Following an ancient anti-Semitic script, a Republican attack ad portrays a Jewish financier as the puppetmaster behind non-white social unrest.
The ad, literally titled “Owns,” ties Minnesota congressional aspirant Dan Feehan, a Democrat, to George Soros, the currency speculator turned philanthropist whose demonization has become central to authoritarian nationalist projects in Hungary, Russia and beyond.
In “Owns,” funded by the National Republican Campaign Committee, Soros is an Oz-like figure hovering over stacks of cash.
Colin Kaepernick operates as a stand-in for “prima donna athletes protesting our anthem,” which is not what Kaepernick is protesting; systemic racism in policing is. Then comes “left-wing mobs paid to riot in the streets,” a marginal phenomenon the right has inflated while the resurgent fascists those “mobs” confront murder and assault protesters, and while right-wing goon squads receive invitations from tony Republican clubs. Later comes the scary, tattooed gang members who represent “amnesty.”
“Just remember,” the narrator intones, “the left owns Feehan,” while Soros’ intense, baggy-eyed visage floats in the storm clouds above Feehan, Kaepernick, an Antifa protester, oil drums on fire and, flanking the candidate, piles of money. “He’ll never be for you.”
Soros’ “ownership” of Feehan that the ad seeks to establish comes not only through super PAC money but through a “Soros-funded liberal outfit in D.C.” employing him. That would be the centrist Center for a New American Security (CNAS), whose president is John McCain’s former senior aide Richard Fontaine and whose board director was Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ initial choice for his deputy. CNAS was indeed highly close to Barack Obama’s Pentagon—but often to the chagrin of progressive foreign-policy experts who questioned its bellicosity. For good measure, CNAS’ defense program is run by Elbridge Colby, who recently departed the Trump Pentagon.
Feehan himself is a combat veteran of Iraq who earned a Bronze Star. He later became a senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration overseeing military readiness, the central preoccupation of the GOP leadership on the House Armed Services Committee. Accordingly, Feehan is far from a left-wing firebrand, adopting a reformist—not abolitionist—stance on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite the ad tying him to “amnesty.” (“We must work together towards comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens our borders and our economy” is how Feehan’s website describes his immigration platform.)
While the ad says claims Feehan supports “government-run health care,” Minnesota’s Post-Bulletin in August described a far softer position, with Feehan backing “a program of universal health care, but was not wedded to any particular idea for achieving it.” And one of the sources cited on-screen intended to bolster the accusation of Soros’ string-pulling is an Atlantic article that bemoans “the demonization of philanthropy” and notes the aroma of antisemitism surrounding right-wing invocations of Soros as the center force behind a global left-wing conspiracy.
Yet political observers consider the race, in the first Minnesota congressional district, to be a relatively rare 2018 seat held by a Democrat who is leaving congress to run for governor, that the Republicans might flip. Donald Trump won the district handily after it had previously gone—narrowly—for Obama.
The ad arrives at a moment when the Republican Party, from Trump on down, has more aggressively flirted with the conspiratorial invocations of Soros that European anti-Semites have recently used to substantial political success. Earlier this month, Trump, with Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley just a step behind, falsely accused Soros of financing protesters outraged at accused attempted rapist turned Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
On Wednesday, Trump-allied congressman Matt Gaetz intimated that Soros was financing central American migrants to “storm the border @ election time.”
Last week, Aryeh Tuchman of the Anti-Defamation League expressed “concern” to The Daily Beast that conspiracy theories about him have “the effect of shrinking that public space where anti-Semitism is not acceptable.” Now a prominent organ of the Republican Party has embraced that anti-Semitic imagery wholeheartedly.
—Gideon Resnick contributed reporting.
Disclosure: George Soros' Soros Fund Management LLC owns stock in IAC, The Daily Beast's parent company.