Racist appeals increase in the final weeks before the midterm seminars

Late. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) suggested at a rally in Nevada this month that black people are criminals.

A day later in Arizona, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to refer to a particular conspiracy theory about immigrants that has been linked to white nationalists — baseless claims that at least two GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate have echoed.

And in Wisconsin and North Carolina, Democratic candidates for the Senate have faced a barrage of crime-fighting ads featuring mug shots of black defendants.

As the campaign heats up in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections, overt appeals to racial resentment and anger have been made. And the venomous remarks appear to be drawing less pushback from Republicans than in recent years, suggesting that some candidates in the first post-Trump election cycle have been swayed by the ex-president’s norm-breaking example.

“Anybody who has a title in the party could say something — senator, governor, whoever,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who noted a deafening silence in the party after Tuberville’s comment. “Anybody could stand up and say, ‘Can we stop this?’ But they won’t.”

At the Nevada rally staged by Trump in the town of Minden last Saturday for the state’s top Republican candidates, Tuberville called Democrats “pro-crime.”

“They want crime,” he continued. “They want crime because they want to take over what you have. They want to check what you have. They want compensation because they believe that the people who commit the crime owe it.”

A debate over whether to provide reparations or compensation to descendants of people enslaved in the United States has existed in the country for decades. By invoking it, Tuberville appeared to associate blacks with crime in a battleground state where Republicans are fighting for a Senate seat — and with it, potentially, the House majority.

The remark drew condemnation from civil rights leaders and Democrats, but most national Republicans remained silent or offered only mild responses.

“I wouldn’t say he’s racist,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about the comment. “But I wouldn’t use that language, be more polite.”

A spokesman for Tuberville did not respond to a request for comment.

The racial invective comes at a time when Democrats are dealing with their own scandal in Los Angeles, in which Democratic city council members and a labor leader were recorded making racist remarks. Two of them resigned this week after Democrats including President Biden urged them to do so.

“Here’s the difference between Democrats and MAGA Republicans. When a Democrat says something racist or anti-Semitic, we hold Democrats accountable,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “When a MAGA Republican says something racist or anti-Semitic, they are embraced by cheering crowds.”

A day after Tuberville’s comment, Greene appeared to invoke a version of the “replacement” conspiracy theory at a Trump rally in Arizona for GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters and other Republicans.

“Joe Biden’s five million illegal aliens are on the verge of replacing you, replacing your jobs and replacing your children in school, and when they come from all over the world, they’re also replacing your culture,” she said in what appeared to be echo a white nationalist conspiracy theory that claims elites, and sometimes more specifically Jews, import immigrants to “replace” white people. “And that’s not good for America.”

Republican Senate candidates, including JD Vance of Ohio and Masters of Arizona, have used language similar to Greene’s.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, which works to counter anti-Semitism, said it has been “amazing” to see a concept similar to that shouted by white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017 – “Jews will not replace us!” — is making its way into the political mainstream this election cycle.

“It’s not new to see anti-Semitism or overt racism in politics,” Greenblatt said. “What’s new is after years … when it was clear that to be credible in public life politicians had to reject prejudice, it’s now become normalized in ways that are really quite breathtaking.”

A spokesman for Greene disputed the validity of the ADL’s criticism, saying the organization knows nothing about illegal immigration.

Greenblatt has also criticized GOP Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who has attacked his Jewish opponent for sending his children to an “elite” Jewish day school and has posted on the far-right social media site Gab the man accused of killing 11 people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 broadcast an anti-Semitic rant.

Earlier this month, Trump used racist language to refer to Elaine Chao, the Taiwanese-born former transportation secretary in his administration and the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), calling her “Coco Chow” in an angry statement directed at against McConnell. The statement was met with relative silence by Republicans eager to avoid a showdown with the former president ahead of the midterm elections.

“The president likes to give people nicknames,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said on CNN when asked to respond to the attack. After being pressed, he said that it is never acceptable to be racist and that he hoped no one would be. McConnell also declined to answer in a CNN interview this week.

Trump’s use of racist language as a candidate sometimes led to pushback from other Republicans, such as when former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) called Trump’s attacks on a judge because of his Mexican heritage “textbook” racism. But the former president’s example has inspired other candidates and pushed the boundaries of what is considered acceptable political discourse, observers say.

“Trump mobilized a constituency that is partially susceptible to being fired up by racist appeals, and politicians, especially on the right, see that,” said Richard Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama. “And like any other competitive environment, you see what works and you copy it.”

Robert C. Smith, a political scientist who has studied race and politics, said that after the civil rights movement in the United States, racist remarks tended to be met with bipartisan condemnation. “Now it seems to be slipping away, and the only thing of significance that has changed since then is the rise of Trumpism,” Smith said.

For some, Tuberville’s remark linking black people to crime felt like confirmation of what they see as the more subtle racial undertones in the crime-focused ads that Republican candidates and groups have run to attack Democrats as soft on crime. Democrats are vulnerable on the issue, given a spike in homicides in many large, Democratic-led cities, and Republicans say they merely highlight a problem that affects all Americans, regardless of race.

But some of the ads have been criticized for playing on racial fears. Cheri Beasley, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice running for the U.S. Senate, has faced at least $2 million in attack ads calling her soft on crime, according to an AdImpact analysis. One such ad, paid for by the conservative Club for Growth PAC, features the mug shot of a black sex offender and blames Beasley for being unsupervised. (In 2019, Beasley joined the majority of the court in ruling that offenders cannot be subject to GPS monitoring for life solely because they have committed multiple crimes.)

Steele called the Beasley spot “dressed up Willie Horton,” referring to an ad that ran in support of Republican George HW Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign against Democrat Michael Dukakis. That ad’s use of a black perpetrator’s mug became a classic example of “dog whistle” racism in politics. Similar ads featuring mug shots of black defendants are also targeting Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin. (Beasley and Barnes are black.)

Fording says such ads are designed to subtly activate racial biases and stir anger and fear, which is often more effective than overtly racist messages.

“There’s a lot of political science research that suggests these appeals will work,” he said.

Club for Growth PAC president David McIntosh defended the ad in a statement. “At every level of politics, liberal Democrats in North Carolina are being called out for being soft on pedophiles,” he said. “If they’re going to pretend that race has anything to do with letting the police track down child sex predators, they’re going to be in for quite a surprise on election night.”

Civil rights leaders say they hold out hope that the environment will improve after the midterms, but worry that each new attack further erodes the standards for how people in public life talk about race and religion.

“I don’t know that it’s going to be very easy to put the genie back in the bottle,” Greenblatt said.

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