The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democratic meddling in GOP primaries has reached a new level of absurd

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) speaks during a roundtable on Capitol Hill on Aug 30, 2021. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
4 min

Democrats piously proclaim that they alone are committed to protecting American democracy. So how do they explain the millions of dollars they spent in support of Republicans who spout former president Donald Trump’s election lies?

It’s not unusual for committees affiliated with one party to try to boost candidates in the other party’s primary who would be a weaker nominee in the general election. The template for this gambit was the 2012 Missouri Senate race, in which Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill’s campaign sponsored television ads during the GOP primary “attacking” Rep. Todd Akin for his conservative stances that many Republicans found attractive. Akin won that primary and then famously imploded in the general election. Partisans ever since have tried to fiddle in the other party’s primaries to produce similar outcomes.

But if some extreme candidates threaten our democracy, as many Democrats say about some Republicans running in the midterms, such a tactic can be dangerous. After all, there’s always a possibility that the supposedly unelectable person might win. Why would anyone who genuinely loves democracy take that risk?

Yet Democrats have spent loads of money this campaign cycle to back Trump-endorsed Republican candidates. They promoted Maryland gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox, who attended the Jan. 6, 2021, rally and continues to profess Trump’s specious claims of voter fraud. They also boosted Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, who would be in a position to interfere in the 2024 presidential election if he wins, since he would be able to refuse to certify a slate of Biden electors or falsely proclaim an alternative slate of electors is the correct one. Those real risks to democracy seem not to matter to Democrats more interested in winning an election than protecting freedom.

Their latest foray into this shameful behavior raises some serious red flags. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, is now airing television ads on behalf of John Gibbs, the Trump-endorsed challenger to freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (Mich.). Meijer was one of the 10 courageous Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. One might think that this act would earn Democrats’ applause. Au contraire.

This utterly cynical behavior shows how demagogic Democratic claims to back democracy really are. Far from “defending” democracy, Democrats are using claims that democracy is in peril to try to force moderate voters to support their left-leaning partisan agenda. This allows the self-proclaimed party of democracy to avoid moving to the center to accommodate independents and conservatives disaffected by Trump (the same voters who didn’t trust Trump in 2016 but voted for him anyway because they didn’t agree with Hillary Clinton’s proposals). How does that help democracy?

True friends of democracy would seek to build new alliances that cross old partisan boundaries. That’s what the Hungarian opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orban did recently, forming an alliance of parties ranging from the social democratic left to the nationalist right. Opponents to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are doing the same thing, bringing Kurdish nationalists, conservatives and social democrats together in an attempt to defeat the strongman.

If Democrats really believed democracy was under threat, they would act like these patriots. Instead, they are building walls and playing with fire by openly backing candidates who are willing to violate our election laws.

Georgia’s Republican primary results show what could happen if Democrats stay out of GOP primary battles. Democrats did not get involved in Trump’s challenges to Republicans who stood up to his bullying in 2020, such as Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Independents voted in droves in the GOP primary to back these candidates, showing real commitment to our democratic norms. Trump’s endorsed candidates for statewide office lost, often by huge margins. That’s what a genuine, cross-partisan commitment to democracy looks like.

Republicans such as Meijer are locked in a battle to preserve that commitment nationwide. Friends of democracy should be rooting for them, not undermining them with hypocritical partisan game-playing.