Just when I thought American politics couldn’t surprise me anymore, I got a hit of genuine astonishment this week. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises and disperses funds to get Democratic candidates elected to the House of Representatives, is fire-hosing money to back Republican Congressional primary candidates. And not just any Republicans. Trump-supporting Republicans —the more election-denying, border-wall-building, Making-America-Great-Again the better.
Fearing an electoral thrashing in November, Democratic apparatchiks desperately miss the base-energising Orange Man and yearn to make the midterms once more all about Trump. Reasonable, sane opponents glad to move on from The Donald are therefore anathema. It’s presumed that Democrats face better odds running against foam-at-the-mouth Trumpsters. Thus the Dems are trying to skew Republican primaries so that decent, courageously anti-Trump candidates are defeated by throwback nutjobs.
We’re not talking small change, either. In the final days of Michigan’s GOP primary, the DCCC spent $450,000 on advertising to support the MAGA fanatic John Gibbs to crush one of the handful of Republican congressmen who disobeyed their party and voted to impeach Trump. That ad buy cost more than Gibbs raised during his whole campaign. In Colorado, the Dems spent more than $4 million on advertising to back a candidate who attended the Capitol riot on January 6, in order to trounce a more moderate challenger. In Pennsylvania, a single Democratically-funded advert for another election-denying January 6 attendee also cost more than the candidate had raised himself. Dems splashed out $35 million to champion the Illinois gubernatorial candidate whom Trump had personally endorsed.
For a party – my party, however marginally – that never stops fomenting about how American democracy is imperilled, not least by Donald Trump, this behaviour is beyond perverse. Practically, there’s always the danger that these maximally disagreeable Republicans accidentally get elected after all. In principle, shovelling dosh to boost the very worst of your opponents is a grotesque corruption of the electoral process.
If both main parties were to follow this playbook, throwing money at the other party’s candidates whom they most despise – the craziest, dumbest, or least competent politicians the opposition has to offer – the natural end result is that only goofball extremists are nominated to run against other goofball extremists. If the Dems lose the House anyway and end up with a bunch of QAnon crackpots running Congress, they’ll in part have themselves to blame.
To translate this sick party game to the UK, imagine the Labour Party covertly funding a huge ad campaign to get Jacob Rees-Mogg elected to lead the Tories — because he’s just the style of toff that Starmer fancies he can beat in 2024. Or Conservatives financing hoardings all along the M25, emblazoned with “Bring back Jeremy Corbyn!” because Jeremy worked such a treat last time.