If you’ve been following the Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, which has entered its final stage, you have probably noticed that Republican candidate Jerry (Never Met Him) Kilgore has returned with a vengeance to a message warning Virginians that illegal immigrants are flooding the Commonwealth, spreading gang violence, promoting al Qaeda, and speaking foreign tongues and so forth.It’s certainly predictable. Ol’ Jerry’s losing ground in virtually every poll. His try-em-and-fry-em Death Penalty ads have largely backfired. His party and his president are like millstones around his neck. And he appears to be losing support most lethally in Northern Virginia, where earlier polls had him running neck-and-neck with Democrat Tim Kaine.So not surprisingly, Jerry’s handlers have decided to stake the ranch on the belief that concerns about illegal immigration in Northern Virginia can give their candidate the crucial boost he needs.I’ve written about this issue in the Viriginia campaign here and here, and won’t repeat that analysis today, but if you want to understand why immigration is suddenly a hot topic in the South, and especially in suburbs and exurbs in the South, check out this new article by Clay Risen on The New Republic’s site. As Clay explains, some of the highest percentage increases in immigrant populations are in southern states, including those far from any border. And it’s no surprise that southern Republicans are leaping on this issue in state after state–a trend that will definitely accelerate tremendously if ol’ Jerry wins and the post-election analysis shows anti-immigrant demagoguery was a factor.The main thing I’d add to Clay’s analysis is how risky the deployment of this issue is for the GOP. Ol’ Jerry’s rhetoric (other than the absurd claims of al Qaeda connections) isn’t that far from the kind of talk that backfired on Republicans in California during the 1990s, making their candidates anathema to Latino voters. And it certainly doesn’t fit in well with Karl Rove’s famous focus on these voters as a potential building-block for a Republican majority. But here’s the deal: the southern states where immigrant-bashing is spreading like topsy are places where immigrant populations are large enough to be conspicious, but have not developed into a serious political force of their own.Thus, politicians like ol’ Jerry believe they can use this toxic issue to wedge exurban and rural voters without paying any serious price elsewhere. And without question, Republican pols in the rest of the region will be watching the results very closely, with cookie-cutters in hand.So, my fellow Virginians, if the prospect of four years of lousy and hyper-partisan government isn’t enough to motivate you to get off your butts and send ol’ Jerry into retirement, consider your responsibility to the rest of the country for punishing demagogues and putting the fear of God into those who will otherwise use every nasty tactic that seems to work.
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By Ed Kilgore
Pushing back a bit against the popular idea that Liz Cheney’s landslide loss in Wyoming was a pyrrhic defeat she will soon avenge, I argued at New York that it marked a point of no return for Republicans that Democrats must understand:
In the end, despite a sizable financial advantage and support from Democrats, and notwithstanding stern lectures to voters by her still-terrifying father, two-term congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost her seat in the U.S. House. While Cheney was recently seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, serving as the party’s third-ranking House leader, the race wasn’t close. The Associated Press called the race for Trump endorsee Harriet Hageman early in the evening; she now has a 37-point lead over the incumbent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.
Even before primary voters delivered their verdict, there were voices far from Wyoming predicting that Liz Cheney would rise again, perhaps as a challenger to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In fact, it’s reasonably clear that anti-Trump Republicanism died its final noisy death with her defenestration from the House GOP leadership and then her ignominious defeat back home. She will continue to have a distinguished role in the fight against Trump by virtue of her vice-chairmanship of the House select committee on January 6. But those proceedings are being ignored, if not denounced, by virtually all GOP elected officials, and her abject defeat back home is a pretty clear sign that anti-Trump Republicanism has no future.
The alternatives to Trump 2024, if any actually emerge, will be from the ranks of those who have at least partially surrendered to him: toadies like Mike Pence, who defied the president for a single day; post-Trump Trumpists like Ron DeSantis, who promise to continue his extremist policies and his hateful rhetoric; former anti-Trumpists like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Nikki Haley, who are determined never to cross him again; and anti-anti-Trumpists like Mitch McConnell and a big portion of the conservative commentariat, who clearly despise the 45th president but understand he is now the spirit animal of their party and what now passes for conservatism.
What is most poignant about Cheney’s fall isn’t so much its precipitous nature — though it’s now difficult to remember that Kevin McCarthy was defending her and her lofty leadership position for a while even after her impeachment vote. No, what makes her demise important is that she represented not just the “Republican Establishment,” but the hard-core conservative movement whose conquest of the party was consummated when George W. Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, took power in 2001. It’s amazing to see Republicans who imposed the triune orthodoxy of economic, national security, and cultural conservatism on a once-diverse GOP dismissed as RINOs. They never saw a tax cut too irresponsible to support, a defense budget too high to increase, or an abortion too innocent to prohibit, and when they went to sleep at night they dreamed of “entitlement reform” to take down Social Security and Medicare. That’s no longer enough to be considered conservative or Republican if it is not accompanied by personal submission to Trump, along with savage anti-democratic sentiments and hatred of the opposition, the media, the “deep state,” the Swamp, and once-bipartisan causes ranging from voting rights to immigration reform.
The ancien régime of conservative Republicanism as we knew it not so very long ago expired with Liz Cheney’s congressional career on August 16. Perhaps someday the old faith will be revived. But for now the Republican elephant is wearing a red hat and none dare question its stampeding direction and ear-shattering Trump-eting.