Nativism Watch

Despite Trump, anti-immigrant movement loses down-ballot


Imagine2050 Staff • Nov 10, 2016

Donald Trump wasn’t the only candidate backed by the organized anti-immigrant movement this week. He was just the most successful.

In fact, a majority of candidates across the country formally supported by the organized anti-immigrant movement lost this year.

In 2014, flagship anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) distributed a pledge to candidates indicating their support for blatantly nativist policies. As Imagine 2050 reported at the time, an overwhelming number of those who signed FAIR’s pledge lost their elections. FAIR did not distribute a similar pledge to candidates this year. However, one can look at the activity of a particular political action committee to see who the organized anti-immigrant movement supported in this election.

The U.S. Immigration Reform PAC (USIR) has served as the primary campaign contribution arm of the movement since the early 1990s. Mary Lou Tanton, the wife of white nationalist, eugencist, and founder of the organized anti-immigrant movement, John Tanton, is president of USIR. As Imagine 2050 revealed in 2014, USIR is currently managed by white nationalist Timothy Dionisopoulos.

During this election cycle, USIR contributed to 14 candidates running for Congress and state legislatures. Of those, four were incumbents and some of the organized anti-immigrant movement’s most reliable Congressional allies. Namely, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), and Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC). USIR also contributed to the campaign of Minnesota talk radio host Jason Lewis, but his campaign refunded it after Minnesota blog Bluestem Prairie uncovered the contribution.

Of the 10 non-incumbent candidates USIR supported, only two were elected: Jack Bergman, representing Michigan’s 1st Congressional District; and Warren Davidson, in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District. Both candidates ran as Republicans and replace Republican incumbents.

The fact remains that 80% of the non-incumbent candidates USIR supported this cycle lost their respective elections. These candidates include:

  • Vernon Robinson (U.S. House, North Carolina, District 13), who garnered a mere three percent of the vote in North Carolina’s June primary election. Robinson has unsuccessfully run for Congress several times in North Carolina and was also a founding member of the anti-immigrant front group Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA). Robinson is also a right-wing grifter, enriching himself while raising millions of dollars for prospective conservative campaigns, as Imagine 2050 and Mother Jones have reported.
  • Paul Nehlen (U.S. House, Wisconsin, District 1), who unsuccessfully sought to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s August primary. Nehlen received 15% of the vote, while campaigning alongside activists affiliated with the Remembrance Project and nativist figures like Ann Coulter.
  • Tim Donnelly (U.S. House, California, District 8), a member of border vigilante Minutemen movement and former California Assemblyman received 20% of the vote in California’s June primary. In 2013, when Donnelly was running for Governor, he spoke at a meeting organized the white nationalist Social Contract Press.
  • In Florida, two Congressional candidates—Mary Thomas (U.S. House, Florida, District 2) and Maria Peiro (U.S. House, Florida, District 27)—lost races in the August primary. Another candidate, Joe Kaufman (U.S. House, Florida, District 23), unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
  • Kelli Ward (U.S. Senate, Arizona), a former state senator, failed to defeat incumbent U.S. Senator and noted proponent of meaningful immigration reform John McCain in Arizona’s August primary.

Additionally two Arizona officials that USIR did not support financially, but were undoubtedly committed to, lost their general election races: Paul Babeu (U.S. House, Arizona, District 1) and Joe Arpaio (Sheriff, Arizona, Maricopa County). Babeu, the current sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, has long been an ally of the organized anti-immigrant movement and has been honored by anti-immigrant groups. He failed to defeat former Arizona State Sen. Tom O’Halleran. Arpaio, long-admired by the anti-immigrant movement for his dehumanizing detention practices and hardline enforcement policies also lost his re-election bid after robust organizing by migrant rights and racial justice organizers in the state.

Arpaio leaves office beleaguered by legal setback including being charged with criminal contempt of court in late October.

The election of Donald Trump is undeniably a success for the anti-immigrant movement—and presents an urgent threat to the country’s immigrant communities and other communities of color. The aforementioned election results, however, show that voters are still capable of rejecting nativist extremism.

These races indicate that. Now it’s time to build upon these minor successes.

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