On Saturday, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign aired an incendiary, unhinged new ad claiming that Democrats who oppose his demand for a border wall “will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.” It was particularly strange timing given the fact that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered to fund the wall in exchange for a real solution for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children or DREAMers.
On Sunday Republicans, including those working for Trump in the White House, tried to distance themselves from the ad.
NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Marc Short, the Trump White House’s director of Legislative Affairs, if airing an ad like that was helpful in the effort to reach the compromise needed to reopen the government.
“Well, you know that ad was produced by an outside group…” Short started to respond, before Todd interjected, “‘Donald J. Trump for President’ is an outside group?” repeating it again in incredulity. The ad concludes with Trump saying “I’m Donald Trump and I approve this message” and a photo of Trump with two thumbs up.
“It’s done from a political organization, it’s not done by people working inside the White House,” Short said, before attempting to pivot into a general argument for solving “the problem of immigration coming in, and the threat it poses to our country.”
First, it would be illegal for the White House to actually produce and pay for campaign ads, so Short’s attempt to distance himself from the impact of the ad is disingenuous. Senior White House staff are allowed to engage in campaign activity during their day jobs in the White House, as long as they do not use government resources. Donald Trump runs both the White House and his campaign, and some White House so there is actual coordination between the two entities. For Short to dismiss the ad as if it were produced by some other nonprofit or Super PAC is absurd.
Second, while it might have been a misstatement, Short actually characterized immigration — all immigration, not just the usual target of illegal immigration — as a “problem” and a “threat” posed to the United States. Misstatement or not, it does not help bridge the divide between the White House and the vast majority of Americans who support giving Dreamers legal status and oppose building the wall.
Another prominent Republican stepped away from the Trump campaign ad on Sunday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on CBS’ Face the Nation that the ad was not helpful when host John Dickerson asked if Democrats were, as the ad argues, complicit.
“Well, they’re certainly not helping us keep the government open,” Ryan said. “They’re certainly not helping us on a solution to immigration. When you shut down the government and stop negotiating on immigration reform, they’re complicit with not getting things done.”
Dickerson asked again if Democrats were complicit in murders.
“I’m not going to comment,” Ryan replied. “I just saw that. I don’t know if that’s necessarily productive. It’s not secret the president has strong views on immigration. But what is not productive is a pointless government shutdown that the Senate Democrats have foisted on this country.”
Paul Ryan has dodged or refused to comment on many things Trump does, from incendiary tweets and disparaging vulgarities about African countries, but he did join the conga line of praise that Trump hosted at the White House after passage of the GOP’s billionaire-targeted tax bill, citing Trump’s “exquisite presidential leadership.”
Another thing Ryan likely found exquisite was the $500,000 he collected in campaign contributions from billionaire Charles Koch and his wife days after the bill’s passage.
Later Sunday afternoon, as he left a meeting with other senate moderates, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was asked about the ad and said it was “over the top.”
“I don’t know whose idea that was, but I don’t think it’s going to be well received,” he said, according to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic. “The ad is definitely over the top.”
This is a breaking news story that has been updated as new information emerged.