Tuesday, October 04, 2022


It's the first week in October, the primaries have been over for weeks, but bien-pensant pundits are still wringing their hands over one particular Democratic primary tactic:

The tweet above links to Hamilton Nolan's Guardian op-ed on this practice, which Nolan regards as unspeakably heinous:
... Democrats across the country spent millions of dollars to boost the candidacies of right-wing Maga candidates in the Republican primaries, on the theory that those extremists would be easier to defeat in the general election.
So far, that appear to be more than a theory. In the Pennsylvania governor's race, Doug Mastriano is trailing by double digits. So are gubernatorial candidates Darren Bailey in Illinois and Dan Cox in Maryland. (Cox trailed in the most recent poll by 32 points.) In the New Hampshire Senate race, where Republicans once hoped to pick up a seat, Don Bolduc is trailing by nearly 9 points.

But this, Nolan tells us, is precisely the wrong lens through which to look at this.
The Democratic strategists who engineered this will say: “They won’t win, so the strategy was sound.” And that is where their blinkered view of the nature of politics begins to show its true futility.

Because – my god, it’s hard to believe – politics is more than the next election. Yes! Time marches on endlessly into the future! And the things that we do today help to shape the things that happen next in an infinite and largely unpredictable chain of cause and effect! It’s crazy, I know.
Nolan claims that the future is impossible to predict, and then confidently predicts it.
It is now accepted as conventional wisdom, for example, that perhaps it was not strategically wise for the United States to arm mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan fighting the USSR in the 80s, because later on some of those same people with those same weapons were fighting the US.

But this same sort of elementary insight has not permeated the Democratic consulting world. If you help to make the Maga candidates stronger today, it is possible that that will have negative social and political consequences even if they do not win the election in November 2022.
Nolan says it's possible that aiding these Republican extremists will help them in the future, but he seems to be suggesting that it's certain that it will help them in the future -- or at least that there isn't a very good chance that it will weaken them.

His Afghanistan analogy is, to put it mildly, flawed. We gave weapons to the mujahideen. You can reuse weapons. You can't reuse a primary campaign ad that was paid for by the other party and aired during the primary campaign only. Democrats aren't arming these extreme candidates. Democrats are drawing them out of their cozy bubble, where they're now vulnerable to the opinions of voters who aren't batshit-crazy right-wingers. These candidates are used to fighting from trenches, and we've drawn them out of the trench. They're exposed now.

Nolan writes:
... it is dumb to dedicate resources to making Maga Republicans more visible and viable within their own party.
If they lose elections that their party could have won, how does that make them more viable?

What does Nolan want Democrats to do? Allow him to explain:
Imagine for a moment the possibility that the goal of “politics” is not just winning the next election, but rather reshaping the deepest power arrangements of the world in a more just way. In this conception of politics, the important thing is not just bringing along a handful of high officials in order to engineer a 51% voting majority in Congress, but rather evolving the views of hundreds of millions of people in a way that will bring the officials along with them....

The consultants ... are not clever enough to predict the chaotic long-run effects of fueling a movement that is the opposite of the movement we should be trying to build.
If I understand Nolan correctly, he believes it's up to Democrats to make Republican voters part of a broad-based movement for progressive social change -- at a time when the vast majority of Republican voters hate democracy, hate non-white people, hate gay and trans people, and would follow fascist wannabes like Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Tucker Carlson to the gates of hell if they thought the journey would own the libs.
The historic figures who have done the most to promote justice did not do it by deviously clever manipulations of voter data. They did it by fighting for stuff that was right. Spending money to try to dupe hapless Republican voters into backing the goofiest fascist is not just stupid; it goes against justice. Tricking people is not part of organizing.

These sophisticated Democratic strategists are pouring poison into the well that we all, sooner or later, will have to drink from.
I have news for Nolan: That well was extremely toxic before Democrats spent a dime on this strategy. If they hadn't done this, there'd still be democracy-poisoners running all over the country -- Kari Lake, J.D. Vance, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz -- and many of them would win. It's good that a few of their ideological allies are likely to get a punch in the nose, if only to remind the media that this ideas don't play well nationwide and Real Americans aren't all sitting in diners wearing red MAGA caps.

The Democratic Party's own candidates actually are "fighting for stuff that [is] right." But they can do that a lot more easily if they win elections. And they can discredit right-wing extremism more easily if right-wing extremism goes down to a lot of bruising defeats.

No comments: