NYT’s Davis Sees GOP Success in ‘Fear-Based Appeal’ Against (Alleged) Sanctuary Cities

October 15th, 2018 7:01 PM

As congressional elections loom, New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis revealed Monday that “Republicans Find an Unexpectedly Potent Line of Attack: Immigration.” ("Unexpected" to the Times, at least.) The text box: “Heart-rending images are countered with fear-laden appeals.” Guess which party the Times thinks favors the “fear.”

Davis’s Monday story tilted the playing field with tone and labeling choices:

Not long ago, as heart-rending images of migrant children separated from their parents at the border filled the airwaves, the issue of immigration seemed to be losing some of its potency as a weapon for Republicans with the midterm elections approaching.

But Republican candidates across the country, leaning on the scorched-earth campaign playbook employed by President Trump, saw an opening nonetheless, painting Democrats as the ones pursuing an extreme immigration agenda that would fill the country with “sanctuary cities” where violent criminals roam free.

The strategy, in play in a growing number of races, may be working. As a tight battle for control of Congress enters its closing weeks, Democrats have found that in politically competitive states, particularly ones that Mr. Trump carried in 2016, the attacks can easily turn crucial voting blocs against Democrats.

“Sanctuary attacks pack a punch,” says a four-page memorandum, prepared by the liberal Center for American Progress and the centrist think tank Third Way, that has been shared at about a dozen briefings for Democrats in recent weeks. The New York Times obtained a copy of the memo, whose findings are based on interviews and surveys conducted over the summer.

While Davis noted the challenges faced by Democrats documented in the report, she still used "loaded" language to tilt the sympathy scales toward the Democratic, pro-illegal immigration side:

Many of the Republican attacks use misleading language and employ overblown claims about the dangers of immigrants. But the fear-based appeal demonstrates how Mr. Trump has overcome months of negative headlines about his hard-edge immigration policies to make the issue a potentially profitable one as Republicans try to preserve their slim Senate majority and defy projections that they will lose the House.


The strategists worry that Republicans’ foreboding immigration message is far more personal to most voters than the more modulated position of Democrats, whose push to protect the young immigrants known as Dreamers and to ensure humane treatment of undocumented people does not, in many cases, affect voters themselves.


In Pennsylvania, a Republican congressional candidate invoked the rape of a 5-year-old girl by an unauthorized immigrant to attack his Democratic rival’s stance on immigration. In North Dakota, a Republican Senate candidate accused his Democratic opponent of wanting to let cities “hide illegal immigrants, especially those who commit violent crimes.” Mr. Trump has been blunter: Democrats, he said, support “sanctuary cities of death.”

The problem for Democrats begins with that term: The loaded phrase refers to jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, declining to hold undocumented immigrants past their release dates even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, has requested that they remain detained for possible deportation.

But during his campaign rallies, Mr. Trump -- who made a harsh immigration message, which critics called racist, a key component of his 2016 campaign -- has portrayed “sanctuary cities” as lawless places where danger lurks around every corner.


But Republicans’ dark warnings have their limits and risks, including the potential to alienate some women who recoil from the hardest-edge, most racially charged attacks. And the researchers found that they do not resonate with white, college-educated voters.

Davis has a history of soft coverage of illegal immigration. In May 2017, she ran with the falsehood that Trump called all illegal immigrants “animals” when he was in fact referring to the murderous gang MS-13.