Donald Trump goes full Willie Horton on Jeb Bush with new immigration attack ad

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Donald Trump — the vocal and divisive current frontrunner in the GOP presidential field — is attacking Jeb Bush by borrowing from the playbook of his rival’s father. Unfair, you say? Welcome to the GOP and the world of race card politics.

On Monday, Trump released a video in which he slams the former Florida governor for comments he made about undocumented immigrant families. The video is an attempt to link Bush to three undocumented men who were charged with murder. Trump suggests his rival supports policies allowing undocumented criminals to stay in the country, highlighting his own signature issue of so-called illegal immigration.

The attack ad features three undocumented men who were charged with murder recently, along with a clip of Bush talking about families who come to the U.S. for the sake of their children. “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony,” Bush says in the video clip. “It’s an act of love.”

The video ends with, “Love? Forget love. It’s time to get tough!” along with the Trump slogan, “Trump. Make American Great Again.”

Conveniently omitted from the clip were Bush’s remarks immediately before that. “The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table,” Bush said. “And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family.”

It is deceptive and underhanded for Trump to leave out the entire context for Bush’s remarks, to be sure. After all, immigrants commit fewer crimes than the native-born population, as Think Progress reminds us. But that’s the whole point of the way the Republican Party has used racist fearmongering to win elections for decades. In the 1988 presidential election season, Jeb’s father, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, used the infamous Willie Horton ad in his contest against Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis.

Willie Horton — a black man who was serving life in prison without parole for murder — was released as a part of a Massachusetts weekend furlough program. While he was on furlough, Horton committed armed robbery and raped a white woman. What that ad suggested was that Dukakis was soft on crime — that is, soft on black people — and aided and abetted the rape of a white woman by a black man. It was part of the Republican Southern Strategy, a wink and a nod to a racist white electorate that fears black folks and resents government policies that are perceived as benefiting them.

Trump simply replaced one dark-skinned boogeyman for another. This time, the criminal is the fictional brown criminal who crosses the border illegally, perhaps a murderous gangbanger, drug dealer or rapist, and creates white people’s problems. In the xenophobic narrative of white supremacists such as Trump, not only do the Spanish-speaking “illegals” cross over the border to rape and murder, they take “our” jobs, education and government services.

“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Trump said in a speech.

And lurking somewhere in the background is the fact that Bush’s wife Columba is Mexican-born, making his children Latino as well. In July, Trump made it personal when he tweeted: “#JebBush has to like Mexican illegals because of his wife.”

“To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party,” Columba Bush told the New York Times, adding that she took Trump’s comments on immigrants personally.  “He’s doing this to inflame and incite and to draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign,” she added.

But once again, the Bushes are used to this. When George W. Bush ran in the 2000 Republican primaries, his campaign spread rumors that rival John McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock. And Jeb himself is a dog whistler, offending the Asian-American community by saying they are responsible for the “anchor baby” phenomenon — people who supposedly come to America to give birth, so their children will have U.S. citizenship.  Bush also praised Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, which argues blacks are genetically inferior to whites.  And Jeb praised his own Florida “stand your ground” law, the first in the nation, which was based on white fear of black criminality and allows whites to shoot black people and get away with murder.

For Republicans, it is fun to sling racial mud at others, until the wind blows it back in their faces.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove