GOP leans into racial issues ahead of midterms

Kevin McCarthy
Julia Nikhinson

Critical race theory. Migrants at the border. Election fraud. A COVID-19 lab leak. Urban crime and calls to defund the police.

On its surface, the Republicans’ nascent campaign strategy features a multipronged message attacking President Biden and Democrats on a host of dissimilar issues. At its center, however, lies the common theme of race, a thorny issue that has proved successful in animating the GOP base under the Trump administration.

It now stands at the core of GOP efforts to flip the House in next year’s midterms.

Democrats are bracing for attacks while accusing Republicans of employing scare tactics at the expense of minorities.

“They’re going to absolutely use that playbook from the 1980s and try to scare the mess out of their voters. And they’re going to use Black and brown people as the foil. There’s just no question about that,” said Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “It was successful for [former President] Trump, but it’s always worked for them, before Trump.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) sees a similar trend, saying that racially charged attacks have wormed their way into discussions on even the most unrelated topics.

“We can be having a debate about anything in Ways and Means relating to tax and they will bring in the border and immigration, and the invasion of children. It’s all wrapped around fear and hate,” said Doggett, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“They don’t really want to deal with issues like infrastructure,” he added. “They want to continue talking about matters that involve race and scare people to the polls while blocking our voters from getting to the polls.”

The issue of race is center stage in the debate over voting rights, which this week saw Democrats from the Texas legislature descend on Washington to prevent the passage of a restrictive GOP bill.

Republicans have defended those efforts, which are being duplicated in a host of other conservative-run states, as a precaution against election fraud. Democrats see a systematic effort to disenfranchise low-income voters, a group disproportionately made up of minorities who tend to vote Democratic.

Republicans are also highlighting the surge of Hispanic migrants at the southern border, with warnings of a spike in crime and lost American jobs. Though the origins of the coronavirus remain unknown, they’re accusing China of allowing the virus to leak from a lab in Wuhan — purposefully or not — sparking the pandemic that crippled the globe over the past 18 months.

And they’re bashing Democrats for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, framing the racial justice protests — which have occasionally erupted into looting and violence — as a blanket attack on police and the rule of law.

Trump is leading the charge on all fronts.

“You have to give the police back their authority,” the former president told “Fox & Friends” on Monday.

His continued popularity has led state legislatures and lawmakers in Washington to carry his message on voting in particular.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who believes he’s on the cusp of becoming Speaker, has been hammering Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a slew of race-based issues — at press conferences, on social media and in interviews.

In recent days, he has zeroed in on critical race theory, which he has called a “racist” policy and which recent polling shows is viewed more negatively among GOP voters the more politicians talk about it.

“The next election is going to be big, because all these things about defunding the police. All these Democrat policies that are now going in place, we’re seeing the outcome: the wokeism, the open border, the inflation. Where we’re going to have the biggest victory? School boards,” McCarthy said during an appearance this week on BlazeTV’s “The Rubin Report.”

“Critical race theory goes against everything Martin Luther King has ever told us — don’t judge us by the color of our skin — and now they’re embracing it, right? They’re going backwards,” McCarthy added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a member of a group of progressive women of color who’ve become popular targets of the right, shot back on Twitter with a King quote from 1967: “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of a sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

Some rank-and-file Republicans believe that the party this cycle should spend more time focusing on bread-and-butter issues like worker shortages and inflation, which is resulting in rising prices for things like gas, milk and used cars.

But as the economy continues to heat up and bounce back from the historic COVID-19 recession, GOP leaders and other Republicans have been leaning harder into the culture wars. 

“In bad economic times, it’s the economy. In good economic times, it’s other issues,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a McCarthy ally, said in an interview during a trip this month to south Texas where House Republicans joined Trump to highlight the surge of immigrants crossing the border.

Rather than race, Issa argued that the common thread tying all these GOP campaign issues together is the “malicious mismanagement” of the Biden administration, from historic government spending to softer immigration policies.

As Trump proved in 2016, immigration and border security can serve as potent campaign weapons against their Democratic opponents. And fresh images of thousands of Central American migrant children, many unaccompanied, flooding the southern border are almost tailor-made for 2022 television ads, Republicans said.

“The president and this administration [are] going to say this surge wasn’t of their making, and Republicans are going to say, ‘Yes it was. Let us show you,’ and then the American people are going to have to decide,” Issa told The Hill in McAllen, Texas. “If it is of the administration’s making, then they’ll be judged based on that. If it’s simple crime down in Honduras that’s causing all of this, then the administration won’t be.”

However, by running hard on racial issues, Republicans run the risk of alienating minority and moderate female suburban voters at a time when McCarthy sees electing more minority and female GOP candidates as the key to winning the majority. The Republican leader frequently points out that all 15 incumbent Democrats who lost in 2020 were beaten by a minority or female candidate.

“There are too many communities that have had to live through the tragic consequences of Republicans who use hateful, racist rhetoric. People have literally died as a result of their dangerous efforts to deepen the racial divide,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told The Hill on Tuesday. “If they continue on this path, they need to be held accountable for the consequences that are certain to come.”

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Darrell Issa Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Lloyd Doggett Marc Veasey Nancy Pelosi Veronica Escobar

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video