Trump rammed home his racial messaging with the declaration that he would end birthright citizenship, which under the constitution grants all children born in the US citizenship. Then five days before polling day he released an advertisement so transparently racist that networks – including even Fox – declined to run it.
The ad stars Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican man who had previously been deported but returned to the United States only to be convicted of the murder of two California deputies. In it he is shown declaring in court, “I’m going to kill more cops soon.” Captions on screen say, “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.”
These are lies. Bracamontes re-entered the US under George HW Bush and after an earlier arrest was released from custody by the Trump ally Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Trump’s race appeal in 2016 and in 2018 was risky. After Barack Obama’s second victory in 2012 the Republican Party conducted a lengthy autopsy whose authors found that the party must learn to appeal to African American and Hispanic voters or die a long-term demographic death. Trump rejected this, gambling that he could squeeze out a couple more victories by appealing even more transparently to the racial anxieties of some white voters than the party had in the past.
For this strategy to work it is not enough simply to excite the base, one must also suppress the opposition. And over recent years the Republican Party has redoubled its efforts in this.
In states across the country Republican incumbents have introduced ever-more restrictive voting laws and regulations designed to make it harder for African Americans and Hispanics to vote. An Associated Press report last month showed that in Georgia 53,000 voter applications, almost 70 percent of which were from black people, had been held up for verification by the state’s Republican attorney-general, Brian Kemp. Kemp has now been elected governor, winning a controversial election that he oversaw himself. In one of his campaign ads Kemp boasted that he drove “a big [pick-up] truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself”.
Voter suppression is complemented by gerrymandering that sees electoral districts drawn so perversely that analysts predicted Democrats would need to win the popular vote by up to 7 per cent to scrape together a thin House majority.
At the time of writing it appears that the Trump’s strategy has been largely effective. Trump has held his base.
Democrats secured a thumping victory of around 9 per cent of the popular vote in the House, but this may translate to a majority of only around 35 seats, fewer than the party’s more optimistic boosters had predicted.
Democrats enjoyed significant wins, such as Laura Kelly’s gubernatorial victory in the deep red state of Kansas and the election of the first two Muslim women Congress. In Florida, a measure to allow convicted felons to vote once they have completed their sentences has passed. This will re-enfranchise up to 18 per cent of the potential African American vote in the state to the significant long-term benefit of Democrats.
But the Democratic wave that many predicted did not eventuate and, crucially, Trumpism was not repudiated. He has no cause, yet, to stop stoking the division that has served him so well and that has helped shape an environment in which his political opponents were posted pipe bombs, in which a man enraged by refugees murdered 11 Jews at prayer.
One result of the election that might cause Trump pause, though, concerns the mild-mannered Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. With his party in the majority Schiff will now be elevated to lead the House Intelligence Committee, and assume the resources and authority to invigorate a so-far indolent investigation into Russian meddling in the last election.