KIMELMAN: Northam’s rhetoric is more divisive than Gillespie’s

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board was wrong to insist that Gillespie’s rhetoric amounts to race baiting

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Ralph Northam's gubernatorial campaign disseminated a flyer that linked his opponent Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and the white supremacists who rallied on the lawn in August.

Courtesy Ralph Northam for Governor Campaign

Recently, the Cavalier Daily Editorial Board penned an editorial proclaiming “Don’t equate the political sins of Gillespie and Northam.” While I respect the board’s right to their opinion, they’ve entirely missed the mark.

First, the piece takes issue with Gillespie’s television advertisements on MS-13. Police in Northern Virginia have called the problem with MS-13 “out of control.” Estimates of MS-13 membership in Fairfax County suggest that there are as many members of the gang as there are police officers. MS-13 has been tied to dozens of murders in Virginia, and their tactics include brutality such as stabbing someone to death with machetes and leaving the dead body of a 15-year-old girl in a Fairfax City park. “Rape, Kill, Control” isn’t something Gillespie made up, it’s MS-13’s motto. MS-13 has been surging in Virginia by every metric, and the Gillespie campaign not only can, but should make it an issue in this race. 

The editorial specifically mentioned the tone of Gillespie’s ads as their primary area of concern, saying that linking illegal immigration to MS-13’s activities is a “race-baiting” tactic. Investigations have found that over half of the suspects and victims in the dozens of brutal killings linked to MS-13 were undocumented immigrants. It’s not “race baiting” or “quasi-demagoguery” to focus on the issue of illegal immigration and sanctuary cities when considering policies to fight gangs that have some members who are undocumented immigrants. At the same time, Gillespie has made sure to differentiate between illegal immigrants who commit crimes and Dreamers (who he believes should not be deported). It’s not white citizens who will primarily benefit from Gillespie’s public safety stance, but Hispanics and other minorities, including undocumented immigrants. The majority of MS-13’s victims are undocumented immigrants, and they primarily harass and kill Hispanics and minorities, not white citizens. To say that Gillespie’s only reason to run ads on MS-13 would to be to race-bait against a group which will benefit from his tough stance on gangs is a bit of a stretch.

The fact of the matter is, Gillespie has a right to say that Northam’s policies are weak on MS-13. Gillespie has released a comprehensive plan to keep Virginia safe and eradicate gangs and that’s why he’s been endorsed by a majority of sheriffs, the Police Benevolent Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. Meanwhile, Ralph Northam does not have a plan for public safety, and casted the tie breaking vote against a preemptive ban on sanctuary cities. Maybe if Northam had released a plan to fight gang violence, and hadn’t taken a bad vote on sanctuary cities, Gillespie would stop attacking him for being weak on MS-13. 

The next part of the editorial criticizes Gillespie’s defense of Confederate statues. But even in the aftermath of Aug. 11 and 12, his position is one which the majority of Americans agree with. A Marist poll found that a majority of Americans believe that statues honoring the Confederacy should “remain as a historical symbol.” Recent polling in Virginia specifically has also pointed towards general support for keeping Confederate monuments up and placing them in historical context, the position Gillespie supports. Even current Governor Terry McAuliffe has said that the millions of dollars it would cost to take down these monuments would be better used to improve schools. Gillespie’s position that the statues should stay up in historical context is not only an opinion that he shares with a majority of Virginians, but a clear difference with the Northam campaign.  

Finally, the board’s lax response on Northam’s despicable mailer, which links Gillespie to the white supremacists who invaded the Lawn on Aug. 11, is extremely concerning. The board’s statement that the mailer “has some misleading implications” may be the understatement of the year. Nowhere in the editorial did they mention the numerous occasions Ed Gillespie has very directly and clearly condemned the same white supremacists Northam attempts to tie him to. While they called the mailer “misleading,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Board’s characterization was a lot more accurate: “practically libel.” This mailer emboldened Northam’s allies to run even more disgusting ads, such as a TV spot showing a truck with a Gillespie sticker running down Hispanic children (which, to be fair, came out after the Cavalier Daily editorial was published). While the ad was denounced by Republicans and Democrats alike, the Northam campaign “expressed no misgivings” about it.

There is also a stark difference in these two attacks themselves. While the Gillespie’s negative attacks focused on policy areas such as eradicating gangs, Northam and his allies have focused on falsely implying that Gillespie and all of his supporters racists. Sure, Gillespie’s ads may be intense, but the content itself is something worth entering into the policy debate. 

In conclusion, I’ll agree with the board’s assessment that the Daily Progress’s attempt to “equate the strategy of the two campaigns” was misguided. While Gillespie brought up issues and positions that a majority of Virginians agree with him on and addresses the very real threat of MS-13, Northam’s failing campaign has gone for the Hail Mary with a misleading, disgusting mailer which uses the events of Aug. 11 and 12 to equate mainstream Republicans with white supremacists for political gain. One of those things really is worse than the other. 

Adam Kimelman is a third-year in the College, and serves as chair of the College Republicans. 

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