GOP primary gets tough on immigration
CLARKSTON, Ga. — The Republican gubernatorial primary in Georgia is shaping up as a contest over who’s toughest on illegal immigration, with campaigns featuring a “deportation bus,” a pickup truck for do-ityourself immigrant roundups, and lots of tough talk about “criminal illegal aliens.”
The themes echo both the tone and rhetoric used by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election. But they don’t take into account the complexities of immigration law, which clearly prohibits any of the would-be governors from carrying out some of the tough immigration enforcement measures they are promising.
State Sen. Michael Williams, former state co-chair for Trump’s campaign, ran an ad featuring a “Deportation Bus” that he says will be used to send home people in the country illegally. The back of the bus warns of murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molesters and other criminals on board and says, “Follow me to Mexico.”
Secretary of State Brian Kemp boasted in a spot released last week about owning a big truck, “in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.”
The five-candidate Republican primary on Tuesday is almost definitely headed for a runoff. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is viewed as the frontrunner, but likely won’t capture the necessary majority in the first round of voting.
With the possibility of a percentage point or two meaning the difference between their making it into a runoff or going home, the trailing candidates are doing what they can to catch voters’ attention, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
“It’s kind of like a poker game: ‘I’ll see you and raise you two,’ ” he said of the extreme rhetoric.
It may also be the Trump effect.
“I think it’s in part because President Trump was able to use it successfully to get elected himself,” Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie said. “When he made the border wall an issue and made incendiary rhetoric OK, it’s not surprising that some candidates would choose to follow his lead to try to replicate his playbook.”
Though that may work with the generally more conservative primary electorate, it could cause problems in the general election in November, Gillespie said.
“Georgia is a state that is very much on the move in terms of its economic development,” she said, and in that respect people may not see a firebrand as the best representative.
A gubernatorial candidate touring the state in a “deportation bus” is greeted with protests by immigrants and other residents in Clarkston, Ga.