Here we go again: Republicans are using attack ads to portray Democrats as soft on crime to stoke racial fears ahead of the midterm elections

OPINION: The truth is that when Republicans say “law and order,” they’re conveying a well-understood code phrase designed to scare white voters into believing that only Republicans can protect them from supposedly "dangerous Black people and immigrants."

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Halloween has come early for Republicans running in the November elections, as they masquerade as the party of “law and order” and try to trick voters into believing Democrats are soft on crime.

Republican candidates and their supporters have aired about 53,000 TV ads attacking Democrats on crime in the first three weeks of September, on top of 29,000 crime ads in August.

Many Black Democratic candidates with strong records of supporting law enforcement officials—while working to improve policing, accountability and eliminate police brutality and other misconduct—are among those being attacked by Republicans.

The Black Democratic targets of smear campaigns include U.S. Senate candidates in Florida and North Carolina who have sterling law enforcement backgrounds: Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who spent 27 years as an Orlando police officer and was the city’s first female police chief; and Cheri Beasley, who was the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Republicans are trying to make voters believe that these and other Democratic candidates care more about protecting criminals than crime victims. This is nonsense.

Crime has always been a sad reality around the world, including in the U.S. Just about all of us know crime victims or have been victims ourselves. My neighbor in Washington just had four tires stolen from his truck parked on the street a few days ago. On a far more serious note, a manhunt is underway for the killer of 21-year-old Allison Rice, a student at my alma mater of Louisiana State University, who was tragically shot to death on Sept. 16.

Black Americans don’t want to become crime victims any more than whites. But at the same time, we don’t want to become victims of rogue cops who treat us differently because of the color of our skin and sometimes assault and even kill us with no justification.

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and many Democratic officials and candidates of all races don’t want to defund the police, as Republicans falsely claim. The Democrats have called repeatedly for increased funding for local police departments. The president has already approved more funds for local police departments and is asking Congress to approve $37 billion more in his Safer America Plan.

Among many provisions, the Safer American Plan would fund 100,000 additional police officers nationwide and invest $20 billion in services to deal with the causes of crime. We need to elect more Democrats in November to make this plan law.

The truth is that when Republicans say “law and order,” they’re conveying a well-understood code phrase. The phrase is designed to scare white voters into believing that only Republicans can protect them from supposedly “dangerous Black people and immigrants” who commit violent crimes.

Spreading fear of Black folks has been going on since our ancestors were brought to colonial America in chains. It’s been a feature of Republican campaigns since Richard Nixon embraced his “Southern strategy” to pick up white votes. In accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, Nixon warned that America “is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness” and “torn by unprecedented racial violence.”

In 1988, the George H.W. Bush presidential campaign and an allied group painted Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who was governor of Massachusetts, as soft on crime with a TV ad attacking Dukakis for a state program (began by a previous Republican governor) that allowed convicted criminals to have weekend furloughs from prison.

One of the criminals furloughed was Willie Horton, a Black man serving a murder sentence who raped a Maryland woman and stabbed her companion while he was furloughed. Republicans wanted to make voters fear Dukakis would release many more dangerous Black criminals as president. 

Most recently, defeated former President Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Black Lives Matter and others groups protesting racial injustice following the police murder of George Floyd. Trump proclaimed himself “your president of law and order” and threatened to deploy the U.S. military against the protests. He warned that protesters trying to climb the White House fence “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and the most ominous weapons I have ever seen.”

But the truth is that Republicans are the anti-law enforcement party. 

Many Republican elected officials and candidates are attacking the FBI, comparing it to the Gestapo (Adolf Hitler’s secret police) and calling for defunding the FBI because agents recently carried out a court-authorized search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The agents recovered over 11,000 government documents, including about 100 classified government documents—all improperly possessed by Trump, according to the Justice Department.

Many Republicans have joined Trump in defending the rioters he summoned to Washington and incited to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to overturn his election defeat. The insurrectionists illegally forced their way into the building and injured about 140 officers. One officer died soon afterward of his injuries, two later died by suicide, and four Trump supporters died as a result of the attack.

Yet instead of supporting the police, the Republican National Committee voted to label the Capitol riot “legitimate political discourse.” And Trump said Sept. 1 that if he is elected president in 2024, he would give the rioters “full pardons with an apology to many.”

On top of this, Trump is under federal and state investigations for his other efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory and is being sued for $250 million by the New York state attorney general for allegedly improper and illegal business practices.

The midterm elections will be an important way for law-abiding Americans to elect officials who will work to reduce crime and keep us all safe while still holding police accountable for their actions. Democratic candidates are sincerely committed to this goal. 

But many Republican candidates want to use crime as a political issue to demonize Black people and gain white votes while defending Trump against all allegations that he broke the law. They don’t deserve the support of voters.


Donna Brazile Headshot thegrio.com

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile.

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