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Forget Inflation: GOP Reviving Willie Horton (and It's Working)

When the midterm election winds shifted direction this summer toward Democrats, powered by a gust of anger among young women voters over the Supreme Court and abortion rights, no incumbent GOP U.S. senator looked in worse shape than Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson.

Johnson had already broken a promise to retire in 2022 — which would have spared him from defending a cargo hold full of political baggage from dumb climate denial to his seeming love for Mother Russia — even before his name got dragged into the probe of the Jan. 6 insurrection. As the fall campaign loomed in a state that President Joe Biden won, albeit narrowly, in 2020, polls showed Johnson running several points behind his young, gifted, and Black Democratic opponent, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

But in an election year dominated by talk of 21st-century conspiracy craziness like QAnon and even worries over new incarnations of 1930s fascism, Johnson has instead righted his once-sinking electoral ship by instead summoning a different era: the 1980s, and the golden age of Republicans using a toxic mix of crime, fear, and straight-up racism to scare white middle-class voters about a rival who in this instance happens to be an African American.

Johnson’s attack dogs at the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), who are pouring millions of dollars into this make-or-break Badger State race, ran a TV ad calling the man seeking to become Wisconsin’s first Black senator “different” and “dangerous” and depicting him with three women of color in Congress nicknamed “The Squad” — even though Barnes has not campaigned with them. Even worse than that dishonest demagoguery, the state GOP then sent voters a mailer on crime and the election in which Barnes’ skin color was clearly darkened by several shades — lest any voters missed the not-so-subliminal connection.

The Johnson ads are the cutting edge of a sad and predictable return to form for a Republican Party that seemed lost in the wilderness a few weeks ago. When the party’s naïve hopes to win the 2022 midterms on inflation — an issue on which the GOP has offered no new ideas — inevitably faltered, someone dug out a faded, 40-year-old playbook and found their old box of racist dog whistles. The GOP is partying like it’s 1988 — the year that scary pictures of a felon they called Willie Horton and grainy images of Black crime saved a party equally devoid of actual policies.

Read entire article at Philadelphia Inquirer