Dan Morain

Cop killers or Dreamers? Two California-based ads sum up the war for the GOP soul

Luis Bracamontes, a pudgy little man with a twisted wisp of a silly beard, cursed jurors and victims again in the trial that will determine how his worthless life comes to an end, so Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steve White properly banished him from the courtroom.


Having admitted shooting to death Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr. on Oct. 24, 2014, Bracamontes seems to be daring jurors to impose a death sentence, though he undoubtedly knows he would be executed no time soon.

More immediately, President Donald Trump is using tape of Bracamontes glowering, smirking and declaring that he regretted not killing more cops. The 30-second ad is a blunt instrument intended to instill fear of illegal immigrants within Trump’s hardened base, and bludgeon Democrats into agreeing to pay billions to build the ridiculous wall at the Mexican border.

“Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants,” the narrator says, as shots of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer flash by.

Trump’s White House is offering a supposed compromise to allow 1.8 million “Dreamers” to remain in the country, while his campaign airs the incendiary ad, which suggests he is not seriously seeking a deal.

It’s all so familiar. Remember the 1994 “They Keep Coming” ad depicting illegal immigrants dashing across the border? Gov. Pete Wilson, running for re-election, had endorsed Proposition 187, the divisive initiative aimed at cutting all public funding for illegal immigrants. Wilson won. But a generation of Latinos turned against the GOP.

Trump’s attacks on immigrants, which are far beyond anything Wilson ever would have contemplated, may offer short term political gain, but at a steep cost to Republicans for years to come.

Sacramento-based Republican campaign strategist Mike Madrid called Trump’s ad “another nail in the coffin” for his party. Trump is alienating the fastest growing segment of the electorate, Latinos, while pandering to a contracting segment: older, less educated white voters.

A few Republicans are standing up to Trump’s exclusionary view, at the risk of getting trolled and facing opposition in primaries. One is Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, already something of an outcast, though in this era, he should wear that as a badge of honor.

The California Republican Party leadership took the extraordinary step of urging that Assembly Republicans dump Mayes as Assembly Republican leader last year after he voted to extend the cap-and-trade program. He committed apostasy by siding with Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators, in accord with the oil industry that generally supports Republican candidates.

As Trump released the Bracamontes spot, Mayes coincidentally released an ad of his own, aptly called “Dreamers,” through his nascent political arm, New Way California. The contrast couldn’t be sharper, pulling as it does from President Ronald Reagan’s poignant farewell speech of 1989:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds … And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

It’s gauzy, and makes heavy use of saccharine images of smiling children of various colors, the sort of Big Tent spot that would have made Reagan proud.

“This is absolutely necessary for our survival,” Mayes told me the other day. “We are in a death spiral as Republicans in this state. The only way to stop it is to do things differently. We are being a party of exclusion. That’s why our numbers of dropping.”

How all this will translate at the polls is about to be tested. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, is stepping down, and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, an Oceanside Republican who is a retired Marine colonel, is running.

Chavez calls himself a “big supporter of DACA,” the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants, to gain legal status. He is all for stopping cross-border drug smuggling and human trafficking, but says a cement wall makes no sense.

Chavez sees Trump’s Bracamontes ad for what it is: “There are bad people out there. They come in all stripes. That individual is a bad character. But he’s the aberration, not the norm.”

One day, Mayes and Chavez might reclaim their party. But for now, only a fourth of California voters are registered Republican, and Trump is in control, equating Bracamontes, an aberrant and wretched little man, with people who came to this country without papers seeking better lives for their children.

If those children ever gain legal status, become citizens and start voting, they will remember. Who could possibly blame them?