Home Immigration TIMELINE: From Bush to Bannon: How “Amnesty Ed” Embraced Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Bigotry

TIMELINE: From Bush to Bannon: How “Amnesty Ed” Embraced Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Bigotry


From DPVA:

TIMELINE: From Bush to Bannon: How Amnesty Ed Embraced Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Bigotry

He didn’t always use to be this way.

Today, Ed Gillespie is appearing at a fundraiser with his old boss George W. Bush. It’s the perfect occasion to remember the old Ed Gillespie — a Republican who believed more in compassionate conservatism than Trumpian race-baiting.

Just a few years ago, Gillespie was a strong supporter of pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, and a fierce critic of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

That was then. This is now.

Now, Gillespie is running on the most anti-immigrant campaign in Virginia in nearly a decade. He’s running ads that conflate immigrants with gang members and has fully embraced a right-wing agenda that includes banning DREAMers from receiving in-state tuition (something even his running mate voted for as recently as 2009). This Trumpian turn and embrace of far right politics has won Gillespie the backing of anti-immigrant crusaders like Steve Bannon — and Trump himself.

It’s a stunning transformation that must make Gillespie’s old colleagues deeply uneasy. As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote, “one can imagine what Gillespie’s former boss President George W. Bush, an advocate of immigration reform, must think of a campaign designed around Confederate statues and sanctuary cities.”

“The Old Ed Gillespie would have hated the new Ed Gillespie,” said DPVA spokesperson Kevin Donohoe. “In 2006, Gillespie condemned Jerry Kilgore for running the exact same type of anti-immigrant TV ads he is now running across Virginia. Gillespie has turned his back on President Bush’s legacy and instead embraced the far right, anti-immigrant politics of Donald Trump.”

Here’s a timeline of Gillespie’s transformation from lobbyist for amnesty to anti-immigrant demagogue:


DECEMBER 2001: Tyson Foods Hires Ed Gillespie’s Firm to Lobby on “Amnesty Proposals” and Criminal Charges Related to Undocumented Immigrant Employees. 

  • “But even there, Gillespie, whose lobbying firm earned more than $1 million helping Tyson Foods with matters including ‘amnesty proposals’ and criminal charges related to illegal-immigrant employees, hedges. He takes pains to criticize Democrats inclined to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, not the immigrants themselves.” [Washington Post, 5/29/17]

MARCH 2006: Gillespie Calls Anti-Immigration Rhetoric A “Political Siren Song” That Republicans “Must Resist.”

  • “‘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 its shoals,’ former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said last week in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/06]

APRIL 2006: In an Op-Ed, Gillespie Denounces Jerry Kilgore’s Anti-Immigrants Ads and Opposes Building a “Bigger Wall” On the Southern Border. 

  • “Populists offer a different immigration plan: Build a bigger wall. 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. 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.” [Ed Gillespie, Wall Street Journal, 4/2/06]

APRIL 2006: Gillespie Supported Bush’s Immigration Reform Plan That Included A Path To Citizenship.

  • “GILLESPIE: And the fact is that the president had made great progress in helping to move forward a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will help secure our borders and make sure that we stem the flow of illegal immigration into this country, identify those who are here illegally now and have them learn English, pay taxes, and do other things that ultimately may enable them to attain citizenship status and meet the economic needs of the country in a pro-growth economy. So I think there was progress made and it included both Republicans and Democrats and that’s what it’s going to take to, obviously, get a bill through the Senate.” [Fox News, 4/26/06]
  • “GILLESPIE: Well it depends on how the question is phrased John. I’ve seen polling data that shows that a majority of Republicans and Democrats support measures that require greater assimilation through learning English, that require people to come forward and identify themselves, to pay their taxes, to live crime-free, and that after doing all of those things, after a transition period, be eligible for citizenship. So, depending on how you ask the question, there are majorities of Republicans who support that kind of approach.” [Fox News,4/26/09]

APRIL 2006: Gillespie: “The Republican Party Cannot Become An Anti-Immigration Party… Our Majority Already Rests Too Heavily On White Voters.” 

  • “Mr. Sessions and other conservative Republicans spent much of last week denouncing the Senate proposal while emphasizing their support for legal immigration. But in a column posted yesterday on OpinionJournal.com, White House ally Ed Gillespie dismissed their approach as ‘populist’ and suggested those Republicans oppose even legal immigrants and immigration. ‘The Republican Party cannot become an anti-immigration party,’ Mr. Gillespie warned his fellow Republicans. ‘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.’” [Washington Times, 4/3/06]

SEPTEMBER 2007: Gillespie Once Again Criticizes Jerry Kilgore for Running Anti-Immigration Ads 

  • “In my home state of 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 El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Nicaraguan enclaves of northern Virginia.” [Ed Gillespie, Winning Right,9/11/07]

DECEMBER 2009: Gillespie Lamented That GOP’s “Most Harsh Voices Are Front And Center” On Immigration Debate. 

  • “In a speech at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock on Tuesdaymorning, Gillespie laid out the numbers: 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic. The Hispanic vote represents 9 percent of the electorate, and that percentage is expected to grow rapidly during the next decade. […] Gillespie laments the fact that the party’s ‘most harsh voices are front and center’ in the immigration debate. He says the GOP must convey that ‘we’re as welcoming of legal immigrants as we are concerned about illegal ones.’” [Rex Nelson, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 12/12/09]

DECEMBER 2009: Gillespie Said GOP Should Shift Tone To Come Across “Not As Anti-Immigration, But Pro-Legal Immigration.” 

