Late last month, Florida House Speaker and potential gubernatorial candidate Richard Corcoran released an ad that many say is fanning the flames of xenophobic, anti-immigrant fears.
The 30-second spot features a young woman being gunned down on the sidewalk of a suburban neighborhood by a man who the voiceover tells us is an illegal immigrant “who should have been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city.”
After the young woman’s death, Corcoran appears on screen, admonishing other Florida politicians for wanting to turn the state into a “sanctuary state” then promising voters that he will fight to end sanctuary cities.
The ad has received a fair amount of critical response, most notably from Tallahassee Mayor and candidate for governor Andrew Gillum, who tweeted:
From our team: This race-baiting ad is everything that’s wrong with politics today. In the age of Trump, Corcoran is vilifying immigrants. It’s a vile ad that seeks to divide us against one another, and the Speaker ought to be ashamed of himself. https://t.co/zo5bpZ6Nj3
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) January 29, 2018
As the Tampa Bay Times reported, the ad was created by Jamestown Associates, a conservative political advertising firm based in New Jersey and with satellite operations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. In the past, the firm has done work for Republican candidates such as Chris Christie, Charlie Baker and President Donald Trump himself.
The firm’s former executive vice president — Jason Miller — served as the digital and communications adviser to Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign, and then went on to become the Trump campaign’s senior communications adviser, eventually earning a spot on Trump’s transition team after the election.
Miller gained national attention when he reportedly declined Trump’s offer to be his communications director after reports of an alleged affair between him and another member of the transition team.
The ad — titled “Preventable ”— was paid for by Watchdog PAC, the political action committee founded by Corcoran whose mission is to “advocate for conservative public policies” and provide support for candidates “who share Richard Corcoran’s vision of strong conservative leadership for Florida.
Some of those candidates include Reps. Bryan Avila, Jeanette Nune, and Michael Bileca–the latter of whom is responsible for recently pushing a major education bill through the Florida House that advocates for school vouchers has been opposed by the state’s major teachers’ unions.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Watchdog PAC and Corcoran paid $500,000 for the production and placement of the ad all over Florida — much more than analysts had originally estimated. The Miami Herald estimates that the PAC has amassed about $6 million in donations, a hefty war chest for what many are reporting to be Corcoran’s likely run for governor.
Corcoran’s ad contains a number of curious elements, like the use of who appears to be a tan and bearded white man to play the role of the murdering illegal immigrant. In addition, Corcoran alludes to the 2015 case of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman in San Francisco — a sanctuary city — who was shot and killed by José Inez García Zárate, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported multiple times prior.
Steinle’s death was exploited by the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, particularly with its “Act of Love” ad that many political analysts considered to have issued the death blow to Jeb Bush’s own campaign. What the spot fails to acknowledge, however, is that Steinle’s case holds a lot more nuance than merely being a story about a murderous undocumented immigrant killing an American citizen.
As Slate’s Jeremy Stahl pointed out back in August, Steinle’s murder had been exploited by various GOP lawmakers throughout the 2016 campaign, which Stahl believes is problematic because it is not a case that “lend[s] itself to easy lessons.”
García Zárate was very much an undocumented immigrant as well as a drug addict, but he shot and killed Steinle on accident. Steinle’s death was result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Stahl reported, officials said that it was impossible for García Zárate to have purposely shot Steinle.
Regardless, certain conservatives, in particular, Trump and former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, exploited the event and elevated it on the national stage, sensationalizing, racializing and distorting the actual story. It was a cynical play, and eventually got to the point where Steinle’s father— a man who had called Trump’s immigration policies “not rational” — opposed the fact that his family’s tragedy had turned into a political talking point.
However, the exploitation of Steinle’s murder is only one of the ways Corcoran’s ad can be seen as a cynical political move. Many of Corcoran’s critics claim that the ad is a cheap ploy to gain more attention as Corcoran gears up for a gubernatorial run.
A particularly stinging piece in the Miami Herald asserted that the ad was used simply to stir up fear and to allow Corcoran to gain some recognition among hard-line conservative lawmakers who are recognizable among the media and Floridians. Effectively, the ad allows Corcoran to be the Republican in Florida who “screams the loudest” from his “obscure perch at the state Capitol.”
Curiously, the piece points out, the ad is not running in South Florida, the state’s most diverse region. Additionally, as the Miami New Times pointed out, the crux of Corcoran’s ad is misleading, as most areas that are designated as sanctuary cities don’t seek to protect undocumented immigrants who have committed particularly violent crimes, but those who have committed petty crimes from being detained long enough for ICE officials to pick them up and, eventually, deport them.
The ad comes at a time when Republican lawmakers across the country are embroiled in a battle over so-called sanctuary cities and narratives around how both federal and local governments choose to treat undocumented immigrants.
During Trump’s State of the Union address, the president devoted a lengthy amount of time to an anecdote about the victims of the Latino gang MS-13, further racializing the politics of fear–a tactic we have seen Trump use since he announced his run for president.
This narrative, when put at the forefront of the American consciousness, frame national perceptions of immigrants — particularly immigrant Latinos.
It is a narrative that Corcoran manages to deploy in a short 30 seconds on televisions throughout north and central Florida. Corcoran’s ad is a cynical move, but it’s one that we have been seeing from the White House since Trump’s first day in office.