With a few days left before the election, there’s an aroma of panic emanating from the White House. President Donald Trump appears to be trying everything he can to seize control of the news cycle and appeal to base voters with strident, xenophobic rhetoric.
That includes, on Thursday alone, the release of a race-baiting ad about immigrants and crime, and a scheduled speech at the White House in the afternoon, where Trump will reportedly discuss asylum for immigrants. Many members of a caravan working its way slowly toward the United States, and still hundreds of miles away, say they hope to apply for asylum.
The political play here is relatively simple to understand. As my colleague McKay Coppins writes, immigration hard-liners such as the White House senior adviser Stephen Miller see it not only as a midterm talking point, but also as part of a longer cultural battle. Predicting the results of the longer fight is a fool’s errand, but there are at least some reasons to believe that it might not be a perfectly potent technique for the midterms.
The ad has drawn immediate comparisons to the infamous “Willie Horton” spot that Republicans used to attack the Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election, though as the Princeton historian Kevin Kruse notes, it’s actually worse: The makers of the Horton ad were at least ashamed of inflaming racial tension, while the president is proudly trumpeting his. (It’s also not running on television anywhere. Instead, the Trump team is relying on word of mouth and media coverage to spread it, so that even writing critically turns critics into abettors.)