Just 15 days from Election Day, the GOP is still looking for a message beyond tribal, blind support for President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE.
The cornerstone of the GOP’s midterm campaign plan was supposed to be the Trump tax cuts. But that message failed so badly that GOP candidates have stopped mentioning it.
More than 80 percent of the law’s benefits went to the wealthiest one percent of Americans. And thanks to a Treasury Department report last week, even Trump supporters now have to admit that the tax cuts have pushed the federal budget deficit up nearly 17 percent since 2017.
So political advertising about the issue has virtually disappeared.
“Of the 31,200 broadcast ads the [GOP’s Congressional Leadership Fund] put out in the first nine months of 2018, just 17.3 percent referred to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the most significant piece of legislation this Congress has passed,” Vox calculated last week.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are having success with political ads focused on lowering the high cost of prescription drugs and healthcare while keeping insurance plans for people with preexisting illnesses. ObamaCare is now more popular than the Trump tax cuts with voters.
“Fifty percent of Democratic ad spending is on health care. In September alone, Democrats ran more than 130,000 ads on health care,” according to the group “Protect Our Care,” which did an analysis of this year’s political TV advertising.
Keep in mind that voters concerned with healthcare prefer Democrats on the issue by a staggering 24 percentage points, according to a Fox News poll.
With the demise of their tax cut message — and the success of the Democrats’ health care message — the GOP switched to claims that Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment Why Latinos need Supreme Court reform Feehery: A Republican Congress is needed to fight left's slide to autocracy MORE was treated unfairly by Democrats. The intent was clearly to stir up the conservative base.
But an ABC News/Washington Post poll last week found that 51 percent of voters disapprove of the Senate’s vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Just 41 percent approve.
The lack of a potent political message from the GOP is reflected in the latest polls.
Democrats hold a 7.7-point advantage when voters are asked which party they want to control Congress. The RealClearPolitics average of polls also finds 71.9 percent of voters disapprove of the GOP-led Congress’ job performance. And a majority, 52 percent, also disapprove of Trump’s performance.
These bad polls and the lack of a message has left Republican candidates with only the fear card left to play.
The GOP is running television advertisements in some of its tightest House races suggesting that Democratic challengers with brown skin and foreign-sounding names support terrorism.
Here are some of the lowlights as reported by the New York Times:
— In California, Republican incumbent Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan HunterTrump denies Gaetz asked him for blanket pardon Gaetz, on the ropes, finds few friends in GOP Trust, transparency, and tithing is not enough to sustain democracy MORE is running an ad accusing his opponent of being a “radical Muslim” who tried to “infiltrate Congress.”
Ammar Campa-Najja, the Democrat, is an American of Palestinian and Mexican ancestry who worked in President Obama’s White House.
Hunter labeled him a “security threat” because a distant relative may have had some connection to the 1972 Munich Olympics attack. A Washington Post factcheck called Hunter’s advertising false and misleading.
— In Ohio, Republicans ran an ad against Democrat Aftab Pureval, suggesting that he supported terrorism backed by the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya. The only basis for that claim is that Pureval worked at a law firm that handled some Congressionally-mandated settlements for terrorism lawsuits against Libya.
Pureval never worked on the settlements in question but the GOP is desperate to protect incumbent Rep. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal Bipartisan group of lawmakers call on Biden to ensure journalists safe passage out of Afghanistan MORE.
— In Virginia, Republicans are trying to save Rep. Dave Brat by running an ad claiming his opponent, a former CIA operative, “doesn't want us [voters] to know that she taught at an Islamic school nicknamed 'Terror High,' a terrorist breeding ground.”
In reality, the school is an elite religious, prep school of Islamic Americans — the kind of religious private school Republicans typically support through voucher programs.
Republicans going low to stir anxiety about terrorism and fear of Muslim immigrants is nothing new.
In 2002, Republicans famously ran an ad in Georgia likening Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, who lost limbs in the Vietnam War, to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Cleland lost his race to Republican Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Live coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia MORE.
The difference this year is that the GOP’s ugly ads come on top of constant attacks on immigrants from Trump.
In the final weeks of this campaign, Trump is still defending his barbaric policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border — even though the policy failed to slow the rate of people crossing the border.
A new report by Amnesty International counted more than 6,000 people, including 3,000 children, who have been separated from their families this year since Trump began enforcing this policy.
There are still hundreds of children who have not been reunited with their families. Over the summer, immigrant toddlers — some under the age of 3 — were being ordered to appear in court alone for their deportation proceedings.
With just over two weeks to go, we are now getting a clear picture of what the GOP’s closing argument will be to voters in the 2018 Midterms.
It will be anti-immigrant bigotry.
This is the frightening, ghoulish state of American politics in October 2018.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, "'What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?' — Trump's War on Civil Rights" is out now, published by Public Affairs Books.