The ghost of Willie Horton, who is not even dead, continues to haunt Democratic dreams. Many Democrats continue to contest the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election, and others, like Ralph Northam, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, are stuck in 1988, when Horton became a central figure in the campaign that put George H.W. Bush in the White House.
It’s an article of faith, for Democrats whose memory runs back that far, that if it had not been for “the Willie Horton ad,” Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts and the Democratic nominee, and not Mr. Bush, would have become the 41st president.
Horton was a career criminal, serving a life sentence in Massachusetts for first-degree murder. He was ineligible for parole, but under the lenient prison policies of Mr. Dukakis, Horton had been granted frequent weekend furloughs. He did not return from a furlough and 10 months later broke into a Maryland home, tied up and brutally beat the homeowner and raped his fiancee. He was tried and convicted for his crime, and sentenced to spending the rest of his life in state prison.
Horton became a symbol of Mr. Dukakis‘ soft-on-crime reputation, aggravated during the campaign when, in a televised debate with Mr. Bush, a panelist asked what he would do if such a criminal invaded his home and raped his wife. The governor replied that he would appoint a study commission to investigate the causes of rape. The rest was history, and George H.W. Bush carried 41 states, defeated Mr. Dukakis by 8 million votes and won a 4 to 1 landslide in the Electoral College.
Democrats have never cited anything in the television commercial that was inaccurate or misleading, but decried it nonetheless as “racist” because Willie Horton is black. Ralph Northam similarly accuses Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor, of invoking Willie Horton as “a dog whistle” to white voters and demands that he withdraw an ad linking Mr. Northam to MS-13 Hispanic street gangs.
Mr. Gillespie’s ad criticizes the lieutenant governor for voting against legislation that would have barred any Virginia jurisdiction from declaring itself a “sanctuary” city or county to harbor illegal immigrants. Mr. Northam cast the tie-breaking vote earlier this year to defeat the measure in the state Senate. “MS-13 is a menace, yet Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” the female narrator in the ad warns as images flash across the screen of heavily tattooed gangbangers, accompanied by a photograph of Mr. Northam. The narrator intones: “Ralph Northam’s politics are dangerous.”
Mr. Gillespie’s campaign should not take down the Northam/MS-13 ad. There is nothing inaccurate in it. He might even double down on it, citing the case of Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, Va., who came to America illegally, and was charged in the June slaying of Nabra Hassanen, 17. She was beaten to death with a baseball bat, and her body dumped in a pond in Reston. The suspect is believed to be a member of a MS-13 gang.
Mr. Northam, like Michael Dukakis before him, naturally doesn’t want anyone to connect him with the consequences of what he does that doesn’t turn out well. A Northam spokesman says Ed Gillespie is “[trying] to frighten the voters.” Mr. Northam’s record suggests, loud and clear, that he doesn’t take the problems wrought by illegal immigration and the threat of MS-13 as seriously as he should, and doesn’t want anybody to notice. Calling candidates to account for their records is what political campaigns are about. Mr. Gillespie should stand fast.
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