JD Vance speaks during a primary election night event in Cincinnati, Ohio U.S., on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
JD Vance speaks during a primary election night event in Cincinnati, Ohio U.S., on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.  (Luke Sharrett / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Racist ‘Replacement Theory’ Is Bleeding Into GOP Senate Campaigns

Multiple Republican Senate candidates have pushed claims that sound awfully like the white supremacist “great replacement” theory.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US

When Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson was recently asked on Fox News about immigration reform, he floated a conspiracy theory that’s quickly becoming gospel on the right: that Democrats want a flood of immigrants to remake America and keep them in power.

“This administration wants complete open borders. And you have to ask yourself, why?” Johnson asked during an April 15 appearance with Larry Kudlow, suggesting an idea that has its roots in white nationalism. “Is it [that] really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure that they stay in power forever?”


He’s far from the only Republican who espouses these beliefs. And he may soon have more colleagues in the Senate who believe that Democrats’ plan is to import enough eventual voters to take over control of the electorate for good: At least a half-dozen Republican Senate candidates have voiced similar sentiments on the campaign trail in recent weeks, a sign of how mainstream and deeply ingrained in modern Republican orthodoxy this conspiracy theory has become.

It’s similar to, though not exactly the same as, the “great replacement” theory, a white supremacist conspiracy theory that’s been popularized by the alt-right over the past decade. The theory posits that non-white immigrants are trying to replace white, native-born citizens in the U.S. and Europe by flooding into those countries and having more children than the native population. Many adherents of this false, racist theory claim it’s being orchestrated by a secret cabal of wealthy elites—often Jews.

Most Republican candidates aren’t going that deep into the fever swamps—but are pushing a similar claim, swapping in Democrats for elites and focusing on political domination instead of cultural replacement. That so many statewide candidates who may soon have the national stage are pushing this conspiracy theory shows the political potency they see in this message—and will further entrench it in the pantheon of conspiracies believed by a significant portion of conservatives.


An Associated Press-NORC poll released on Monday showed that fully one-third of Americans, and almost half of Republicans, believe that “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political view.”

“There’s what you could call a partisan variation of the Great Replacement theory, a partisan argument that sounds similar but isn’t quite the same, that Democrats are letting in migrants to become Democratic voters and control the country that way,” said Mark Pitcavage, of the Anti-Defamation League. “And then there's the broad great replacement argument itself, which basically is that nonwhites are coming in to replace whites. That’s the one that’s most connected to white supremacy and the most problematic.” 

Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance, who won his primary last Tuesday, argued on multiple occasions over the past month that the reason President Biden wanted to end Title 42, which automatically sends immigrants who cross the border back to Mexico, was because he and Democrats see them as guaranteed future votes. 

At a late-April town hall, Vance claimed that lifting Title 42 would mean 250,000 immigrants entering the U.S. every month, allowing Democrats to import 10 million to 15 million future voters, 70 percent of whom he claimed, without offering evidence, would vote Democratic.


“So you’re talking about a shift in the democratic makeup of this country that would mean we never win, meaning Republicans would never win a national election in this country ever again,” Vance said in Portsmouth, Ohio.

He’s even put it in his campaign advertising.

“Are you a racist? Do you hate Mexicans?” Vance asked with a smirk in one ad that his team released last month. “The media calls us racist for wanting to build Trump’s wall. They censor us, but it doesn’t change the truth. Joe Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with more illegal drugs and more Democrat voters pouring into this country.”

Vance’s primary win last week makes him the favorite to replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman in Republican-leaning Ohio.

Vance got a big early boost in his race from billionaire PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who gave $10 million to his super PAC. Thiel’s other major campaign investment was to his former employee Blake Masters, who’s running for Senate in Arizona. Masters has floated similar rhetoric for months.

“The Democrats want to change the demographics of this country,” Masters said on a podcast in late April. “They think that if they can bring in millions and millions and millions of illegal aliens, someday they'll be able to grant them amnesty to grant them citizenship and make them reliable Democrat voters. I think it's an electoral plan.” 


