Donald Trump

Trump Takes Full Ownership of His Anti-immigrant Nativism with Latest Ad

Candidates used to let political operatives do the dirty work so they could appear above it all. Not Trump.


President Donald Trump has a new, grossly misleading ad about immigration. It is clearly intended to cause outraged reactions and deepen the divide between those with differing opinions about how to handle foreigners coming to America.

In the unlikely event you have not yet seen the ad, here it is:

The murderer highlighted in the advertisement is Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican immigrant who was living in Utah illegally for years. He had been deported twice for drug crimes. In 2014, after a confrontation with deputies in the parking lot of a hotel in Sacramento who were there investigating complaints about drug deals and thefts, Bracamontes shot and killed one deputy, then went on a rampage, shooting a motorist while carjacking him, and later killing a sheriff's detective.

He was utterly unrepentant when caught, and the clip of him used in Trump's ad is from his sentencing hearing. He was sentenced to death in April.

The goal of the ad is obvious and unsurprising. Trump wants to paint the immigrants in the caravan currently marching toward the Mexican border as though they're all potential Bracamonteses: invaders, terrorists, violent threats to our civil life that must be stopped before they disrupt society. He is using it as the justification to send thousands of troops to the border for no reason (which will no doubt consume plenty of the money from the latest absurdly unnecessary boost in military spending). He wants to blame Democrats and sanctuary cities (though as noted, Bracamontes had in fact been deported, not shielded).

It's not true that immigrants are any more of a criminal threat to Americans than Americans are criminal threats to each other. It has never been true in the United States, even though fear of immigrants has been a recurring social tradition. Bracamontes is an anomaly. He's a horrifyingly violent anomaly, and we shouldn't act as though his murders aren't a big deal. But treating all immigrants as potential murderers is the same sort of nonsense as treating all gun owners as potential mass shooters. Like those who try to use every high-profile shooting as a justification to diminish our constitutionally protected right to own guns, Trump wants to use fear to convince Americans to let him be more authoritarian and make our country less free.

The blatantly nativist and racist nature of the advertisement has brought forth condemnation and comparisons to the infamous GOP Willie Horton advertisement from the 1988 presidential campaign, which used racially tinged crime fearmongering to attack presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Dukakis' rival—George H.W. Bush—wasn't directly involved in promoting that advertisement, and there are some who feel that Trump's latest ad is even worse precisely because Trump himself is pushing it. In other words, this is another example of Trump "violating norms." But honestly, as gross as the advertisement is, the fact that Trump is taking ownership of his awful message exposes the nasty underbelly of the political class. There's no hiding behind some political action committee or blaming "dark money" for this spot, like many politicians do. These nasty, fear-based ads have been a part of our body politic forever. The one thing I'll say for Trump is that he isn't pretending the president is personally above the fray.