The USA, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) If you’re a sports fan, you’ve had the experience of hoping your team gets a particular playoff opponent and then seeing your team lose to the very opponent you were hoping they would face. I’m a baseball fan and know better than to try to pick, or even root for, playoff opponents for my favorite teams. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party seems to be pursuing a similar tactic this year by finding ways to support Republican candidates who they believe to be too radical to be strong general election candidates.
This is a terrible strategy largely because anybody who has been paying attention these last few years should know by now that there is no such thing as a Republican who is too radical to get elected in solidly Republican or competitive states and districts. The proof of that is Donald Trump himself. Back in 2016 many Democrats were hoping Trump would win the nomination because he had no chance of winning the general election. We all know how that worked out.
The major problem with this strategy is that we know a lot less about electability than we think we do, so candidates that seem unelectable because of their views may be very electable in real life. Nonetheless, Democrats in several states have pursued this approach. The beneficiaries have been Trump loyalists committed to the big lie that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the election. These include people like Doug Mastriano and Darren Bailey who are now the Republican nominees for governor in Pennsylvania and Illinois respectively. Mastriano was at the riot at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Bailey is an avid Trump enthusiast who has recently distinguished himself by telling voters to “move on” following a mass shooting in Illinois on July 4th. Democrats are backing similar candidates in Republican primaries for various offices in several states.
The way the Democrats generally help these candidates is by running ads, mostly on television but also on other media, funded either by party organizations or other affiliated groups. One popular form these ads take is that of a kind of pseudo attack ad, criticizing a candidate for positions that seem way too far right and pro-Trump for many voters, but that make that candidate more appealing to Republican primary voters. Thus far, Democrats have spent more than $40 million on these ads, but the primary season is not over yet.
This approach may marginally help Democratic candidates in a few races, but the cost and risk associated are substantial. The risk is relatively clear. Backing the most extreme candidates, some of whom, like Mastriano and Dan Cox, a similarly Trump like candidate for governor of Maryland, have already won their primaries can easily backfire. Not all of these extremists are going to lose. Some will find a way to win and once in office will do substantial harm. If 2022 becomes a strong Republican year, a possibility, but not a certainty, then more of these candidates will win. This will be particularly true with regards to candidates for congress. So, there is a real possibility, more accurately a likelihood, that a result of the Democrats trying to pick Republican opponents will be an even more pro-Trump Republican delegation to both houses of congress. Given that the GOP will be very likely be in the majority in 2022, this could create huge problems for Democrats and specifically for Joe Biden.
There is another problem with elevating hard line Trump loyalists within the Republican Party. Regardless of whether they win or lose, a major party nominee, particularly for governor or senator in a competitive state, will get a substantial amount of media attention. The media will have to cover every outrageous statement, claim and accusation made by that candidate. Even if the Democrats ultimately wins the election, those assertions will have been given a platform for months. Many Republicans will believe even more strongly in those positions because they will hear them from leaders of the party. That, in turn, will continue to destabilize American democracy.
The Democratic Party calculation seems to be that having a few more Republican extremists who believe the big lie about the election and have a cult-like loyalty to Trump is a necessary price to pay for winning a few more races. This seems extremely dubious. This is particularly true in states like Illinois where the Democratic candidate for governor is popular incumbent JB Pritzker or in Maryland which, despite having a moderate Republican governor now, is a relatively solid state for the Democratic Party.
Elevating candidates perceived as unelectable is only a small part of Democratic Party strategy in 2022, but it is becoming a story that is partially defining the Democrats. The party that, rightly, has accused the Republicans of undermining democracy, is now using tactics that are legal, but pretty sleazy, to elevate candidates most committed to rolling back democracy. It’s not tough to see how that could be off-putting to voters.