Limping into next week’s West Virginia primary, Republican Senate hopeful and ex-con Don Blankenship is turning to an old political standby: blatant xenophobia.
In a new campaign ad that is as grammatically challenged as it is offensive, Blankenship launches an ethno-nationalistic broadside against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was born in Taiwan before coming to the United States as a child.
“Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people,” Blankenship says at the outset of the 30-second ad, which was posted online Thursday afternoon and is reportedly set to begin airing on television in the state this Friday. “While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.”
Blankenship’s obsession with Chao and her father, both of whom are U.S. citizens, is not new. And neither is his word choice.
In multiple interviews last week, Blankenship referred to Chao’s father—who was born in Shanghai and is the chairman of a global shipping company—as a “wealthy China-person,” and suggested that Chao and McConnell can’t be trusted to put U.S. interests first because of their “connections in China.” He then tried to shrug off the ensuing criticism. “I mean, I’m an American person,” he said at a Fox News debate. “I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there’s something racist about saying ‘a China person.’ Some people are Korean persons and some of ’em are African persons. It’s not any slander there.”
McConnell made it clear that he doesn’t want Blankenship to win the Republican nomination even before the coal baron began attacking his family and suggesting the GOP leader is some sort of drug kingpin. McConnell and the rest of the party establishment believe, not irrationally, that the year Blankenship recently spent in prison for his role in a historically devastating explosion at one of his mines makes him unelectable in the state. They fear if he becomes their nominee, he will spoil their chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this fall in a state Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016.
The party had hoped they could ignore Blankenship, but after he emerged as a serious contender this spring, GOP allies launched a well-funded covert attack against him last month. Those efforts appear to paying off, and a low-budget attack on the heritage of McConnell’s wife is unlikely to reverse the damage.