Did you know that Democrats spent more than $53 million on Republican primaries leading up to the Midterm Election on November 8, 2022? The money went in support of the most rightwing candidates, all actively backed by Trump and supporting his lie that he won the 2020 election, the very people that Democrats would least want to see elected. Democratic funding was to help these extremists beat out in Republican primaries more moderate Republican candidates, the ones that Democrats could possibly work with had they been elected. The logic behind this effort was that far right Republican candidates would be easier for Democrats to beat in the general Midterm election.
Did the maneuver work?
In Republican primaries, the result was mixed, Democratic money in races in California, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Michigan’s Governor’s race did not result in a win for the rightwing candidate, whereas extreme right candidates receiving Democratic money won in Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Of course it is impossible to know if these latter candidates would have won without Democrats’ money, but there is no question that it contributed to their victory.
In the general election the strategy worked: in the six cases where extreme right Republicans backed by Democratic money won Republican primaries, every one lost the general election to a Democratic opponent.
I strongly disagree with this tactic, for ethical and practical reasons.
Ethically, at a time when overwhelming evidence has shown that Trump and many of his allies actively plotted to overthrow democracy, having the Democratic Party fund supporters of such a plot is shocking, and clearly undercuts the basic message I believe the Democratic Party should loudly defend: the protection of American democracy, fighting at every turn those who are actively trying to undermine it. Contributing to the credibility of such candidates is morally indefensible.
Tactically, as former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt has said, “We are playing with fire”, no one is sure in advance how elections will turn out, for example one could imagine that having the Democratic Party invest in rightwing Republicans could well have turned off Democratic voters, particularly younger one, or similarly could have particularly motivated Republican voters, leading to an unexpected victory by these candidates. Elections have so often provided surprising results, to assume extreme rightist Republican candidates will be beaten strikes me as foolish, with a huge risk to backfire. Have Democrats forgotten the election of 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s camp actively hoped the Republican Party would nominate the easily beatable buffoon Donald Trump for President, when senior Democratic operatives said the odds were “100%” that she would win against such a vulnerable opponent?
Would it not have been more productive to spend the $53 million on Democratic candidates, perhaps permitting the Democratic Party to hold the House, which they lost by a tiny number of very close races?
Proponents of the tactic will point to its apparent success in the 2022 Midterms, saying that anything that contributes to Democrats winning elections is fair game in the immoral world of politics, the old argument that the ends justify the means. Such an approach is short-sighted, the fact that ten of millions of Democratic dollars were spent on the worst anti-democratic candidates, solidifying their position, giving them more credibility, and pushing the Republican Party further to the right, contributing to the terrible split in the US, into two Parties increasingly far apart, increasingly finding their identity in the hatred of the other side, and less and less able to work together to allow democracy to function.