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Democrats Think Helping MAGA Candidates Win GOP Primary Elections Is Smart. History Says Otherwise

Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Image: Gage Skidmore.
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Image: Gage Skidmore.

The Democrats have employed an unorthodox strategy during recent GOP primary elections; somewhat counterintuitively, the Democrats have been funding efforts to help extreme, Trump-aligned candidates defeat their more moderate adversaries. The rationale: the extreme, Trump-aligned candidates will be easier for the Democrats to defeat in the general election.

The most recent example of the Democrat’s strategy in action comes from the Maryland gubernatorial race, where Dems backed Dan Cox, a Trump-endorsee. “Trump described his support for the first-term state lawmaker then, and for months to come, as tied to both Cox’s loyalty to his “Make America Great Again” platform and to Trump’s disdain for Hogan, who has routinely criticized the ex-president,” Sam Janesch wrote for The Baltimore Sun.

Cox holds extreme views. He “attended the then-president’s Jan. 6, 2021 rally in Washington before the riot at the U.S. Capitol,” Janesch wrote. “Cox called Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” for not overturning the results, but said he did not go to the Capitol as the event attendees turned violent.” Cox has also cast doubt on the legitimacy of Maryland’s election process and on Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. Yet, Cox won the election, earning 56 percent of the votes, edging out the more moderate Kelly Schulz. Schulz is a former state labor secretary and commerce secretary. She enjoyed the support of sitting Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. plus Maryland’s GOP establishment. Still, she lost. In part, because The Democratic Governors Association “spent more than $1 million running ads touting Cox’s record supporting Trump, abortion restrictions and gun rights,” NPR reported.

“State Republican leaders say the ads were designed to help Cox win Tuesday’s primary, giving Democrats a leg up in November,” NPR reported. The Democrats refute the claim that they boosted Cox’s campaign, however, insisting that the ads are “designed to be attack ads and that they’re starting the general election fight early.”

Republicans are not thrilled about their rival’s election strategy; Republicans understand the harm a candidate like Cox has the capacity to inflict on their party. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford warned that a Dan Cox primary win “would imperil down-ballot Republicans in November.”

Not all Democrats are supportive of the election strategy, either. “What makes this moment unique is that we are in a democratic crisis,” Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson told POLITICO. “You have a situation where there are people running for office who basically don’t believe in the rule of law and don’t believe in democracy, and potentially elevating them into positions of power. The Democratic Party putting people into positions where they may actually get elected and have control over the election system in this country – people who don’t believe in democracy – is a very, very risky strategy. Very dangerous.”

Despite the risks, the Democrats have meddled in GOP primaries around the country – sometimes with concerning results. In Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, Democrats elevated a “MAGA longshot,” Doug Mastriano, who now seems poised to win the general election. Before the Democrats intervened, Mastriano was a “MAGA state senator who worked to overturn the 2020 presidential election,” POLITICO reported. Now, he’s a real contender. “The higher the gas prices go, the more electable Mastriano is,” the chair of the Cambria County Republican Party told POLITICO, “Honestly, I feel this is Mastriano’s campaign to lose.”

Patrick Reis, writing for Rolling Stone, believes Democrats failed to learn their lesson from Donald Trump’s 2016 upset victory.

“It was May 4, 2016 and for a certain set of Washington Democrats and their affiliated intelligentsia, it was a day of smug glee. John Kasich had dropped out of the Republican presidential primary, Ted Cruz had bowed out the night before, and the D.C. intelligentsia knew two things for sure: Donald Trump would be the 2016 GOP nominee, and, because Trump was an extreme and unelectable Republican, Hillary Clinton would be the next president,” Reis wrote. Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan. Now, “in Illinois,” Reis wrote, “Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker ran ads elevating Darren Bailey, a Republican they’re betting is too extreme to win a general election…Sound Familiar?” Bailey is an Illinois State Senator who describes himself as far-right. He has refused to acknowledge Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat.

The Dems are also backing an out-there candidate for the Arizona gubernatorial primary. Kari Lake is another Trump-endorsee who has repeatedly denied Trump’s 2020 election defeat. Lake “has continued to feed into unproven theories about the election,” John L. Dorman wrote for Business Insider.

Despite the shadow-backing of the Democratic party, incumbent Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, a Republican, has blasted Lake for being an extremist. “Kari Lake is misleading voters with no evidence,” Ducey said on CNN’s State of the Union. “She’s been tagged by her opponents with a nickname, ‘Fake Lake,’ which seems to be sticking and actually doing some damage. Ducey is ineligible for reelection this year, having served two terms already, but he does not want Lake to inherit his position.

The Dems don’t want Lake elected either. Hopefully their strategy doesn’t backfire.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.