “Love? Forget love. It’s time to get tough” and then the slogan: “Trump. Make America great again!” Here’s the entire video, available on Trump’s Instagram page:
Some in the press have already spotted an interesting irony in Trump’s newest ad. It looks strangely similar to an ad that George H. W. Bush used in his 1988 presidential campaign against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. The Dukakis campaign was ahead by at least 17 percentage points and threatening to add another 10 points over the next months. So Bush’s team conceived of a plan to attack the Democratic candidate using race and fear.
The political ad the Bush campaign team dreamed up told the story of Willie Horton, a black man convicted of murder in Massachusetts and released on a weekend furlough under a program that Dukakis supported. While Horton was out on furlough, he fled to Maryland where he broke into the home of a white couple, killed the man, then beat and raped his fiancee. The message in the ad and the speeches that followed was simple: Dukakis’ soft stance on crime allowed men like Willie Horton to go free.
So when Trump evoked the images and stories of three prisoners in a campaign ad attacking Jeb Bush’s stance on immigration, some drew an immediate parallel to the Horton ad.
Trump is out with Willie Horton-ish video splicing Jeb's "act of love" comment on immigrants. https://t.co/CNhY316i2G— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 31, 2015
And there are striking similarities. Trump has made no secret of the fact that he thinks Mexican immigrants are the very worst people that Mexico has to offer. Time and again, the billionaire has made bigoted statements that portray Mexicans as inherently criminal. Despite the statistics that prove undocumented immigrants are no more criminal than the rest of us, the few examples of violent criminals that Trump touts are meant to indict the millions of undocumented workers in the United States who are there to find stable work and care for their families.
That same racist thinking is what drove Southern voters to the polls in 1988 after the Horton ads. But this time, the negative tactics are being used within the GOP, against the man that the Republican National Committee wishes was their frontrunner.
There is no stronger metaphor for racial hatred in our country than the black man raping the white woman. If you were going to run a campaign of fear and smear and appeal to racial hatred you could not have picked a better case to use than this one.
Indeed. Following the Horton ads, Bush won the 1988 presidential race by eight percentage points. Apparently, after 27 years, Donald Trump is looking to update all the old racist fears and metaphors. Except this time, it’ll be used against a fellow Republican.
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Tiffany Thomas is a writer, multi-tasker, and wine drinker. You can find her in the good part of Alabama, but she’s really from Baltimore—or North Carolina.
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)