Democrats helped an election-denying, MAGA candidate win a primary. They better hope it doesn’t come back to bite them
OPINION: The DCCC’s strategy of boosting Republican candidates like John Gibbs in the Michigan primary is nothing new. But in these politically perilous times, that plan could backfire.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Democrats think the best way to keep Congress is not only to run against the most extreme, election-denying, QAnon conspiracy-theory peddling, Trump-blessed candidates, but also to promote those candidates in Republican primaries and send them to the general election in November. Maybe that’s a great strategy if the Democrat wins, but can you guarantee that? What if the MAGA candidate wins instead? Now what do you do?
Democratic strategists had their dreams come true this week in Michigan, where John Gibbs—a Black Republican and former Trump official who thinks the 2020 election was “rigged” and stolen from Trump because of “massive voter fraud”—beat incumbent Rep. Peter Meijer in the GOP primary race for the 3rd Congressional District. Meijer, an Iraq War vet whose family is a big name in Michigan, was one of only 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump.
Gibbs—who touted Trump’s support for his candidacy and thanked the former president and his former boss Ben Carson—will face Democratic nominee and immigration attorney Hillary Scholten in November. The pro-insurrectionist Black Republican believes in an America First policy, wants an audit of the 2020 election, opposes abortion and environmental regulation, and supports nationwide permitless concealed carry of firearms “at the bare minimum.”
The race in the newly redistricted seat is expected to be close, with the Cook Political Report now saying the competitive race “leans Democratic.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)—the organization the helps Democrats get elected to the House of Representatives—has come under fire for putting its thumb on the scale and helping Gibbs win. Specifically, the Dems spent $435,000 in ads saying Gibbs is “too conservative for West Michigan” and “handpicked by Trump.” In a general election, that type of messaging makes sense if Democrats want to paint their Republican opponent as extreme. However, these DCCC ads aired during the Michigan GOP primary. And the ads apparently helped influence GOP primary voters, who want a right-wing election denier like John Gibbs.
But what happens if all of this blows up in the Democrats’ faces, and Gibbs wins the seat on Election Day?
Speaking on CNN’s New Day, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a Republican on the Jan. 6 committee investigating the insurrection, blamed Democrats for Meijer’s defeat. “I mean, the DCCC needs to be ashamed of themselves,” Kinzinger said.
“If Peter’s opponent wins and goes on in November to win, the Democrats own that. Congratulations,” he added. “Here’s the thing, don’t keep coming to me asking where are all the good Republicans that defend democracy and then take your donors’ money to spend half a million dollars promoting one of the worst election deniers that’s out there.”
The logic behind what the DCCC did in Michigan’s 3rd District—meddling in your opponent’s primary and doing what you must do to get elected—is not a new strategy limited to this race. After all, Democrats used this strategy in this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary races in Illinois and Maryland. And the tactic is not limited to Democrats.
Similarly, Republican megadonors have intervened in Democratic primaries in deep blue congressional districts, funneling millions through AIPAC—the pro-Israel lobbying group—to stop progressive incumbents and hopefuls in their tracks and elect more moderate candidates. This tactic worked in defeating Nina Turner in Ohio, former Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and Congressman Andy Levin in Michigan. But the GOP billionaires failed to stop Summer Lee in Pennsylvania and Detroit Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
However, Democrats are playing with a particular type of fire when they fund MAGA election deniers. Ultimately, if Gibbs wins, that means Democrats helped expand the QAnon insurrectionist caucus in Congress. And more importantly, these Trumpian Republicans are not your traditional politicians who play by the rules and believe in democracy, civil rights, the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power. They believe in power for power’s sake, and will kill to take power. That’s why they want all those guns. And as fascists do, once they get the power, they will keep it and they will not give it up.
In these politically volatile times, Republican voters are highly unpredictable. For example, look at the defeat of the anti-abortion ballot measure in the red state of Kansas. Democrats who assume Gibbs is unelectable and too extreme to win in Michigan should remember that Donald Trump was considered a joke at the start of the 2016 Republican primary contests. Trump was a source of entertainment and clicks for the news media, who assumed Jeb Bush would win the GOP nomination. And we know how that turned out.
If Democrats want to win the midterms, they would be better suited to working on their messaging—an eternal Democratic weakness. With the Republican assault on abortion rights, voting rights, multiracial democracy and so much more, the Democratic Party has a unique opportunity to make the case that the GOP is an existential threat to the people—because they are. If Democrats have so much money to spend on Republican opponents, certainly they have the resources to hire communications staff and mobilize voters through effective media messaging. Consider what Mothers Against Greg Abbott is doing with its viral social media ads.
In the meantime, when Democrats prop up MAGA Republicans to win elections, they risk overplaying their hand and playing themselves in the process.
David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.
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