Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen is fighting to keep his seat representing suburban Minneapolis. Democrat Dean Phillips, heir to the Phillips Distilling empire, is trying to take it from him.
The two have been locking horns for a while, but a tweet posted Wednesday by Paulsen campaign manager John-Paul Yates seems to take that competition to a weird, possibly offensive place.
It included a link to a Star Tribune story about Phillips’ campaign, with a photo that showed him high-fiving a young child while a woman looked on. Both the child and the woman had brown skin.
Yates' caption: “Come on down to the Family Detention Dock and hop a ride on the old Pipeline Pontoon!”
Yates didn’t respond to interview requests, so it’s unclear what exactly he meant. But the story is a generic campaign profile, not a treatise on immigration. That makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that because there are brown people in the photo, Yates is hoping to link Phillips to some nefarious immigration plot.
The “Family Detention Dock” is likely a reference to the recent policy of separating undocumented children from their families at the United States border – which, while topical, isn’t typically funny.
Paulsen’s campaign has accused Phillips of profiting from family detention centers by investing in companies that build them, which Phillips’ campaign manager, Richard Carlbom, says is untrue. Yates has also accused Phillips of investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline, which could explain the other half of the tweet.
But without that context, it just looks like a joke about Phillips hanging out with two brown-skinned people. No matter what Yates was insinuating, Carlbom says, it only “deepens divides that are not helpful” in the community.
“This tweet is completely inappropriate for a number of reasons, and there’s no explanation that can justify it.”