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RNC Brags About ‘Willie Horton’ Attack That Was So Racist Its Creator Disavowed It

The ad featuring a black murderer was used against Michael Dukakis in 1988 and the line of attack was so incendiary that Lee Atwater later regretted it. Now Republicans are using it as a model.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

The Republican National Committee apparently thinks a racial attack so infamous that its originator disavowed it on his deathbed is an acceptable model for its 2016 attack ads.

On Monday morning, Sean Spicer, chief RNC spokesman, tweeted about how Republicans are launching a “Willie Horton-style attack” on Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine to promote a new ad it debuted one day before Kaine debates Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence.

Hours later, the RNC official Twitter account promoted the same “Willie Horton” story about the Party’s game plan.

The RNC was promoting a story published Monday by Roll Call that details the attack plan regarding Kaine’s record on the death penalty. The new RNC video ad highlights two of Kaine's clients when he worked as a defense attorney; one client was convicted of murdering a 63-year-old neighbor, and the other was found guilty of raping and killing a 52-year-old woman.

The comparison of this new soft-on-crime, anti-Kaine attack to the famous Willie Horton ad is a strange one for the RNC to play up, given the ad’s legacy and reputation for being racist. (Spicer subsequently deleted his tweet, and blamed Roll Call.)

The Horton ad was originally aired during the 1988 presidential election by the George Bush-allied National Security PAC. The infamous ad slammed Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis for the weekend furlough program in his state’s prison system. Horton, a convicted murderer, was on furlough when he committed rape, assault, and armed robbery.

In 1991, when Atwater was dying of cancer, he apologized for using Horton against Dukakis.

It wasn’t just Atwater and liberals who interpreted the attack as racist. Roger Stone, a Republican strategist and key Trump ally and longtime adviser, claims that he told Atwater during the campaign that the ad was “a huge mistake.”

“You and George Bush will wear that to your grave,” he continued. “It's a racist ad. You're already winning this issue. It's working for you. You're stepping over a line. You're going to regret it.''