Over the past year, Democrats have presented an oft-criticized strategy for dealing with the few Republican candidates willing to stand up to Donald Trump: They have tried to defeat them.
In gubernatorial, Senate and House primaries across the country, Democratic campaign committees have poured in millions to boost pro-Trump candidates and defeat less extreme Republicans. The logic was clear: More radical, MAGA-obsessed GOP candidates would be easier for Democrats to defeat in November.
Electing any Republican, even those not completely indoctrinated in pro-MAGA thinking, risks jeopardizing American democracy.
But some pundits and even some Democratic politicians have taken the party leadership to task for what, at first glance, might seem like a cynical move. Democrats “or their political advisers,” Amy Davidson Sorkin wrote in the New Yorker last August, “have perhaps become too engrossed in the idea of their own intelligence or tenacity” to acknowledge that they “were immersing themselves more deep in madness” by reviving the candidacies of pro-Trump Republicans. “It’s dishonorable, and it’s dangerous, and it’s just plain wrong,” Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips said, risking putting people in Congress who would undermine the country’s Democratic guardrails.
Last week, however, Congressional Republicans proved that, from a good governance standpoint, the Democrats were justified in their political strategy. And the country has received another unfortunate reminder that the modern Republican Party cannot be trusted to protect American democracy.
On Wednesday, the House voted on the presidential election reform law. The bill would protect America’s elections from the kind of machinations that endangered our electoral process just two years ago, such as making it harder for state lawmakers to overturn election results and clarifying that the vice- president plays only a ministerial role in counting the electoral votes.
All Democrats backed the legislation, but only nine Republicans joined them. All of the holdout Republicans, including co-sponsor Liz Cheney, either retire or, like Cheney, lost their party’s nomination to a pro-Trump Republican. Eight of the nine voted to impeach President Trump in January 2021, and all nine have publicly acknowledged that Trump lost the 2020 election.
This contingent — along with a handful of others — was seen as the few bulwarks within the GOP ready to stand up and fight for basic democratic standards. But last week’s vote confirms that electing any Republican, even those not thoroughly indoctrinated in pro-MAGA thinking, risks jeopardizing American democracy.
Take, for example, Representative Peter Meijer, who voted for the legislation and in January 2021 voted to impeach Trump. Earlier this year, Democrats helped defeat him in a primary against MAGA (and Trump endorsed) Republican John Gibbs. So far, in purely political terms, the Democrats’ strategic analysis that Gibbs would be easier to defeat seems correct. After the primary, the Cook Political Report raised its rating of the race from “throw up” to “lean Democrat.”
Whatever sane GOP members remain, they are an endangered species, overwhelmingly shunned by their fellow Republicans.
But aside from the immediate political ramifications — and Meijer’s past acts of political courage — his re-election would have brought Republicans closer to a majority in the House. He almost certainly would have voted to make House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy or another Republican leader the next House speaker. It would be the same McCarthy and the same Republican leadership, which whipped its members to vote against the Electoral Reform Act. Two hundred and three House Republicans took that advice and refused to support a set of basic electoral reforms that will ensure that the votes of the American electorate will be counted in future elections.
A few apostates like Meijer do not change the fundamental fact that the House GOP has little interest in safeguarding American democracy. Meijer, if he had won, he would have simply become another facilitator of the GOP’s anti-democracy caucus.
Arguments criticizing Democrats for working against sometimes pro-democracy Republicans were based on a flawed premise: that there is a sane and reasonable wing of the modern Republican Party. Whatever sane GOP members remain — especially after this year’s major challenges against them — are an endangered species, overwhelmingly shunned by their fellow Republicans. Moreover, they are members of a party that is fundamentally irredeemable and – with the notable exception of Cheney and possibly retired Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger – are more than willing to allow its hardline majority.
Democrats may have partisan, even cynical reasons for wanting to defeat House Republicans, but can anyone really say that from a pro-democracy perspective they are wrong? Is American democracy better off with a Democratic majority in the House or a Republican majority with a handful of reasonable Republicans?
Even in gubernatorial races, the Democratic strategy is defensible. In Arizona, Democrats worked to undermine Republican candidate Karrin Taylor Robson to boost eventual primary winner Kari Lake, who unequivocally declared Trump won the 2020 election. If Lake wins, that’s a (small “d”) democratic disaster for the state, but given that Robson has refused to publicly say that Biden has won the election, how much confidence can a voter have that she would stand up to pro votes? -MAGA in her party?
There could be real political differences on issues like abortion and immigration that could warrant a vote for a Republican candidate this fall. But if one cares about democracy, free elections, and the will of the American voter being respected in 2024, the choice facing voters this fall is clear: a vote for Republican candidates – any Republican candidate – cannot be defended.
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