Opinion: How GOP’s antisemitic and neo-Nazi campaigns fared in the midterms
Now that results are in, did Jew-hatred pay? A state-by-state breakdown of Republican campaigns that drew condemnation for implied or outright antisemitism
The 2018 midterms have been notable in many respects, but one of the more ignoble has been the open or implied use of bigotry in campaigns, primarily by Republican candidates.
It has been two years since neo-Nazis and KKK activists hailed Donald Trump’s victory as the greatest triumph for antisemitism in America in 75 years, following a campaign in which alt-right, pro-Trump trolls plumbed new depths in online attacks on Jewish candidates and journalists.
As the midterms approached, a large number of Republican campaigns employed antisemitic imagery and messaging as an integral part of their campaigns – in effect, putting the political potential of attacks on Jews to the test.
Now that the election results are in, did Jew-hatred pay?
Here is a state-by-state breakdown of Republican campaigns that drew condemnation for implied or outright antisemitism, and how the GOP candidates fared.
ALASKA – Soon after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in which 11 Jews were murdered last month, the Republican Women of Juneau attacked Jewish state senate candidate Jesse Kiehl with a mail campaign showing a black-suited man, presumably Kiehl, against a black background, slipping a thick wad of $100 bills into his breast pocket. The ad was captioned “If you give Jesse Kiehl your vote … you may as well give him your wallet.”
The group declined repeated requests to renounce the ad.
HOW THEY FARED: With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Jesse Kiehl defeated his Republican opponent Don Etheridge by a margin of 60 percent to 37.
CALIFORNIA – Also in the wake of the Tree of Life slaughter, in an Orange County area that is home to the antisemitic Rise Above Movement of neo-Nazis and racist skinheads, the campaign of Republican state assembly candidate Tyler Diep distributed flyers showing his Jewish opponent, Josh Lowenthal – his nose apparently enlarged, his skin tinted green, his hands holding a fan of $100 bills – grinning as a despairing and perhaps hospitalized woman is pictured beside him, holding her stomach and head in pain.
“BUSINESSMAN JOSH LOWENTHAL RECKLESSLY CUT CORNERS,” the flyer declares, “PUTTING CUSTOMERS & EMPLOYEES AT RISK Just So He Could Make a Quick Buck.”
Responding to condemnations by local rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League, Diep’s campaign issued a statement denying anti-Jewish intent – at the same time denying that it had enlarged Lowenthal’s nose in the photo, which suggested to some that there had been no need to enlarge it.
HOW THEY FARED: On Wednesday, Lowenthal conceded defeat to Diep.
CONNECTICUT – In an attack ad that gained national attention, Republican State Senate Candidate Ed Charamut’s campaign showed his Jewish opponent, Democrat Matt Lesser, in a photoshopped image, Lesser’s eyes bulging and maniacal in what appears to be unbridled greed, a clutch of hundred dollar Bill’s in his fingers – his open mouth and the cut-off state of several of the bills suggesting to some that Lesser may even have eaten them.
HOW THEY FARED: Lesser won, telling supporters the victory meant “we’re rejecting the politics of hate.”
GEORGIA – A robocall funded by a white supremacist and antisemitic podcasting site attacked Democrat Stacey Abrams in her bid to become the country’s first African-American woman governor. The calls’ recorded message:
“This is the magical negro, Oprah Winfrey, asking you to make my fellow negress, Stacey Abrams, the governor of Georgia.” “Years ago, the Jews who own the American media saw something in me — the ability to trick dumb white women into thinking I was like them, and to do, read, and think what I told them to. I see that same potential in Stacey Abrams.” Abrams’ Republican opponent Brian Kemp. condemned the robocall.
HOW THEY FARED: Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams, who refused to concede the race, declaring that still-uncounted votes could force a runoff election.
ILLINOIS – Former head of the American Nazi Party, vocal Holocaust denier and white nationalist Arthur Jones was the Republican Party’s candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 3rd district.
HOW THEY FARED: Though repudiated by the state GOP, Jones still received more than a quarter of the total votes cast, more than 56,000, in losing to Democrat Dan Lipinski.
