Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez are hitting the campaign trail to stump for Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia. This should be par for the course in politics because Rubio and Martinez are both high-profile Republicans. Politicians are expected to campaign for candidates who belong to their party. For instance, Senator Kamala Harris is also campaigning for Gillespie’s opponent, Democrat Ralph Northam. But in a campaign where Gillespie is running a barrage of racist ads that attack Latino and immigrant communities, Rubio’s and Martinez’s support reeks of betrayal.
As Latinos and descendants of immigrants, Rubio and Martinez should not be supportive of Ed Gillespie’s attacks against Latinos. They should be outraged. They should take notes from Republican Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, who have shown that you can be a Republican and have the courage to denounce Trumpian-style divisiveness and race-baiting. Flake and McCain demonstrated that during these trying times in American politics, it’s possible for elected officials to choose to put the well-being of the public before partisan politics. Rubio and Martinez chose the opposite.
Gillespie’s racist campaign ad tactic was ripped from President Donald Trump’s playbook. It mirrors Trump’s vile “bloodstained killing fields” speech in Long Island, where he used the dangerous MS-13 gang to paint the Latino and immigrant communities in a sickening light. “They shouldn’t be here... they’re animals,” he said of MS-13 during a speech that could easily muddy the vast difference between criminal gangs and undocumented immigrants and Latinos. In one of Gillespie’s television ads, the words “Kill, Rape, Control” flash in bold letters on the screen, showing photographs of Latino men who happen to be members of the MS-13, posing a danger to Virginia. (It was later discovered that the photos were of a different gang and were taken in a prison in Central America, not in Virginia.) It’s the same disturbing tactic that dehumanizes Latinos and immigrants, making us targets of hate and discrimination. The message is an affront to the hard-working Latino and immigrant families who live in Virginia and who contribute to the state’s vibrant communities.
By supporting and campaigning for Ed Gillespie, Martinez and Rubio are validating his racist attacks against Latinos. Anyone who is on the fence about voting for Gillespie can be swayed into thinking that his campaign ads are not dangerous to Latinos because two prominent Latinos are supporting him. Latinos who may not be familiar with Gillespie’s campaign ads and who hear Rubio and Martinez praising him on the campaign trail can easily vote against their own interests. In addition to validating racist attacks, Rubio and Martinez are helping elect a candidate whose policies will have a negative effect on the everyday lives of Latino and immigrant communities. Gillespie is an extremist who is already using Trump’s brand of fear-mongering and race-baiting to win the election. If he is elected governor, he will divide the state of Virginia and propose legislation that will hurt Latinos and immigrants in the same way Trump has done since he took office.
When Rubio and Martinez speak kind words of Gillespie, when they urge Virginians ―including many Latinos ― to vote for him, they will contribute to the Latino community’s oppression. They will be complicit in a divisive, race-baiting tactic that hurts Latinos, their very own people, in Virginia and in the entire country. While one can argue that Rubio and Martinez are Republicans and that they have the duty to support their party, one would have also hoped that they would have chosen to call out racism and bigotry when they encountered it. They didn’t. Instead, they chose silence and complacency. They chose to run toward the fire instead of away from it, and they chose not to help put it out, but to fan the flames even more.