____ Will Bring Extremism to Your Doorstep!

A generic attack ad that's cringeworthy in the specific.

The image at the top of the post is a reduced-sized photo of a magazine-sized postcard that came in the mail yesterday from the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Cao is the Republican nominee for the US House of Representatives in my district, running against Democratic incumbent Jennifer Wexler. Until yard signs for him started appearing a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know he existed and, sadly, his name evoked a racist joke I heard from an old Army buddy of my dad’s probably 50 years ago now. Regardless, it’s a heavily Democratic district and he has essentially no shot at winning.

Cao’s biography is impressive: a refugee from Vietnam as a young boy he was in the inaugural class of what is now the top public high school in the country, graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and served as an officer in dive and explosives ordinance disposal, retiring as a Captain (equivalent to a full Colonel in the other services) after 25 years of service, including multiple combat deployments.

He’s a Republican and espouses most of the standard Republican positions (although, to his credit, he’s not a 2020 election denier). It’s perfectly within bounds to label those positions “extreme” as a branding tactic and, indeed, it appears that this is essentially the standard ad the DPV is sending out for all races.

That said: Can you imagine if Republicans sent this ad out to attack an Asian-American veteran with multiple combat tours? It would surely be cast as racist and intending to evoke images of Viet Cong guerrillas.

FILED UNDER: 2022 Election, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. wr says:

    So if Republicans pose with automatic weapons to make themselves look all butch, it’s wrong for Democrats to use those pictures? Or even racist, because if someone else did this to someone else in a different set of circumstances, someone might call that racist?

    Maybe the Democrats should only run adds saying “My opponent is a wonderful person and I apologize for running against him.” Although I suppose that would make Democrats evil, too.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Did they darken his skin?

    You don’t need to imagine that Rs would send such an attack, they do so regularly and with racist intent.

    Beyond the broad latitude of political attack ads, if the picture of Cao is a fair representative of his appearance and not photoshoped, then no it isn’t in and of itself, racists. Whether Cao is an extremist, depends on perspective and belief.

    As America diversifies, both parties will have candidates of varying races/ethnic groups, will it be considered racist to use that person’s image?

  3. Rick DeMent says:

    You haven’t seen a lot of mailers from GOP candidates then. You know how the GOP treated Max Cleland, Tammy Duckworth, hell even Pete Buttigieg? How about how they are talking about the attack on Paul Pelosi (it’s a big fat jokle to them).

    Oh how they talk about Democrats in general. My wife work for a woman who ran for State Rep and her opponent didn’t even both to do a cursory investigation on her website opting instead just run down a list of the flavor of the election cycle attacks on her. and here is the kicker. Instead of a picture of the candidate, she put my wife picture on both mailers and an attack add.

    My question for the OP why is there one standard for the GOP who can and do say anything about democrats, up to and including the bit about how they are all Hollywood pedophiles, but you decided to talk about this? You make it sound like this attack is 1000 times worse then any random current GOP attack ad.

    The Republicans have gotten to a place were no attack ad is too unseemly.

  4. jobeth says:

    This guy is selling a t shirt on his website with a photo of him holding a gun and the text above says “Biden and Pelosi’s worst nightmare”. Enough said.

  5. Jen says:

    This post is shockingly short-sighted.

    As others have pointed out, Republicans HAVE been doing FAR WORSE for DECADES.

    Good grief, James.

  6. Kathy says:

    Saying something bad about a minority individual because of what they’ve done or said is not racist. Saying something bad about them because they are of a minority group is.

  7. DK says:

    Can you imagine if Republicans sent this ad out to attack an Asian-American veteran with multiple combat tours? It would surely be cast as racist and intending to evoke images of Viet Cong guerrillas.

    Actually, yes sir, I can definitely imagine that. Given Republican attacks on candidates who ethnic minorities (see birtherism and lynching effigies re: Obama) or combat veterans (see Cleland, Max and Kerry, John), I could imagine worse.

