Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate to be Virginia’s next governor, is a proud Catholic who touts his prolife, family values. It’s worth asking then why this son of Irish immigrants and graduate of The Catholic University of America is running a viciously anti-immigrant campaign that is out of step with the advocacy of church leaders—and pandering to voters who are rallying behind Confederate monuments.
The simple answer is that stoking fear and sowing division often works. Demagoguery turned out to be a winning strategy for Donald Trump. Our Tweeter-in-Chief praises Gillespie for being tough on crime, and (in a tweet, of course) said that he will “save our great statues/heritage.” A lobbyist and former head of the Republican National Committee, Gillespie is a quintessential establishment insider. But after the electoral earthquake that scuttled so many political certainties last November, Gillespie rebooted. He’s now running on an agenda that fuses tax breaks for the rich and white identity politics to offer red meat to both the corporate class and segments of working-class whites who have rallied behind an “America First” nationalism.
Gillespie has aired a series of ugly television segments attacking his opponent, Democrat Ralph Northam, for being “weak on MS-13” (a notorious Salvadoran gang) and favoring “sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street.” Menacing images of tattooed Latino men and the gang motto “Kill, Rape, Control” flicker on the screen. Not surprisingly, independent fact checkers have called Gillespie's ads misleading, and the entire episode is reminiscent of the notoriously racist “Willie Horton” television spot George H. W. Bush used to tag Mike Dukakis as soft on crime during the 1988 presidential campaign. Gillespie also opposes in-state college tuition for young immigrants who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, an Obama-era policy that provides protection for immigrants brought to the United States as children. President Trump rescinded the program and has given a dysfunctional Congress a tight deadline to find a solution. The Virginia Catholic Conference, the policy arm of the state’s bishops, has advocated to keep the in-state tuition for “dreamers.”