Washington, DC, November 9, 2021 – Politico previews a National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) polling memo that promises that Republicans will once again run hard on immigration in the 2022 midterms. Nativism, along with stoking fears over Critical Race Theory and “defund the police,” represent the GOP’s latest incarnation of the “Southern Strategy. For more than 60 years, the Republican Party has weaponized race to divide voters in the service of the GOP’s priorities: 1) acquiring political power to impose its will on the multiracial majority; and 2) pushing wealth upwards and filling the pockets of its donors. 

The NRCC memo argues that immigration “will have a significant negative impact on Democrats’ electoral chances in 2022.” We get the timing. They are trying to intimidate Democrats who are on the verge of enacting long-overdue immigration reforms. But let’s address the substance. Below are three key points to keep in mind:

  1. Republicans ran on immigration in the 2018 and 2020 elections, and both times it backfired.In May 2018, White House advisor Stephen Miller told Breitbart News, “The big fight this summer is going to be with the open borders Democratic caucus in Congress. The Miller-led strategy of focusing caravans backfired and helped Democrats win by the largest midterm margin in American history. In August 2020, Miller told Reuters that Joe Biden’s immigration stance would prove to be “a massive political vulnerability” in the 2020 campaign. Biden won 306 electoral college votes and won by more than 7 million votes. And as Gallup found, in 2020 the American public became more pro-immigrant than anytime in the last half-century. Read the America’s Voice report “G.O.P. Ad Wars in 2020: Divisive, Anti-immigrant, and Racist” for a recap of the Republicans’ nativism in the 2020 elections and earlier cycles.
  2. Democrats must not let the attacks go unanswered. Democrats cannot respond to racist dog whistles by ignoring them. They have to lean in. They have to call out the GOP’s game – divide and distract ordinary voters so the GOP can win more power and fat cats can accumulate more wealth – and they have to propose workable solutions on contested issues. In September, The Immigration Hub and America’s Voice issued a Report, Tracking and Defeating: Right Wing Ads + Misinformation on Immigration that  documents the GOP’s anti-immigrant playbook and ads, and lays out strategies to counteract those attacks. We find that a Democratic offense on immigration can gain votes.
  3. The public strongly supports pro-immigrant policies. A growing body of public opinion research shows that, when framed correctly, a majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans favor pro-immigrant policies and solutions. Approximately 70% of voters support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A new Data for Progress poll on the immigration provisions in the BBB legislation shows the public supports the proposal by 75 – 20%, with majority support from Democrats, Independents and Republicans.

There’s no doubt that Republicans will, once again, deploy racist dog whistles in the 2022 midterms. Along with “critical race theory” and “defund the police” many GOP candidates will invoke what they call the “Biden border crisis.” The Southern Strategy is the beating heart of the Republican Party.

Instead of cowering, Democrats need to lean in. They need to call out the GOP’s divide-and-distract strategy, connect it to the Republican drive to undermine our democracy and feather the nests of the super-wealthy, and lean in to advocate for popular solutions.

Nativism mobilizes white grievance voters, but it also mobilizes a multiracial, multiethnic and multi-generational majority that rejects divisiveness, racism and xenophobia. This is why the Trump-Miller playbook did not work in 2018 and 2020.

Democrats need to be who they are – the party of multiracial democracy, economic mobility and equal opportunity – and they need to brand Republicans for who they are – a party that stokes racial animus to reward its wealthy donors and advance its antidemocratic project.

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