    I can even imagine Republicans spreading baseless conspiracies about and/or mocking attempts to assassinate politicians that violently injure an elderly man. Oh, wait, I don’t have to imagine that. Kari Lake, Trump Jr., and the usual semi-fascist MAGA suspects actually doing so right now.

    Anyway, save for college educated whites of late, the white electorate — including a supermajority of white men and the white working class — keep rewarding Republicans despite and because of racism-adjacent attacks. We’re told Democrats should do more to appeal to these white voters, with respect to their ‘anxieties.’ So. It’s cringe, but this is the discourse the dominant demographic has engineered. Y’all built that.

  8. Kylopod says:

    Can you imagine if Republicans sent this ad out to attack an Asian-American veteran with multiple combat tours? It would surely be cast as racist and intending to evoke images of Viet Cong guerrillas.

    That passive voice is doing a lot of work for you.

    So, basically, you can point to no examples of an analogous ad on the other side, much less any Democrat who has called such an ad racist. Your argument boils down to the old There Are People Out There Who Would Have Been Hypocrites.

    Slow news day?

  9. Jen says:

    It’s been almost 3 decades (27 years), but I clearly remember being in a room where the strategy discussion revolved around how to exploit a Democratic opponent’s recovery from alcoholism.

    The “politics ain’t beanbag” crowd are very well-practiced at hitting below the belt. Pearl-clutching at this stage is a bit strange.

  10. Bob@Youngstown says:

    James you are conflating the attack against the person with the attack against the party attached to the person.
    Here in Ohio (Ryan v Vance) both campaign are accusing the other person of being “extreme”, when they are really accusing the tribe (party) of being extreme.
    IMO, the Cao mailer is intended to plea to the voter to reject the opposition’s control of Congress.
    In short, don’t consider the individual candidate’s qualifications…. Vote for party control.
    Unfortunately, both sides are equally guilty.

  11. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    The racism here is entirely dependent on the viewers pre-existing biases.
    I see extremism in assault rifles.
    Others may see it in an Asian man.

  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    Would you like me to fetch your fainting couch?

  13. EddieInCA says:

    @Dr. Joyner –

    WTF? The GOP has been doing this shite since long before Strom Thurmond did his ads.

    You should really delete this post. You stepped in it.

  14. KM says:


    Y’all built that.


    Don’t get mad that Democrats need to speak in the political language Republicans have normalized in order to reach the type of voter they need to sway aka a Republican. If that’s the imagery they are used to and expect, why the hell not use it? “We go high” hasn’t worked specifically because a huge portion of the country has been programmed for decades to think this type of ad is just fine. Implicit violence and can be viewed as racist by some? Yeah, that tracks with the trash I get sent from the GOP and see on signs all over the neighborhood.

    It’s polite to try and speak the native language of another if you can. They deliberately take pictures with guns in threatening poses to look “tough” so why is it rude to use their preferred public image?

  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    (although, to his credit, he’s not a 2020 election denier)

    Is that actually true? He used the “Joe Biden is the President” formulation without actually addressing whether Biden won the election fairly that’s a popular dodge among a particular class of election denier.

    Oh and look… the “not a 2020 election denier”:
    Hung Cao on the 2020 election

    It’s just very difficult for me to understand what happened in 2020, when the person sits in their basement for the whole election cycle and they got more votes than Barack Obama…I’m just saying it’s just very hard for me to understand and decipher that …and you know you can’t change the rules halfway through like in Pennsylvania

  16. KM says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl:

    The racism here is entirely dependent on the viewers pre-existing biases.
    I see extremism in assault rifles.
    Others may see it in an Asian man.

    Add in Silents and Boomers see visions of the Vietnam War while younger generations won’t get that connotation. Is it racist because it implies Charlie’s out to get ya? You’d need to know that stereotype for it work and the youths don’t.

    There’s a subtle ageist bias here too. A racist youth might assume he’s Chinese but since he’s running GOP, they’re obligated to vote for him anyways as “one of the good ones.” This ad wouldn’t bother them. It feels vaguely racist to the liberal older set because they’re got the lingering bias of the 70’s still in them.

