A dangerous strategy

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.


  1. Deepak Shetty says

    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).

    Is this what we see happening post-Trump -- i could have sworn it was the opposite? I see this strategy as short term failure, mid term failure and long term failure.
    Its the same old problem -- When Republicans wreck the Government -- few people say “never going to vote for them again” -- Instead its see we knew that Government is a problem.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    The flaw in this plan (leaving aside that it is indeed dishonest, and dishonorable) is that it relies on there being a core of mostly sane somewhat thoughtful voters in the Republican party. After the last six years, anyone who is still a Republican voter I think has conclusively proven they are neither of those things.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Digby, citing JV Last at The Bulwark, offers an opposing viewpoint, concerning a race between a Republican who voted for impeaching Trump (Meijer) and a denialist wingnut (Gibbs) [square-bracketed comments by prb]:

    [Last:] Hit pause here for a second: Peter Meijer says that Democrats opportunistically running a negative ad that accurately described his opponent was more nauseating than members of his own party threatening him with violence and death.

    But at the end of the day, the problem isn’t that Democrats tricked Republican voters into choosing John Gibbs.

    The problem is that Republican voters want John Gibbs.

    And Peter Meijer can’t bring himself to say that.

    … [sarc] it is the job of Democrats to protect Good Republicans from Republican voters.

    … Hey there Team Blue: While you guys are out there defending democracy from guys like Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy—who we will absolutely have to support in 2023 and 2024 sorry—could you also take a dive here and there so that those of us on Team Normal don’t lose our places in the party? Thanks! [/sarc]

    [Digby] If Peter Meijer were the One True Patriot everyone says he is he would not be a member of the insurrectionist Republican party. He would switch parties. He would have won his seat again since he was redistricted into a more Democratic seat. He chose to stay with the party that has made a fetish of licking Donald Trump’s boots. That was his choice.

    [On the opposing side, I’ve recently run into claims -- don’t have time to dig into same right now -- that the Dems of the 1950s played the same game and ended up contributing to the electoral success of one Joseph McCarthy, an own-foot-shooting with a large-caliber pistol indeed.]

  4. says

    Eh. Here’s what Charles P. Pierce says:

    Can we all stop being 4 years old? The worst thing that could happen is that Gibbs gets to be the same kind of noisy, influence-free backbencher that Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor-Greene are. Meijer racked up a 72 percent score from Heritage Action, a total that includes his opposition to codifying Roe v. Wade and to the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

    If Gibbs gets elected, he likely will be worse, but on the big questions facing the republic, the choice will be more measured than the coverage of Meijer’s defeat would have you believe. But the performative moral outrage over the involvement of the DCCC is both ahistorical and a bit rich.


  5. sonofrojblake says

    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

    Well, yes -- the Democrats managed to also weed out the mainstream candidates who would have ground Trump into the dust (including but by no means limited to Sanders), and instead fielded Hillary fucking Clinton, provably the worst candidate ever to stand in a US election (proof: she lost. To Trump. QED.)

    It’s an interesting strategy, for sure, based on assuming the US electorate is
    (a) paying attention and
    (b) smarter than a sack full of rocks.
    We (people outside the US) have seen what you people elect. Neither of those assumptions is valid. But what do you expect Democrats to do? Something productive? Don’t make me laugh.

  6. consciousness razor says

    Besides the risks of helping to put such people in office, it’s ridiculous that they spend so much time and money on what are essentially ads for Republicans, which could’ve been much better used to support Democratic candidates around the country.

    For many years now in both primaries and general elections, lots of candidates and campaigns where I live have been utterly pathetic. That’s presumably because it is (at least in recent presidential elections) “a red state” which is regarded as lost, hopeless, in enemy territory where Dems dare not tread, or something like that. This lack of support all but guarantees that those campaigns won’t be successful against the very well-supported and organized Republican party machine. Then, such losses (even if they turn out to be fairly close) are treated like solid evidence that they shouldn’t even bother. So, the vicious cycle continues….

    What’s also going on is that these establishment types have a strong predisposition for “centrism,” so the Democrats who do actually get some degree of institutional support are conservatives, since they have the same aversion to people on the “extreme” left as they do for the right. Of course, you can also see it in their assumption that these “extreme” Republicans (by which they mean Trump-like, not the more hardcore and ideological theocratic, warmongering, capitalist goons like Pence, Cheney, etc.) are easier to beat or are unlikely to win.

    It’s the same way they regarded Trump in 2016, but they never want to learn from their mistakes. Responsibility always has to be shifted away from them, having situated themselves perfectly in “the center,” and toward both of these “extremes” which are thought of as the causes of all of their problems. (Theirs, because they clearly don’t care about our problems.) This is part of their “strategy” too, which can’t possibly backfire, because they can never fail but only be failed. With their heads lodged so far up their asses, they simply will not listen to you when you raise these kinds of complaints. You’re supposed to know that you should only complain about somebody else — anybody except them.

  7. Holms says

    Jesus christ, this is tactically stupid. It’s as if the Dems have been infiltrated by Republican operatives. At the worst (from the Republican perspective), Democrat donor money has been frittered away, spent on nothing of consequence; less money available to be spent on Democrat campaigns is already a victory.

  8. billseymour says

    That tactic is indeed pretty scary.

    Missouri is deeply red these days, and so there’s a cogent argument that the Republican primary is the only election that actually matters.

    In the Republican primary for St. Louis County Executive, a candidate who might have run a tough race against Democrat Sam Page was defeated by someone who had no money and no campaign.  The winner has a blog on which she checks off a whole slew of wackaloon right-wing conspiracy theories.  How could she possibly have won?

    The good news is that this particular outcome might not matter since, if I heard right on my local TV news show this evening, Page’s share of the Democratic vote was greater than the total Republican vote in this race.  We’ll see…

  9. sonofrojblake says

    @consciousness razor, 6:

    It’s the same way they regarded Trump in 2016, but they never want need to learn from their mistakes.


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