As 14 million spectators viewed Thursday night’s televised Democratic presidential candidate debate, a new political ad captured attention by featuring the burning face of Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as grim images of skulls captured during the Khmer Rouge.
The ad, which is only 30 seconds long, does not appear to have been broadcast widely, but affiliate stations that aired it are taking some heat. After some local ABC stations (which are owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group, one of America’s largest broadcasting companies), some Democrats are upset enough to call for a boycott of ABC and its owner, Disney.
The New Faces GOP PAC who created the controversial ad, “was formed because [America] is at risk of being destroyed by extreme, socialist Democrats who want to upend the American way of life.” The PAC’s website describes a mission to, more or less, strategically promote diverse candidates as spokespeople for the Republican Party.
“If we are going to compete on the battlefield of ideas, we must find new faces from the Republican Party stand up to lead.”
In other words, the PAC believes the GOP needs an AOC.
Elizabeth Heng narrates the ad. Heng appears to realize the modern political appeal of minority women, made known by the upsets of 2018 in which several millennial women of color were elected to Congress. These women, colloquially referred to as “The Squad,” are evidence of a call for diversity in the political arena. Heng is answering that call.
Heng is the daughter of Cambodian refugees of Cambodia’s violent “Khmer Rouge” revolution. Her family saw the violent reign of the totalitarian dictator Pol Pot firsthand. In the ad, featuring Heng, a future including AOC’s leftist policies is compared to the Khmer Rouge, which killed as many as 2 million people through a variety of atrocities.
Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color – that was the pretense.
What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case. https://t.co/zvp1EB02c5
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2019
Heng was a Republican congressional candidate in 2018, but could not unseat Jim Costa (D-CA). Though 2018 saw an historic increase in the representation of young women of color, this increase came about due to Democratic victories.
This call for diversity is out of character for Republicans, though it has seemed more common lately. Commonly, the right would counter the argument that you should vote for the woman or minority to increase their representation in government by saying that you should vote for simply for the best candidate for the job. Now that they’ve seen the success the left has had with this argument, conservative Republicans have a lot to gain by jumping aboard the diversity train, even if they are a little late. In fact, Republicans have become more vigilant about policing social injustices; many Republicans joined the ranks of Democrats in condemning AOC’s confrère Ilhan Omar for alleged intentional use of an antisemitic trope.
As the 2020 American presidential election crawls closer, campaign ads are appearing as a sign of the times, depicting the strategies and tactics of the mainstream political parties and interest groups. If the group gains popularity and funding, it’s a sign that many want the GOP to take a new angle in the culture war, potentially giving up ground on the idea of a meritocracy to widen their base and win elections.