RNC goes alt-right: GOP’s chief strategist promotes new "Willie Horton-style" attack against Tim Kaine

Forget the dog whistles, the GOP is now looking back fondly on the racist Willie Horton ad of 1988

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published October 3, 2016 7:18PM (EDT)

In 1991, when infamous right-wing provocateur Lee Atwater was dying of cancer, he apologized for using the so-called “Willie Horton” ads during George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988 to slam Democratic rival Michael Dukakis as soft on crime. “It's a racist ad," even Republican strategist turned longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone told Atwater. “You and George Bush will wear that to your grave.”

But in 2016, the leaders of the Republican Party are far from ashamed of the race-baiting ad, openly promoting their modern “Willie Horton-style” attack. The Republican National Committee apparently thinks it is totally appropriate, now that Donald Trump is the titular figurehead of the party, to openly promote a similarly misleading strategy against Hillary Clinton.

A tweet from Sean Spicer, the RNC's chief strategist, on Monday linked to an article at Roll Call reporting on a new web ad from the party hitting Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine ahead of Tuesday’s debate. The crux of the attack ad on Kaine is that he defended bad people who did bad things as a defense attorney -- as called for in the U.S. Constitution, not to mention the common-law tradition going back many centuries. One of Kaine's clients featured in the ad was convicted of murdering a 63-year-old neighbor, and the other was found guilty of raping and killing a 52-year-old woman.

Roll Call linked the video to the infamous Willie Horton ad that was aimed at bringing in white voters by playing upon racist fears of black crime. It was a cornerstone of the right’s so-called “Southern strategy” — dog-whistling to appeal to racist voters without making that racism explicit, as The New Republic notes.

The GOP's new ad conspicuously leaves out the fact that as a young lawyer Kaine, who is a devout Roman Catholic, accepted some clients accused of heinous crimes to protect them from the death penalty, often representing them pro bono.

Spicer Horton

Spicer has since deleted his tweet, and blamed Roll Call, after a round of ridicule on social media.

The RNC has also deleted its boastful tweet:

Willie Horton


Watch the ad the RNC is so proud of below:

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Gop Republicans Rnc Sean Spicer Tim Kaine Video Willie Horton