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A GOP attack ad perfectly captures the new low of American politics

Who’s the adversary?
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last week was all about unity, but in many ways, America is more fractured than ever—as a new campaign ad from the Illinois governor race amply demonstrates.

The minute-long ad by Jeanne Ives, a Republican running for governor, attacks the record of Bruce Rauner, current governor of Illinois and a fellow member of the GOP. But its real attack is on certain US voters.

The commercial mockingly features several characters: a transgender person, a pussy hat-doting feminist, and a teacher—all thanking Rauner for passing legislation that helps them. The bills they sarcastically tout include one allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, another that includes abortion services in state-covered medical procedures, and a third that finances the pensions of Chicago’s teachers union members.

The commercial prompted heated reactions from the groups it portrayed, including the teachers union, which told the Chicago Tribune “we’re not going to dignify this racist, sexist, homophobic piece of crap with a response.”

But there’s been strong criticism from within the GOP, too. Tim Schneider, Illinois party chairman, said in a statement that “there is no place in the Illinois Republican Party for rhetoric that attacks our fellow Illinoisans based on their race, gender or humanity.” He demanded that Ives “pull down the ad and immediately apologize to the Illinoisans who were negatively portrayed in a cowardly attempt to stoke political division.” Even David Paul Blumenshine, a GOP primary candidate for state representative and an Ives supporter, said he thinks the ad should be pulled.

The pushback underscores growing clashes between two branches of the GOP since Trump took office. Following the president’s lead—and the Tea Party before him—conservative hardliners such as Ives are playing voters against one another with the objective of fostering partisanship and deepening the support of the party’s more intolerant conservative base. Those criticizing the ad represent a shrinking, more moderate Republican party, which has tried, although rarely successfully, to keep politics civil.

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