  17. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    …or some clutching-pearls.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    The worst I’ve seen is an oversize full color glossy card, actually a series of three, calling the opponent a “MAGA clown” with photoshopped pictures of him in a red MAGA cap with a red ball nose and clown makeup. This was from a state senate incumbent, chair of the FL REPUBLICAN party, targeting his Republican primary opponent. There was no D candidate for the seat. Under FL law in such cases where the primary will decide the seat the R race also appears on the D primary ballots. The ads were selectively mailed to registered Ds. I think not because the race was tight, it wasn’t remotely, but because the incumbent had money piled up in his campaign fund. No D can out sleaze any R.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    James, on the one hand I genuinely respect you both as an honest writer who sometimes rationally expresses viewpoints different from mine and for putting a lot of sweat and your own money, while occasionally putting up with lot of shit, into maintaining this excellent blog, which is often a bright spot in my day. On the other hand … jeez.

    To coin a phrase, politics ain’t beanbag. Ds are trying to defend democracy here. But on balance, thank you.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    It seems somewhat silly to make a pro-gun, macho, statement with an obviously unloaded rifle. Who you gonna threaten without a magazine?

  21. Skookum says:

    Actually, I think this ad is exactly what Clarence Thomas has been advocating for years: Minorities not being coddled.

  22. Kurtz says:

    Remember when a theater company performed Julius Caesar and the lead looked like Trump with a long red tie? Some corporate sponsors pulled their funding as a result of the outrage and Bill Maher claimed liberals would be outraged if they did this during Obama’s administration.

    Remember when a theater company performed Julius Caesar and the lead looked like Obama? Some corporate…oh…Bill Maher…oh. Checks notes. Nobody said anything. Well, The American Conservative praised it.

  23. Gustopher says:

    sadly, his name evoked a racist joke I heard from an old Army buddy of my dad’s probably 50 years ago now

    Just racist?

    Names like Hung Cao are why I am homophonophobic. I’m assuming that Cao is pronounced like Cow, and putting it all together… I’m sure it’s a lovely name in Vietnam, but calling a kid that in the US is mild child abuse.

    As soon as his parents learned any English, they should have given him a nickname. Immigration officers should have pointed out the problem. Social services should have paid a few visits to check on the kid’s welfare.

    What damage does a name like Hung Cao do to a child? Well, as an adult he likes to be photographed clutching a gun, and appealing to insurrectionists for approval.

  24. Assad says:

    @Kurtz: The Kingsman movie had the US President collaborating with the bad guy and in the end hung from his own petard with his head exploding. He was only shown from behind but sure looked and sounded like Obama.

  25. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: I was immediately reminded of Joseph Cao, former Republican Congressman who held a very Democratic district in Louisiana, and who has the distinction of being the only Republican in either chamber of Congress to vote for any incarnation of Obamacare. He voted for the initial House version of the bill, but voted against the final version. Even that was unacceptable heresy in the party, and some Republicans began calling him “Mao.” He was replaced by a Democrat in the 2010 midterms.

  26. steve says:

    Some conservatives have a real fetish about posing with guns. They think it will help them gain more votes. I think it is perfectly fair to take those pictures and use them against the candidate. Looking at Cao’s background do I think the ad is fair or representative of him? No, but what exactly is a politician trying to convey when they pose with guns?


  27. MarkedMan says:


    I am homophonophobic

    I think you should issue a non-apology apology on Twitter expressing your sincere regrets if anyone was offended by your recent homophonophobic comments 😉

    It reminds me of the no doubt apocryphal story of the candidate debate where one person accused the other of being a well known homo sapiens and the other one angrily denied it.

  28. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan: “Homo erectus” sounds like the sort of term that Beavis & Butthead would snicker at (and they probably did at one point).

  29. Stormy Dragon says:


    Looking at Cao’s background do I think the ad is fair or representative of him? No, but what exactly is a politician trying to convey when they pose with guns?

