Editor’s Note: The following piece originally appeared in City Journal. It is adapted here with permission.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race was rocked recently by a commercial, paid for by the Latino Victory Fund, depicting a white man trying to run down a group of non-white children with his pickup truck. As a black boy and a girl wearing a hijab walk on a peaceful sidewalk, they hear the roar of a turbo-charged engine, and a companion yells, “Run!” The truck, flying the Confederate battle flag, and bearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden-flag license plate in front, is otherwise unadorned, except for a “Gillespie for Governor” bumper sticker, as its driver aims to slaughter the innocent kids. Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate in what has become a national bellwether campaign, is presented as the standard-bearer for white-racist political violence.
Just a few days after the ad aired, of course, a Muslim terrorist from Uzbekistan drove a truck into a walkway of pedestrians and bicyclists in Manhattan. Sayfullo Saipov was devoted to the triumph of the Islamic State and the preservation of its vanishing caliphate. The Latino Victory Fund’s anti-Gillespie commercial would have been more accurate if its pickup-truck driver had turned out to be the dad of the little hijabi girl running for her life.
The ad was pulled after Sayfullo’s attack. “We knew our ad would ruffle feathers,” said Latino Victory Fund president Cristóbal Alex, as if congratulating himself. Alex didn’t address the cognitive dissonance that his commercial would surely evoke in any informed viewer, or the inversion of reality that is the hallmark of leftist political rhetoric about immigration and the jihadi threat. The Virginia governor’s race has focused heavily on the immigration debate, with Gillespie — who holds positions somewhat to the left of the national Republican party on amnesty and reform — taking a firm stance in favor of enforcement against illegal-immigrant gang members, including MS-13, which has a strong presence in Virginia. The Democratic candidate, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, has focused his campaign on the blue suburbs of northern Virginia, reaching out especially to the state’s expanding Asian population.
Casting electoral politics as the old, white America versus the new, vibrant, multiethnic America is a seductive strategy for Democrats, who can’t resist looking at actuarial charts and population graphs that show a non-white-majority electorate by 2050, at the latest. But as Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 campaign demonstrated, politicians must be elected by today’s voters, not tomorrow’s. The “inevitability” strategy backfires, in part because white voters generally don’t like being told to expedite and celebrate their coming demise.
The strategy also backfires because rhetoric about the wonders of unfettered immigration meets the reality of horrible terrorism committed by immigrants or their children. The Latino Victory Fund — whose very name suggests ethnic triumphalism — tried to cast even mild immigration-restrictionist sentiment as white supremacism, and to depict Charlottesville murderer James Fields as the typical Gillespie voter. But the reality of terrorism in America is that it is widely and correctly associated with political Islam.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking Wednesday at an NYPD press briefing, made predictably fulsome noises about the danger of limiting immigration from areas known as terrorism hot spots. Arguing for perpetuation of the system that allowed Saipov to come to the United States in what amounts to a visa lottery, Cuomo said that even asking questions about the advisability of basing U.S. immigration policy on such games of chance would “play into the hands of the terrorists.” De Blasio called for “careful vetting” of individuals — but with disregard for country of origin or religious affiliation.
It’s a pleasing fantasy to pretend that everyone is a nascent American, waiting to hatch, but Sayfullo Saipov was carefully vetted. He was apparently radicalized in the United States. It should be plainly evident to anyone not in denial that the United States’ current immigration system is not doing a good enough job of excluding those who want to do us harm.