The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats must stop promoting Republican extremists

Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey celebrates after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary on June 28 in Effingham, Ill. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Democracy itself is on the ballot this election year. The country needs a broad coalition to defeat candidates who would help former president Donald Trump, or another politician in his mold, again attempt a coup in 2024. Which is why it is not just shameless, but dangerous, that Democrats have spent tens of millions this year promoting Republican extremists.

By boosting the primary campaigns of right-wing zealots running against more moderate Republicans, Democrats seek to set up favorable races for themselves, against less electable candidates, in the general election. The result is that Democrats have helped Trumpian fanatics move one step closer to offices from which they could directly threaten the nation’s democracy.

Tuesday night brought the latest example. State Sen. Darren Bailey (R) won the Illinois GOP gubernatorial nomination after Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and the Democratic Governors Association spent $30 million to help him. The Trump-endorsed Mr. Bailey made his name by opposing covid-19 public health measures, pushing to evict Chicago from Illinois and favoring the banning of abortion in the state.

Even worse was Democrats’ use of this strategy in key presidential swing state Pennsylvania, where state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), a leading 2020 election denier, last month won the GOP gubernatorial nomination. He spent a mere $370,000 on television ads. His Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, spent more than $840,000 on ads designed to help him win the Republican primary.

The democratic process survived 2020 because enough Republicans in positions of responsibility refused to act on Mr. Trump’s lies. Meanwhile, Mr. Mastriano pushed the notion that Pennsylvania’s legislature could appoint its own slate of Trump electors, even though Joe Biden won the state’s popular vote. Should Mr. Mastriano win the governor’s race, he could spark a constitutional crisis in 2024 by trying to prevent the state from sending to Washington a slate of Democratic electors, against the will of the voters. Even if he loses, he will have a high platform from which to spew his poisonous nonsense.

True, Republican primary voters might embrace extremists, anyway. But while polls show that a majority of Republicans believe that President Biden is illegitimate, voting patterns suggest that allegiance to the “big lie” only gets candidates so far in GOP primaries. Two Georgia Republicans based their campaigns for statewide office on accusations that the incumbents had failed to act on supposed 2020 election fraud. Mr. Trump strongly backed them. They both lost. On Tuesday, Colorado Republican voters rejected election conspiracist Tina Peters, who was running to be the party’s nominee for secretary of state.

Everyone who recognizes that U.S. democracy is in grave danger should do all they can to encourage results such as these — not the opposite. Democrats got what they wished for in 2016, when Mr. Trump captured the GOP presidential nomination. They savored a race against a malign incompetent whom the voters would surely reject. Instead, Mr. Trump won and proceeded to tear the country apart. This year’s midterms will occur in an extremely unfavorable political climate for Democrats; Republicans, even extreme ones, could win all over the map. If Democrats truly believe that Mr. Trump and those who embrace his lies present existential threats to democracy — and there is good reason to — they should join with anyone of any partisan or ideological persuasion to keep them as far as possible from office. Instead, they have enabled the crackpots.

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Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Deputy Editorial Page Editor Karen Tumulty; Deputy Editorial Page Editor Ruth Marcus; Associate Editorial Page Editor Jo-Ann Armao (education, D.C. affairs); Jonathan Capehart (national politics); Lee Hockstader (immigration; issues affecting Virginia and Maryland); David E. Hoffman (global public health); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Molly Roberts (technology and society); and Stephen Stromberg (elections, the White House, Congress, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care).