On the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attacks on the United States Capitol, Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina, took to Twitter to not only condemn the violence that day, but to warn that the dark forces behind were still alive and well and still a threat to the future of American democracy.
“We know that those who wanted to overthrow our democracy did not give up and they shifted their assault to state capitols and legislatures across the country,” Cooper said. wrote. “Governors must help lead the way by standing up for the truth, protecting our democracy and ensuring that the people’s vote decides elections.”
The governor was right to sound the alarm. It is therefore deeply disturbing to see Mr. Cooper and the organization he chairs – the Democratic Governors Association – backing and funding a cynical political strategy to support pro-Trump candidates in the Republican primaries, on the theory that they would be more easy for Democrats to beat. in the fall general election.
Anyone who claims to be concerned about the future of democracy should not be within reach of these democracy-denying candidates, let alone help them win votes. But Mr Cooper and other Democratic Party groups have elevated Big Lie supporters above their moderate Republican opponents all year, mocking the US political system.
This is a terrible approach on two counts. First, it’s deeply irresponsible: what if these Holocaust deniers actually won? And two, if Democrats believe democracy is in jeopardy and they need Republican support to save it — or at least a reality-based GOP in our two-party system — then they’ve weakened their standing as defenders. of democracy by aligning itself with those who would thwart it.
Will the Democrats face midterm annihilation?
Maryland provides a striking example of this madness. There, Mr. Cooper’s group poured its money, estimated at $2million, into ads encouraging the candidacy of Dan Cox, a pro-Trumper who attended the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot and continues to preach that Mr. Trump was deceived. of the presidency. The association estimated that Democrats would have a better chance of beating Mr. Cox in the general election than a moderate Republican like Kelly Shultz, the candidate backed by popular incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan. So far, this bizarre strategy has paid off. Mr. Cox won the primary.
Democratic governors are not alone in their cynicism. In Michigan, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee bought a TV ad highlighting the close relationship between Mr. Trump and a pro-Trumper named John Gibbs who was seeking to oust a popular moderate, Representative Peter Meijer. Mr. Meijer was among a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump after the Capitol uprising.
The basic playbook goes as follows: At first glance, the ads and direct mail – the Michigan ad reminds voters that Mr. Gibbs was “handpicked” by Mr. Trump – are framed as an attack and a warning. But his message, according to the Meijer camp, sparked appeal for Mr. Gibbs among conservative voters in the district and gave him name recognition he could not otherwise afford. Mr. Meijer lost by around less than 4,000 votes on Tuesday to Mr. Gibbs.
Democrats took similar action in Colorado, Pennsylvania and California, where a Democratic super PAC funded an ad criticizing the good faith of David Valadao, another of 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment. Mr. Valadao narrowly beat a right-wing candidate in the June primary. Overall, the results have been mixed. The most extreme candidates in Colorado’s Republican primaries for Senate, governor and in the hotly contested 8th congressional district did not win in June, despite Democrats spending millions of dollars earlier this summer on TV commercials, direct mail and text messages looking for this result. In Illinois, however, Democrats were able to help a far-right Republican gubernatorial candidate win his primary over a more moderate opponent backed by the GOP establishment.
No one is suggesting that this intrigue is as dangerous as the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies — which include Republican lawmakers and officials across the country — to subvert Democratic norms: pressure state officials by Georgia to cobble together votes for Mr. Trump and investigate bogus allegations of voter fraud; produce lists of fake voters; discuss ideas to tamper with the Justice Department and fire the acting attorney general; intimidate the vice president to violate his constitutional duty; whip supporters into a frenzy before they march on the Capitol on Jan. 6; and resist engaging in a peaceful transfer of power at so many turns.
As Mr. Cooper notes, the stakes for the unfolding of the American experiment have never been higher. Sure, politics can be a messy business, one that abounds in gambling. But even if that tactic wins a few seats this year, it will come at a high price, threatening the political survival of the few Republicans who are willing to rebuild a strong center-right party that will step in to protect democratic standards, an alternative that the United States desperately needs.
“It’s disgusting,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said of the Democratic strategy in a recent interview with CNN. Mr. Kinzinger is another Republican who voted to impeach Mr. Trump. “You’re going to make the Holocaust deniers win” in November. “So while I think a number of Democrats really understand that democracy is under threat, don’t come to me after you’ve spent money supporting a Holocaust denier in a primary and then come and say, ‘ Where are all the good Republicans??’”
Fair question. Defeating moderate Republicans will not make the nation stronger. This will mean there will be less chance for the emergence of leaders willing to speak out and condemn their own party’s wrongdoings, as Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger did in the January 6 hearings. It may never see another GOP senator like Lisa Murkowski defend Roe’s codification against Wade. On a day-to-day basis, that could mean the end of bipartisan legislation, like the cooperation that brought together the $1 trillion infrastructure bill last year.
Of course, the Democrats want to keep their slim majority in the House. But selling democratic principles to do it? This is a disappointing low for the Democratic Party. President Biden and party leaders should abandon this repugnant and risky strategy.