Ed Gillespie, now running ads against illegal immigration, once called anti-immigrant rhetoric a 'political siren song'

Ed Gillespie

Story highlights

  • "Anti-immigration rhetoric is a political siren song," Gillespie wrote in 2006.
  • "The Republican Party cannot become an anti-immigration party," he added.

(CNN)Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie, who is criticizing his Democratic opponent for standing "with illegal immigrants," wrote an editorial in 2006 calling anti-immigration rhetoric a "political siren song" and warning the Republican party against becoming an anti-immigration party.

Gillespie's argument, published in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Populists Beware!" in April 2006, appears to contradict his current campaign strategy, which seeks to paint Democrat Ralph Northam as weak on illegal immigration.
Gillespie's campaign has a run a series of ads attacking Northam for voting "in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street" and linking his vote to the rise of the violent gang MS-13. Mailers from Gillespie's campaign have also attacked Northam for supporting in-state tuition, driver's licenses, and rights for undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.
    In his 2006 op-ed, published six months after the Republican nominee in Virginia lost the governor's race and amid nationwide immigrant rights protests, Gillespie argued his long-held position that a comprehensive approach to immigration was needed that would address border security, toughen enforcement of existing immigration laws, and would allow "illegal immigrants to earn legal status by working, learning English, paying taxes and living crime-free."
    Gillespie, whose firm the Wall Street Journal noted at the time "represents clients who support a temporary guest worker program," then argued that the path offered by populists would doom the Republican Party and pointed to last minute anti-illegal immigration ads run by former Republican gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore in 2005, which Gillespie wrote might have cost Kilgore votes. Gillespie's current attacks on Northam echo those ads run by Kilgore in 2005, which hit Democrat Tim Kaine for supporting "taxpayer-funded job centers" and "in-state tuition discounts for illegals."
    "Populists offer a different immigration plan: Build a bigger wall," Gillespie wrote. "I understand why this message resonates, but it will prove shortsighted. The California GOP struggles today because of what Hispanics saw as an assault on them more than a decade ago by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. In Virginia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore ran last-minute anti-immigration ads that didn't move his numbers with swing voters and probably cost him important votes in the Hispanic enclaves of Northern Virginia."
    Gillespie added, "Anti-immigration rhetoric is a political siren song, and Republicans must resist its lure by lashing ourselves to our party's twin masts of freedom and growth--or our majority will crash on the shoals."
    Asked about the discrepancy between 2006 op-ed and his current campaign, Gillespie campaign spokesman David Abrams told CNN, "What Ed has been responding to on the campaign trail, and in these ads, is public safety and the threat violent gangs like MS-13 pose to Virginia's communities."
    Abrams pointed to a series of articles about recent violent crimes in Virginia committed by MS-13 gang members.
    "This is a serious issue in the Commonwealth, and a gubernatorial candidate should absolutely be talking about it, and putting forward solutions to address it and make our communities safer," he added.
    Northam has dismissed Gillespie's attacks on him as "baseless" and "despicable" and has pointed to his own record as a doctor who treated victims of violence and as a state senator who voted for tougher prison sentences for gang members.
    In the 2006 op-ed, Gillespie also argued that the Republican majority would be threatened if the party did not increase its support with Hispanic voters.
    "The Republican Party cannot become an anti-immigration party," he wrote. "Our majority already rests too heavily on white voters, given that current demographic voting percentages will not allow us to hold our majority in the future. Between 2000 and 2004, President Bush increased his support in the Hispanic community by nine percentage points. Had he not, John Kerry would be president today."