Opinion In GOP ads, ‘invasion’ language is everywhere


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Paul Waldman
Greg Sargent

When Republicans are asked about midterm election campaign issues that make them squirm, they have a ready answer. Never mind abortion rights or Donald Trump’s legal travails, they say — we’re running on inflation. The GOP will win control of Congress on gas and grocery prices, and that’s what they’re laser-focused on.

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But over the airwaves and online, another story is playing out: an absolute torrent of ads meant to frighten and anger voters about immigration.
A new report from the pro-immigration group America’s Voice seeks to document this ongoing phenomenon. One of its key conclusions: “Republicans have made their nativist narrative a top messaging priority.”

In the world of Republican campaign ads, very little has changed since the xenophobic Trump presidency, and some of what’s in these ads is truly repellent.

Three themes dominate these ads, the report finds, and they are all wildly inflammatory and profoundly dishonest: The Biden administration has created “open borders,” undocumented immigrants are responsible for fentanyl overdoses and a full-blown “invasion” is underway.
The borders are anything but open; the Biden administration is pursuing, arresting and deporting people seeking to come to the United States by the thousands. The vast majority of fentanyl that comes in is smuggled through ports of entry in cars, boats and planes, not carried by undocumented immigrants. And as for an “invasion,” that’s no more true now than it was when Trump warned that caravans were about to overrun the country.

But the Republican ads portray horror and chaos — usually with a non-White face. Some ads show pictures of young Black men walking through rivers on their way to “invade” America, with language suggesting this “invasion” brings “terrorists, drugs and crime.”

Other ads say the Biden administration is supposedly “importing 20 million illegals and giving them amnesty” (the image for that one is people in Haiti), which can only be stopped by “a declaration of invasion.”
In some ads it’s not just an open border but a “wide open border” — once again, illustrated with pictures of Haitians. In others we’re told that “human, sex and drug trafficking are out of control because of Democrat governance,” while Democratic candidates “refuse to oppose Biden’s open border policy.”

Of course, there is no open border policy, but why should the fact that it doesn’t exist stop Democrats from opposing it? That just shows how sinister they are, these ads say, because they “want to destroy this country.”
All of this captures something essential about this political moment. For months, Republicans were certain they could spread fears of chaos in order to ride to victory in the midterms. They’d run on crime and immigration, not just to excite the base but also to scare unsettled swing voters.

Yet the dynamic unexpectedly shifted, and now disorder and, dare we say it, crime — as in the potential crimes of Donald Trump and many Jan. 6 defendants — are not necessarily playing in the GOP’s favor. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has unleashed another form of chaos and a host of new dangers threatening women. And all of these things are energizing Democrats.

Meanwhile, the GOP fulminations about immigration — especially the more repulsive stuff that’s in those ads — may be receding to what’s largely a base issue. Even as GOP immigration messaging remains torqued to maximum intensity, and even as border Republicans ramp up wretched stunts like busing migrants into major cities, momentum is shifting toward Democrats in the midterms, including among independents.
“Republicans are indulging in the worst kind of White nationalist rhetoric,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, told us. “And an issue they thought would win over swing voters is at best a base mobilizer for voters they already have.”

What makes this all really ugly, however, is that the messaging remaining under the radar — which Democrats bear some blame for, having gone quiet on the issue — allows it to continue mostly unexamined. This, even though its worst incarnations — such as “great replacement theory” — have inspired recent mass shootings.

Along these lines, it’s worth keeping an eye on Blake Masters, the GOP Senate candidate in Arizona. He has trafficked heavily in great replacement theory and has run truly vile ads on immigration, including one that features machine-gun fire at the border. Yet in a place President Biden won by a whisker that’s also a border state, Masters is trailing by a meaningful margin.
As Sharry told us, Masters’s whole “declare an invasion'' line “is not working, in a state where one-third of the voters are independents and border security is a top issue.”
Yet whether it works with independents and swing voters, this foul sewage has been flowing unabated. And it will surely continue to do so.