Amy Davidson Sorkin warns that the Democratic party is pursuing a dangerous strategy in trying to help the most extreme Republican candidates in the primary races in the belief that they will be easier to defeat in the general elections.
The plan, such as it is, is that voters will recoil from these candidates and turn to the Democratic Party as a bastion of sanity. That’s a harder argument to make when playing games like this. Many Democrats recognize that, too. “It’s dishonorable, and it’s dangerous, and it’s just damn wrong,” Representative Dean Phillips, of Minnesota, told Politico. In the same piece, Representative Jason Crow, of Colorado, called the ploy “very dangerous” and “substantively risky.” The implied risk is that the extreme candidate could actually win.
But the tactic of manipulating Republicans into nominating proto-authoritarian election deniers is damaging even if it works, in the short term, exactly as intended—that is, even if it helps the Democrats win some seats. For one thing, it habituates Republicans—voters, activists, local officials—in the practice of uniting behind extremists after the primary. It cajoles them into discarding whatever taboos might be left at this point. And making the most conspiratorial voices the loudest changes the tone of the political conversation. Candidates of the sort who might vote to impeach Trump the next time—and it’s all too plausible that there could be a next time—will be driven from politics. (All but four of the ten impeachment-voting Republicans have now either retired or been defeated in primaries, and one of the four, Liz Cheney, is almost certain to lose her primary; notably, the three who survived are in states with nonpartisan “top-two” primaries.)
Why have some of the Democratic Party’s most prominent campaign organizations—the D.C.C.C., the D.G.A.—pursued such a terrible approach in these races? The fear for democracy’s future is real. But they or their political consultants may have become too enraptured by the idea of their own cleverness or toughness.
Before the Democrats immerse themselves deeper in folly, they might ask where this line of thinking could lead. What if they decide that Trump would be easier for Biden to defeat than, say, Ron DeSantis? Would they start hyping a man who recently tried to pull off a coup d’état? If that were the case, the 2024 election would already be lost.
The first part of this strategy seems to be working because Trump-endorsed candidates have generally done well in the Republican primaries. Now the question is how well they will do in the November general election.
I share Davidson Sorkin’s concern. After all, recall how in the 2016 election, some were gleeful about Trump steadily eliminating all the more mainstream Republicans like Jeb Bush in his march to the nomination, in the belief that Trump was such a joke that he would lose easily in the general election. And we know how that turned out.
There is of course the possibility that this is a strategy that has short-term success, mid-term failure, and long-term success. What I mean by that is that the strategy results in extreme candidates winning the primaries as they have done (short-term success), but then they go on to win in the November elections and proceed to create a hell scape in the nation (the mid-term failure) that is so bad that voters recoil en masse in future elections and throw them all out (long-term success).
But that looks like a very dangerous gamble. These people are so extreme that if they gain power, they will go to almost any lengths to stay in power, just like their hero Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban.