MSNBC Ties Bush's Willie Horton 'Dog Whistle' to Trump's Caravan Ads

December 3rd, 2018 3:18 PM

On Sunday's Kasie D.C. show, MSNBC host Kasie Hunt devoted a segment to fretting over the use of convicted murderer Willie Horton by George H.W. Bush during the 1988 presidential campaign as the group complained that "dog whistle" campaigning has gotten worse with Donald Trump as President.



The segment began at 7:31 p.m. Eastern with a clip of then-Vice President Bush at the 1988 Republican convention speaking out against "bigotry" in his acceptance speech. Hunt then introduced the segment:

In 1988, a political action committee with ties to George Bush's campaign released an infamous ad that has become almost synonymous with dog whistle politics. Willie Horton, a black man convicted of violent crimes in the 1970s and '80s, was featured in an ad designed to stoke white fear and deliver one simple message: Democrats are soft on crime.

After showing clips from the documentary Boogie Man, which went after Bush strategist Lee Atwater for pursuing the Horton story, Hunt turned to MSNBC contributor and historian Jon Meacham and posed: "This ad, of course, up until this campaign probably, remembered as one of the dirtiest in politics. Is that something that the former President regrets doing? Or how does he think about that in hindsight?" 

Meacham -- who wrote the Bush biography Destiny and Power -- gave the former President's point of view that they were correct to make an issue of the prison furlough program supported by Democratic nominee and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, noting that the ads used by Bush's campaign had not even shown Horton's liberals complained about independent ads that used a mug shot of the convicted killer.

Hunt then pivoted to complaining about Trump's campaign tactics as she turned to Susan Page and posed: "We see echoes of this, though, in what the Trump campaign has been doing on immigration."

After noting that Republican activist Roger Stone had been critical of the Horton campaign, Page added:

I think that this does stand as a stain on George Bush's many admirable things about George Bush, but I think the willingness to first do the ad that showed both black and white prisoners going through the revolving door, and then to have this group that was independent but not fully independent that had ties to Roger Ailes stands as something that I can't imagine that he was proud of, although it did contribute to his victory in 1988.

Surprisingly, Meacham then sort of defended Bush as he recalled that even Dukakis admitted that Bush was not a "racist" and that any other Republican would have taken advantage of the Horton story.

Not mentioned was that 1988 Democratic candidate and future Vice President Al Gore had also used the furlough program against Dukakis during the primaries.

Page then lamented: "It did set a new standard for what you could run in a presidential campaign and survive and win with an ad that was pretty apparently racist being aired on your behalf."

Meacham then admitted that the ads actually only ran in the D.C. area, meaning that the press had actually been responsible for most Americans seeing these ads that journalists fretted so much about.

Hunt then turned to Natasha Bertrand of The Atlantic and lamented: "It seems like a depressing statement that this ad that we just saw seems to be -- it's almost run of the mill for what we see today."

Bertrand complained about Trump's ad highlighting the problem of illegal border crossings as she responded:

Yeah, and it resonates. I mean, my take away from that is it really just reminds you of the ad that the Trump campaign for 2020 released just fearmongering over the border showing migrants, you know, basically portraying them as people trying to storm the border as invaders. It does resonate a lot, and it just shows how history really repeats itself.