Democratic officials placed a highly risky bet this year, intervening in several Republican primaries in order to boost right-wing radicals. As regular readers may recall, the rationale behind the strategy was unsubtle: Democrats hoped to derail more electable Republican candidates and incumbents, helping GOP extremists who would repel mainstream voters and give Democrats a better chance of success.
One of the more provocative examples of the tactic was seen in Michigan, where Rep. Peter Meijer — one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump last year — faced a far-right challenge from John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official with a history of promoting inflammatory conspiracy theories and taking ridiculous positions on a wide range of issues.
Democrats assumed Meijer would win re-election if he got past the primary, so the party boosted the fringe election denier. In the short term, it worked: The challenger narrowly prevailed in the primary, thanks in part to the backhanded assistance he received from the opposition party.
The general election worked out for Democrats, too: Hillary Scholten ended up easily defeating Gibbs, flipping the seat from “red” to “blue.” The partisan strategy worked exactly as intended: Had Democrats not intervened in the primary, the party probably wouldn’t have won the district.
But what about elsewhere? Was the Democratic scheme, on balance, a good idea or a bad bet? On Monday, the conservative Washington Times told readers that the gambit had “backfired.”
The Democrats’ plan to bankroll MAGA Republicans in the primaries to tee up easy victories in the general elections blew up in their faces with some of those “unelectable” Trump-backed candidates headed for victory.
But the Times’ boast may have been premature. Consider:
- In Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, Democrats gave Doug Mastriano a boost in his Republican primary, and he ended up losing the general election.
- In Maryland’s gubernatorial race, Democrats gave Dan Cox a boost in his Republican primary, and he ended up losing the general election.
- In Illinois’ gubernatorial race, Democrats gave Darren Bailey a boost in his Republican primary, and he ended up losing the general election.
- In New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race, Democrats gave Don Bolduc a boost in his Republican primary, and he ended up losing the general election.
Democrats also took steps to help Republican Kari Lake in Arizona's gubernatorial primary, but that race has not yet been called. Lake is, however, trailing as votes continue to be tallied.
It’d be an overstatement to argue that the partisan plan was flawless. In Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, for example, Democrats tried to elevate Joe O’Dea’s primary rival, but GOP voters ignored the efforts and nominated O’Dea anyway. (He lost the general election yesterday to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.)
In California, Democrats also tried to boost Republican Rep. David Valadao’s far-right rival, and that didn’t work out, either.
But overall, the party’s controversial plan appears to have paid real dividends — which means we’ll likely see it again very soon.