“If you connect the dots as a candidate for office and say, ‘Look, obviously the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country, they hope to import an entirely new electorate,’ man, they call you a racist and a bigot,” Masters said on another podcast a few days later.

Masters has been pushing rhetoric like this for months, claiming in an October video that Democrats want to “change the demographics of this country” in order to “consolidate power so they can never lose another election.”

Vance’s closest rival in his primary, former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, was more explicit in embracing the “great replacement” theory. Mandel, who is Jewish, claimed on multiple occasions without offering any evidence that efforts to expand immigration were being funded by  George Soros, a frequent bogeyman for anti-Semites who claim Jews are behind Great Replacement efforts. At one September rally, Mandel claimed that the plot was to have immigrants move in and out-breed native Americans and “use their constitution and use their laws against them.”

“What Biden is doing at the border, which I think is funded by Soros and coordinated by the Obama cabal, they're intentionally violating the rule of law. They're trampling the rule of law and they're intentionally flouting the border,” he said on Breitbart News last October. “This is about changing the face of America, figuratively and literally. They are trying to change our culture, change our demographics and change our electorate. This is all about power.”


Other GOP Senate candidates have voiced similar views in recent weeks. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who’s running for the Senate, claimed on Glenn Beck’s show in late April that Democrats “are fundamentally trying to change this country through their illegal immigration policy.”

Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, one of Schmitt’s primary opponents, recently claimed that “Joe Biden's policies are an assault on the entire idea of America” and that the president is “wiping out the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, and he's doing it on purpose.”

This isn’t new to American politicians, either. Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King’s 2017 tweet that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” and this rhetoric isn’t that different from that used by nativist conservatives from Pat Buchanan in the 1990s to Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo in the 2000s to some of former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the White House.

But it’s become an increasingly common talking point over the past year—with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson playing a key role.

“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate—the voters now casting ballots—with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it. That’s true,” Carlson declared last April.


A few days later, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry claimed in a committee hearing that many Americans were concerned that “we’re replacing national-born Americans, native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation.”

Carlson went even further in September, claiming Biden wanted to “reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World,” before explicitly using the term “great replacement.”

A handful of Republicans defended Carlson’s comments then, including Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz:

This theory, which largely focuses on Latino immigrants, ignores the reality that immigrants are far from monolithic in their political views, as well as the fact that non-citizens cannot vote in the U.S. Republicans, including Trump, have also pushed a related but different conspiracy theory for years that non-citizen immigrants vote in huge numbers. 

It’s also ironic that this GOP rhetoric is resurgent from GOP candidates now, given that Republicans made massive gains in some Latino and Asian-American communities during the last election. Tejano-heavy South Texas, a Democratic bastion for generations, swung hard to the right in 2020—some counties swung as much as 50 points towards the GOP. Miami-Dade County in south Florida, which has a massive population of Cuban-Americans, gave Joe Biden just a seven-point win in 2020 after breaking for Hillary Clinton by a 30-point margin in 2016.

“Using identity politics like this is dangerous and extreme,” said GOP strategist Leslie Sanchez, the author of Los Republicanos.

Sanchez added that candidates who incorrectly assume immigrants are “all zombies that are going to vote collectively” threaten the inroads that Republicans are making with Latinos. 

Extremism experts warn great replacement rhetoric has inspired violence against immigrants and Jews—and the more it is mainstreamed, the more dangerous it becomes.

At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, tiki torch-wielding white supremacists chanted “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us,” just one day before they rioted. The murderers who killed 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 and 23 mostly Mexican-American shoppers in El Paso, Texas in 2019 promoted versions of the theory, as did the man who shot up two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.

“A lot of people are articulating this conspiracy theory, which is not only unfair to Democrats but more importantly dangerous for immigrants,” said Pitcavage. “Given this atmosphere, this miasma of hate and intolerance, it doesn’t take much to push someone over the cliff, where they’ll act on this.”