Dems make risky bets on Trump Republicans
Will it get their guys elected? Or will Democrats have personally helped send some of the most extreme, anti-Democratic and dangerous candidates into elected office?
If you gave money to the House Majority PAC, associated with Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, you probably didn’t intend for it to help back a far-right Trump defender in California’s 22nd district, who believes Trump would still be president if the 2020 votes had been “properly counted.”
Or to another California Republican candidate in California’s 40th district who trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes while running for the House of Representatives there.
But Democratic PACs, the Democratic Party and fundraising outfits all over the country — from California to Colorado, Pennsylvania to Illinois — are putting Democratic dollars behind far-right Republican candidates in hopes that they’ll beat their more moderate Republican counterparts in the primaries.
It’s a big gamble predicated on the somewhat smug and downright amnestic belief that voters couldn’t possibly support an extremist, racist, conspiratorial or inexperienced candidate — in other words, Trumpy — in a general election. It was the same calculation Hillary Clinton made in 2016, assuming that elevating someone as “unlikely” and offensive as Trump in the Republican primary would make a general election a cakewalk.
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I’ve said for a long time that many in the media took the same approach. The over-coverage of Trump wasn’t just because he was, at best, entertaining, or, at worst, truly newsworthy for his impolitic and unorthodox campaign, but because there was this underlying assumption that the more we exposed, the worse he would perform.
We know how that turned out. So, we’ve all learned our lesson, right? Obviously not.
The Democrats have spent millions in ad buys pushing far-right candidates.
Their biggest gamble so far is on Doug Mastriano, the Trump-supporting Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania.
In his primary against former Rep. Lou Barletta, the Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro ran ads tying Mastriano to Trump, calling him “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters,” and insisting, “If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.” It was a clear effort to elevate Mastriano and get “ultra-MAGA” voters out to the polls. And it worked.
And it’s a strategy Shapiro defends. When asked by CNN if it was “irresponsible,” he said, “What we did was start the general election campaign and demonstrate the clear contrast...”
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Democrats better hope it works. If Mastriano defies their calculation that Pennsylvania couldn’t possibly elect him governor, the detritus will be considerable.
Among other things, Mastriano is calling for wiping the state’s voter rolls clean and appointing a secretary of state who could refuse to certify elections. Yikes.
Elsewhere, the Dem plan is working … for now. In Illinois, a PAC backing Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is spending millions pushing far-right state Sen. Darren Bailey over the more moderate Richard Irvin. Bailey currently leads that primary by 15 points.
In Colorado, Democrats are pushing Ron Hanks, who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, over Joe O’Dea in that state’s Senate primary, in hopes Hanks will face Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Hanks is now trending up in Google searches and social media sentiments.
But in two California districts, the Democrats’ efforts — and ad buys — were wasted.
In the state’s 22nd district, the more moderate Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump, defeated Chris Mathys. And in the 40th, the more moderate Young Kim beat Greg Raths.
One hopes Democrats are looking at their maps very carefully as they venture down this fraught road.
One map, from Daily Kos, may be particularly instructive. It shows which districts in every state have gotten redder or bluer between 2008 and 2020.
You’d assume that Dems have spent money elevating far-right candidates in districts and states that have gotten bluer in recent years. But the numbers are mixed. CA 22, for example, has gotten bluer, while CA 40 has gotten redder.
In Colorado, five districts have gotten bluer while two have gotten redder.
In Pennsylvania, a whopping 13 districts have gotten redder, compared to five that have gotten bluer, perhaps good news for Mastriano.
And in Illinois, 12 districts have gotten redder, while only six have gotten bluer.
So much, of course, depends on the population of those districts, but it’s not clear that Democrats have grasped the deep reddening of certain pockets of the country.
It also seems risky considering a slew of Trumpy, extremist, “fringe” candidates have been elected in recent years, and to terrible effect. From Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, to Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, to North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn (recently ousted), there’s living proof that offensive is no longer disqualifying.
It’s a roll of the dice, with huge implications. Will it get their guys elected? Or will Democrats have personally helped send some of the most extreme, anti-Democratic and dangerous candidates into elected office, and positions where they wield immense power?TBD.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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