Lindsey Graham Campaign Ran An Ad That Appears To Show Image Of His Black Opponent With Digitally Altered Darker Skin Tone

It's not a new tactic, but it's enjoying a renaissance.

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Just when you thought that the GOP couldn’t get any more sleazy and underhanded, along came Donald Trump in 2016, and what was once the party of whisper campaigns and dogwhistles to racists, sexists, and xenophobes became a party that openly embraced tactics like that, employing them openly.

Some of us have been around long enough to remember when Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s campaign strategist, deployed messages across the south during the 2000 election about Bush’s primary opponent, Senator John McCain, having a “black child.” Of course, John and Cindy McCain had adopted a Bangladeshi girl in 1993 named Bridget. She wasn’t black, but the idea that she was turned out to be enough to turn racist southern voters off from McCain, handing Bush the nomination.

Rove knew that would work, and he was proven right. It’s hard to think about tactics like this actually being effective, but once Trump came along, not only did they become more effective, but the entire party began using them.


Take this year’s race for the US Senate seat in South Carolina: Lindsey Graham has held the seat comfortably for nearly two decades, with nearly two decades before that representing South Carolina in the House of Representatives. No one might have expected Graham to have employed secretly racist campaign strategies because he seemingly didn’t need to — he’s won handily in each of his elections.

And yet this year, as he faces a Democrat who’s very popular in the state, Graham has embraced this revised “southern strategy” — appeal to voters’ racism — in much the same way. I suppose he was fortunate enough to face off against a Black opponent, Jaime Harrison.

In a Facebook ad deployed last week, the Graham campaign used a photo of Harrison that was originally taken by a New York Times photographer for that publication. But when the ad ran on social media, Harrison’s skin had been digitally darkened pretty significantly.

And here it is used in the ad itself:

Colorism is no stranger to the virulence of racism — darker skin, to bigots, always means the person is even more “other” or strange.

Similar ads were run against Barack Obama back in 2008, but never so openly.

The Graham campaign, of course, denies having employed the tactic. But even the surrounding language they use that isn’t race-related follows the same pattern: Rather than the standard fare of “out of touch, tax and spend liberal,” Graham’s campaign even darkens Harrison’s politics: “Radical Leftists,” the ad declared.

There are, of course, no radical leftists in American politics. Even those in the Democratic Party who have called themselves socialists are politically and ideologically closer to the center of global politics than they are to the left — it’s just that America has been dragged so far to the political right that Republicans and conservative voters call anything to the left of Sean Hannity “Marxism.”

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Lindsey Graham has turned from someone who, while his politics left much to be desired, was a generally decent man and campaigner, into yet another spoke in the wheel of Trumpian politics.

Featured image via Flickr/Gage Skidmore, under Creative Commons license 2.0

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