What Will Democrats Say If Their MAGA Candidates Win?

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Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

America is a tinderbox, Donald Trump and his allied political arsonists are on a rampage. And yet, it’s Democrats who keep pouring gasoline on the flames.

That’s my conclusion after watching the spate of election-denying MAGA candidates win Republican primaries, with more than a little help from their frenemies. Indeed, Democrats are spending millions to boost far-right candidates.

Let’s start in my native state of Maryland. On Tuesday, Republicans rejected the moderate two-term Gov. Larry Hogan’s chosen heir apparent, to vote in favor of Trump-backed Dan Cox, a man Hogan describes as a “QAnon whack job.”

After Cox’s victory, Democrats were quick to denounce the GOP, declaring that, “They’ve succumbed to the ultra-ignorant QAnon, MAGA wing of their party.” They have a point. The only problem? Democrats helped build that.

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The Democratic Governors’ Association (DGA) funded an ad that aired during the run-up to the Republican primaries, noting (among other things) that Cox was “100 percent pro-life.” The ad included flattering photos of Cox with his family, and one with him next to a smiling, thumbs-up-giving Donald Trump. The ad concludes with this: “Dan Cox: Too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland.”

You don’t have to be a genius to see the deceptive game Democrats are playing. It’s like running a pro-abstinence TV segment with b-roll of scantily clad hot models and the word “SEXY” flashing on the screen.

This subterfuge wasn’t just some silly web ad, either. According to The New York Times, Democrats “spent more than $1.16 million on TV ads trying to help Dan Cox in the Republican primary for Maryland governor,” while Cox “spent just $21,000 [of his own money] on TV and radio advertising.”

Nor was this just a one-time occurrence. In multiple states, Democrats have meddled in Republican primary races, always on the side of the far-right fringe-y candidate. Their cynical assumption being that the MAGA candidate will be easier to defeat in a general election.

In Arizona, Democrats are helping Trump-backed candidate Kari Lake, by thanking her more mainstream primary opponent for past donations to Democrats.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the DGA spent $35 million on ads to help “a far-right state senator” win Illinois’ Republican gubernatorial primary.

And in Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, spent $840,000 to boost the Trump-endorsed election-denying state Sen. Doug Mastriano. According to Open Secrets, this was “more than double what Mastriano spent on his own ad buys.”

The problem? Mastriano is just 3 points down, according to a recent poll. There’s also the problem that, according to Politico, he has “a real shot at winning.” Still another problem? As The Washington Post notes, “Pennsylvania governors appoint their own secretaries of state, who supervise elections.” What this means is that Democrats have helped make it more likely that a Gov. Mastriano could assist Trump in swinging the Pennsylvania election results.

Again, Democrats are assuming they will easily beat Mastriano (and the other Trump acolytes across the nation). This is quite a high-stakes assumption to make, especially given the apocalyptic terms liberals are wont to use regarding Trumpism and the precarious state of American democracy. Shapiro, for his part, seems to be aware of the high stakes, telling a crowd, “My wife said to me earlier, with a finger poked in my chest, ‘You better win.’

I can only imagine what it will feel like if Democrats wake up with a hangover on Nov. 9, only to discover that one or more of the election-denying Trumpers they elevated has won elected office. How will they explain it to their voters? How will they explain it to their donors? How will they explain it to their grandchildren? How will Shapiro explain it to his wife?

When dealing with something as fragile as liberal democracy, you’d think Democrats might handle it with a bit more care.

This may sound weird (but stick with me)—I’m reminded of Dick Cheney’s “one percent doctrine.” In case you’ve forgotten, Cheney argued that “If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” In other words, the stakes were so high, that a “low-probability, high-impact event” justified a preemptive strike.

Compare that to Democrats’ confounding behavior, in light of the insistence that Donald Trump and the illiberal forces on the right also constitute an existential threat.

Now, I think it is unlikely that these MAGA candidates will, in fact, win. But how unlikely? I mean, down 3 points, Mastriano certainly has more than a 1 percent chance of becoming Pennsylvania's next governor. Let’s say there’s a 40 percent chance he wins. If you really believe candidates like Mastriano pose an existential threat, is that a chance you’re willing to take, just to win an election? Clearly, Democrats have determined it is worth the risk.

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This tactic was used in 2012 by former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who bragged about her strategy to pick her own opponent. It worked for her, but has the potential to backfire. Bigly. Hillary Clinton’s team famously wanted to run against Trump, believing he would be the easiest to beat.

As you may recall, a lot of people gave Trump less than a 1 percent chance of beating Hillary. A couple experts even suggested Trump’s chances of winning were “approaching zero.” More conservative (in the sense of being safe) prognosticators gave him a 29 percent chance of winning. Are we really convinced that the pollsters and the brainiacs in the Democratic Party are dramatically better at making predictions than they were six years ago?

The point is, we don’t always know what the future will hold. Be careful what you wish for.

Republicans deserve the blame for nominating crazy candidates, but we already know that they are dangerous. The real question is, why are the Democrats also playing with fire? And what will they say if their gamble blows up in their faces, again?

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