  • “New immigration reform efforts will offer the Republican Party a chance to soften its tone on the issue and possibly attract more Hispanic voters, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee said Tuesday. Without naming names, Ed Gillespie said in a speech at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service that he believes some Republicans came off as anti-immigrant the last time Congress debated efforts to reform the nation’s immigration system. He said future immigration debates could give the party a chance to redeem itself with Hispanic voters. ‘I think there’s an opportunity there for Republicans to get the tone right in this debate and not come across as anti-immigration, but pro-legal immigration,’ Gillespie said. ‘As a whole, I think our party was poorly positioned on the immigration debate.’” [Associated Press State & Local Wire, 12/8/09]

FEBRUARY 2011: Gillespie Said That Republicans Should Focus On Welcoming Legal Immigrants, Not Just Punishing Illegal Immigrants. 

  • “Gillespie, however, wasn’t advocating any change from the party’s hard stance on securing U.S. borders, especially along the South. Instead, he was pressuring Hill aides to communicate that their bosses favor helping legal immigrants and not just punishing illegals. ‘We favor welcoming legal immigrants into this country and believe it’s a good thing,’ he said. ‘But sometimes that policy gets lost because we’re so busy talking about keeping illegal immigrants out,’ he added.” [White House Bulletin, 2/15/11]

DECEMBER 2011: Gillespie Said Republicans’ “Rhetoric Comes Across As More Than Anti-Illegal Immigration,” Came Across As “Anti-Hispanic” By Hispanic Voters. 

  • “Antithetical to its past and potentially poisonous to its future, the GOP’s militant line risks long-term self-sabotage. ‘That rhetoric comes across as more than anti-illegal-immigration. It’s perceived as anti-immigration, which in turn is perceived by Hispanic voters as anti-Hispanic,’ said Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman. ‘When you’re getting a shrinking percentage of the fastest-growing share of the electorate, you don’t have to be a math major to figure out that’s not good, long-term, for the party.’” [National Journal, 12/15/11]

2013: Gillespie “Pushed For The ‘Gang Of Eight’ Bill, Which Called For Tighter Border Security But Also A Pathway To Citizenship.” “In 2013, Gillespie pushed for the “Gang of Eight” bill, which called for tighter border security but also a pathway to citizenship for 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country.” [Washington Post, 5/29/17]

FEBRUARY 2013: Gillespie Wanted The Republican Party To Be More Positive Regarding Immigration

  • “GILLESPIE: Yeah, I think one thing, we need to be more positive in terms of how we talk about our agenda. We talk a lot, and it’s kind of the nature, when you’re an out-of-power party, to talk about what you’re against, but we need to do a better job, I believe, talking about what we’re for. So we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how we’re against illegal immigration. Sometimes that gets shortened to just being against immigration.” [NPR, 2/11/13]


2017: Washington Post: Gillespie’s “Ad Ties Opponent To MS-13. Democrats Compare It To ‘Willie Horton.’” [Washington Post, 9/20/17]
2017: Gillespie Is Running A TV Ad Accusing Northam Of Letting Violent Undocumented Immigrants In Gangs Out Of Prison. “With concerns about gang violence growing in Virginia, 2017 Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie’s campaign today released its new television ad, ‘Safer Communities.’ The ad highlights Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam’s vote against banning the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia and the increasing threat posed by MS-13, which The Washington Post has described as undergoing a ‘resurgence’ in the region. ‘Ralph Northam voted against banning the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia, and he even bragged about casting the tie-breaking vote. Ralph Northam’s policy in favor of sanctuary cities in our Commonwealth will not make Virginians safer; it’s that simple, ‘ said campaign manager Chris Leavitt. ‘The first job of a governor is to ensure public safety; keeping communities, schools, businesses and public gathering places safe. As governor, Ed will ensure that sanctuary cities that are a safe haven for violent criminals here illegally are never allowed in the Commonwealth, and he will work to eradicate violent gangs like MS-13.’” [Gillespie for Governor, 9/20/17]

2017: Gillespie Conflates Undocumented Immigrants To Gang Violence. “In his comments on the importance of public safety in the commonwealth, Gillespie specifically referred to a March incident that left Lynchburg teen Raymond Wood dead. Three undocumented immigrants, who Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said are associated with the international MS-13 gang, are charged with murder in connection to Wood’s death. Gillespie used the incident to explain his view that Virginia must crack down on illegal immigration and the crimes he believes to be associated with the issue.” [Lynchburg News & Advance, 7/29/17]

2017: Gillespie Opposes Granting Undocumented Immigrants In-State Tuition Rates. “Griffith spoke to about 25 people Saturday, a number he said was smaller than previous years because of a time change. Griffith plugged the Republican ticket for statewide offices, advocating Ed Gillespie, Jill Vogel and John Adams — candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively. They face Democrats Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, who is seeking re-election. Griffith applauded Gillespie’s tax, economic development and immigration policies. Gillespie opposes granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates and driver’s licenses, although, according to The Washington Post, he does not support deporting ‘dreamers’ now that President Donald Trump has announced plans to rescind America’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Gillespie also opposes sanctuary cities.” [Roanoke Times, 9/9/17]


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