Republicans are facing scrutiny for launching a new web advertisement attacking Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine that recalls the infamous 1988 Willie Horton attack ad on Democrat Michael Dukakis.
Just one day before he takes on Republican Mike Pence in the vice presidential debate, a new web ad from the GOP, “America Deserves Better,” highlights Kaine’s complicated relationship with capital punishment.
The infamous 1988 Horton television ad attacked Dukakis’ furlough policy, but drew widespread scrutiny for its racial undertones. An exclusive story from Roll Call when the RNC ad was first released Monday morning described the ad as “Willie Horton-style.”
Republican Party chief strategist and communications director Sean Spicer tweeted a link to the Roll Call story with the headline comparing the RNC ad to the Horton ad. The GOP account also tweeted the link. Both have since been deleted after Spicer’s tweet of the Roll Call story headline triggered an outpouring of criticism.
Kristine Viesselman, Roll Call’s editor-in-chief, issued a statement defending their headline.
“Like the Horton ad, the new ad specifically criticizes the candidate (Kaine) for his perceived weakness in dealing with criminals. Our story makes no reference to race,” she said in a statement.
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted, “When the RNC is forced to delete its own tweets promoting an ad, that tells you everything you need to know about how shameful the attack is.”
The RNC ad itself highlights four criminals, three white men and one black man.
“Long before Tim Kaine was in office, he consistently protected the worst kinds of people,” a narrator says over black and white images of Hillary Clinton’s running mate.
The ad mentions two death penalty cases Kaine defended as an attorney, Richard Lee Whiteley and Lem Tuggle, his commutation of the death sentence of Percy Walton as governor, and his 2010 decision to support the extradition of Jens Soering, a German man convicted of double murder.
Spicer told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday that the ad is not similar to the controversial Horton ad.
“Anyone who compares it to the Willie Horton ad either hasn’t seen the ad or doesn’t understand history,” he said on “New Day.” “As you pointed out, the folks in the ad – three of the four are white.”
“Tim Kaine had previously said someone should be judged by the totality of their record,” Spicer added. “This is the Tim Kaine part of the record that they don’t want to discuss.”
Kaine, a devout Catholic, has a faith-based opposition to capital punishment. But when he was running for governor in Virginia, he vowed to enforce the death penalty.
“I’m against the death penalty, I don’t think we need it,” Kaine said in a June interview with C-SPAN before he was chosen as Clinton’s running mate. “The law in Virginia is that the death penalty can be the ultimate punishment for the most serious crimes … and I really grappled with, I’m against the death penalty, but I’m going to take an oath to uphold the law.”
But Spicer Tuesday said the ad is not about Kaine’s religious convictions.
“It’s not just about the death penalty. It’s about making sure they served the least amount of time possible. That’s a big difference,” he told Cuomo. “He went out and defended people who committed heinous crimes, and he sought to get the lowest penalty for them.”
“That’s fine. He chose to do that. But he should be judged for it as well,” Spicer said.
Eleven people were executed during his tenure as governor.
He faces off with Pence Tuesday evening.