    Yes. He is a 2020 Election Denier, he advocates state violence toward LGBT children, he wants to replace the government with a Christian Theocracy, he wants to ban birth control, and he advocates immigrations policies that ironically would have banned him from coming to this country had they been in place when he arrived. He is in all ways a Republican extremist, just one who know how to act moderate to get what he wants.

    And what he and other GOP are trying to convey when they pose with guns is their desire to murder political opponents as soon as they think they can get away with it.

  30. Jc says:

    Isn’t Cao the one pleading for the insurrectionists as patriots and his people? Let my people go ad. Not sure James, it may be closer than you think. I see a ton of Cao signs on my trek home. Granted, somewhat more rural areas, but if turnout is high by right, he could win.

  31. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    PS –

    Hung Cao Commits to Releasing January 6th Insurrectionists from Prison

    The Virginia Constitutional Conservatives survey asks candidates what they will do about the “political prisoners” who were “arrested or unlawfully detained for participation in the January 6, 2021, protests at or near the U.S. capitol.” Cao marked that he would sponsor legislation to release and seek compensation for them.

    This isn’t a shocking position from Hung Cao, who “cast doubts on the 2020 results” of the presidential election and said he had “a lot of friends” who were investigated by the FBI for their involvement in the insurrection attempt on January 6th.

    “Hung Cao wants to immediately release and then compensate criminals who were arrested for trying to overthrow the government,” said DCCC spokesperson Monica Robinson. “That’s as extreme as it gets.”

    Hung Cao is a traitor.

  32. Franklin says:

    What’s funny is that my first thought upon looking at the ad (before reading the post) was that this was Cao’s own mailer, and that he was proud of his gun. The word “extremism” didn’t make sense until I realized my error. But if that word was replaced with “constitutional rights” or “family values” or something, I could see alpha macho Trumpsters drooling over it. (“See, I’m not racist! I like this Hung Cao dude!”)

    Anyway, not a lover of “it’s okay because Republicans routinely do far worse shit”, but this seems pretty benign to me. They didn’t make him darker, or paint devil horns on him, it appears to just be a straightforward pic of the guy. A little stretch suggests Vietnam, but that’s kinda off the radar in my locale; it maybe different in Virginia.

  33. Monala says:

    @steve: as someone noted above, he’s selling T-shirts on his campaign website in which he is wearing camo and holding a rifle, next to the words, “Biden and Pelosi’s Worst Nightmare.”

  34. Monala says:

    By the way, he also has a shirt on his website that is a play on his name.

  35. Jen says:

    Oh, hey, let’s see what Republicans are sending out this cycle…

    Ron DeSantis Mocks LGBTQ People In Campaign Mailer To Florida Voters

    So on the one hand, we have a Democratic mailer that uses a photo that presumably the Republican took. On the other hand, we have a sitting Republican governor using a stock photo of a nonbinary student, mocking an entire group of people who are already marginalized.

    But yeah, sure, “bothsides.”

  36. al Ameda says:

    Republicans have successfully turned ‘Both Sides Do it’ into a bowl of mush, empty calories.

    Yes, if one side does something (formerly) considered to be reprehensible 98.6% of the time and the other side does it 1.4% of the time it is technically true that ‘Both Sides Do it.’ However by asserting that, and implyjng an equivalence, and giving equal weight to each side you’veeffectively rendered that expression meaningless at best.

  37. DC Loser says:

    I was in Wexton’s district until redistricting moved me back to Gerry Connolly’s district. I’m Asian and I think Cao is nuts. If I were still in Wexton’s district I would not be persuaded to vote for him. I think Cao is heavily courting the Asian demographic in this district which is mostly Korean and South Asian.

  38. Richard Gardner says:

    “Tiffany Smiley is a right-wing extremist who is unfit to serve Washington in the Senate. Click here to learn more.” All I’m seeing is Republicans are Extremists – and considering they are about 50%, baloney. Fake hysteria.