Today, the RNC released an ad ahead of the vice presidential debate attacking Tim Kaine for his record on the death penalty. The ad cites multiple clients of Kaine’s from his time as a defense attorney, as well as his commutation of Percy Levar Walton, a black man convicted of triple murder, due to mental incompetence.
Roll Call linked the video to the infamous Willie Horton ad that ran in the 1988 presidential race between Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush. The ad, which prominently featured Horton’s mugshot and ripped Dukakis for being soft on crime, was aimed at bringing in white voters by playing upon racist fears of black crime. It was a cornerstone of the right’s so-called “Southern strategy”—dog-whistling to appeal to racist voters without making that racism explicit.
Almost 30 years later, the ad is widely considered to be racist and bad. Even Lee Atwater, architect of Horton strategy (although not responsible for the actual ad), apologized for his tactics in the last year of his life. But that hasn’t stopped RNC officials from touting the link between 1988 and 2016:
Spicer, who later deleted the tweet, is chief strategist and communications director of the RNC.
Trump, who has long dispensed with the dog whistle in favor of straight-up racism, has built a campaign that is basically a giant Willie Horton ad. His strategy relies heavily on the white male vote, so it’s not surprising that the GOP has released another ad in a similar vein. But in the age of Trump, it seems that they aren’t even bothering to pretend that it’s not racist.