IOWA – Incumbent GOP Congressman Steve King:
- A) Endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate who has been under fire as a “white genocide” conspiracy theorist fired from a Canadian far-right website for appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast.
- B) Has continuing ties with a far-right Austrian political party with roots in the Nazi era, and other European neo-Nazi groups.
- C) Was recently accusedby the Anti-Defamation League of a “disturbing series of involvements and statements … that are antisemitic and offensive not just to the Jewish community, but to all Americans”.
HOW THEY FARED: King defeated Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten by a 50-47 percent margin.
MISSOURI – The son and daughter of Republican Missouri House candidate Steve West urged voters not to elect him, after he made bigoted and racist statements on a radio show. “A lot of his views are just very out there,” Emily West told the Kansas City Star. “He’s made multiple comments that are racist and homophobic and how he doesn’t like the Jews.” Son Andy West added: “My dad’s a fanatic. He must be stopped … His ideology is pure hatred. It’s totally insane.”
HOW THEY FARED: West lost by a wide margin to opponent Jon Carpenter.
PENNSYLVANIA – In a state legislature race, Republicans did not stop at illustrating a photo of Democrat Sara Johnson Rothman with stacks of $100 bills. They also dropped her maiden name, Johnson, telling voters to REJECT SARA ROTHMAN – emphasizing the last name of her Jewish husband.
HOW THEY FARED: Rothman lost to Republican incumbent Todd Stephens by a slim margin.
WASHINGTON – In a congressional contest, Republicans depicted Jewish opponent Kim Schrier, a Democrat, a stethoscope around her neck, her hands full of $20 bills.
HOW THEY FARED: Schrier defeated Reublican Dino Rossi by 53-47 percent.
THE SOROS SLANDER – A Republican antisemitic campaign category all to itself, the dog-whistle-turned-bullhorn references billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros as avatar for a compendium of antisemitic stereotypes. In October, a pipe bomb placed in Soros’ mailbox, allegedly by a Trump supporter, heralded a spate of explosive devices targeting Democratic political opponents of Donald Trump, two of them ex-presidents.
The list of Republicans and Republican wannabes (witness Benjamin Netanyahu and his son Yair) who have marshalled the Soros slander to their political advantage is led by Donald Trump. Returning from a condolence visit late last month to Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the president told reporters that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the conspiracy theory accusing Soros of funding the caravan of Central American migrants was true. “A lot of people say yes.”
Other Republican and pro-Trump figures who have cited Soros negatively during the midterm campaign include the president’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, who retweeted a post calling Soros the Antichrist, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which ran a commercial in Minnesota last month indicating that Soros, pictured sitting behind yet another pile of cash, “bankrolls” athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem, “left-wing mobs paid to riot in the streets,” and Dan Feehan, a Democratic candidate for Congress in the state.
MINNESOTA – In the ad, candidate Feehan is almost obscured by a rising tide of stacks of bills thrown his way by Soros.
HOW THEY FARED: With 98 percent of ballots counted, Feehan, a former soldier, teacher, and Assistant Secretary of Defense, appears to have lost to Republican Jim Hagedom by a razor-thin margin of 50.3 to 49.7 percent.
Back on the campaign trail last week, Trump smiled broadly when supporters responded to the president’s criticism of “globalists” (a frequent GOP euphemism for wealthy and powerful liberal Jews) and Democrats by chanting George Soros and ‘Lock ’em up.”
Others of the many Republicans who have vilified Soros during the midterm campaign:
CALIFORNIA – House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was in line to become House Speaker if the GOP had retained its majority, hoping to lead the House next year, set a new standard for antisemitism during the campaign by pointing a finger on Twitter at Soros and two other large-scale Democratic donors of Jewish descent: Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer:
“We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this election!” McCarthy tweeted. Under pressure, McCarthy later deleted the tweet.
HOW THEY FARED: McCarthy defeated Democrat Tatiana Matta by a wide margin of 67 percent to 33.
FLORIDA – In a gubernatorial race tinged by ill-disguised pro-Republican bigotry, GOP candidate Ron DeSantis, speaking at a church, cited Soros in an attack on his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum.
“He would be seeding into our state government, you know, Soros-backed activists,” DeSantis said of Gillum, prompting some in the crowd to jeer.