How Democrats used right-wing extremism to their advantage | Midterm elections in the United States
The Democrats took advantage of the Republican primaries to favor the victory of candidates from the radical right, who were then easier to defeat in the midterm elections. This tactic that won them key seats, but at what cost?
Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts Chris Doughty and his wife Leslie during the party's primary election September 6, 2022.
WASHINGTON — Although some midterm election results are still pending, Democrats did much better than expected last Tuesday. And one of the reasons could be a controversial tactic implemented months ago during the Republican primaries, during which activists choose their candidates.
In nine states, Democrats have spent more than $50 million, according to the Washington Post, to promote the election of extremist candidates who they believe are easier to defeat in the general election.
How? By circulating advertisements where they attacked them publicly, thereby giving them more visibility and galvanizing the Republican base around them.
In this way they reinforced the popularity of these radical candidates within their own party… while reducing their chances of being elected in these states considered more moderate.
This Democratic strategy is hypocritical, says David Azerrad, professor of political science at Hillsdale College in Washington, whose research focuses on classical liberalism and conservative political thought.
Because he there is a chance that this candidate will end up being elected, he recalls.
“It means that the party who claims to want to defend democracy against extremism is himself ready to risk putting extremists in power!
—David Azerrad, professor of political science at Hillsdale College
History backs him up, not least because the tactic is nothing new in the United States.
In the 1960s, a Democratic governor of California intervened in the Republican primaries to elect a more extreme opponent, cites as an example Daniel Hopkins, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, specialist in American politics. The name of that candidate: Ronald Reagan.
On Tuesday, the strategy seems to have paid off. The six Republican candidates who were in the crosshairs of the Democrats during the primaries have largely lost their races, according to a compilation by the American channel CNN.
This is the case of Douglas Mastriano, a staunchly anti-abortion candidate who bussed pro-Trump supporters during the Capitol storming and who wanted to become governor in the pivotal state of Pennsylvania. He lost the race by more than 14 points to his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro.
Doug Mastriano is one of the candidates dubbed by Donald Trump.
The same goes for Dan Bolduc, Senate candidate for New Hampshire, who embraces the Big Lie theory regarding the 2020 election. He lost by a large margin to Democrat Maggie Hassan, who was considered vulnerable at the start of the campaign.
There is a significant contradiction here with, on the one hand, Democrats who campaigned on the importance of protecting democracy – which for them meant vote for Democrats — and, on the other hand, those who intervened to promote extremist candidates, observes Mr. Hopkins.
In this election, it seems to have helped the Democrats win a few seats, he adds.
For David Azerrad, such a way of doing things highlights certain contradictions among the Democrats . It seems to me that the Democratic Party is more interested in staying in power and marginalizing the opposition than in saving democracy, analyzes the researcher.
In recent months, the use of this technique has created divisions within the Democratic Party itself, as reported by the Washington Post.
Some felt the strategy was too risky. Others thought that any means was good to avoid the Republicans having a vast majority in Congress.
Predictions predicted a major Republican victory, but this wave did not manifest.
Particularly because dozens of candidates for various positions in the United States did not believe the election results of 2020. And that many of them were going to be elected, anyway, because they were running in red strongholds.
So far, according to a count by the Washington Post, 173 elected Republicans, who are publicly questioning the 2020 results, have won their race nationally.
By contrast, as Mr. Hopkins recalls, the More radical Republicans who have tried their luck in swing states – that is, states that are not committed to either party – have not won their bet so easily.
In any case, the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is not a monolithic bloc, recalls Daniel Hopkins.
Perhaps a few campaign tacticians wanted to use Republican extremism to Democrats' advantage, he acknowledges. At the same time, other Democrats are sincerely alarmed by the possibility that Republican extremism will breach the traditional norms of American democracy.
Reporting produced in the as part of an internship at the Radio-Canada office in Washington, thanks to a scholarship from the Fondation de l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).