Democrats are working very hard to remind voters of the horrors of January 6, 2021. Democracy itself, we are told, was at the brink as outgoing President Donald Trump attempted to steal the election and incite a violent riot on the day the Electoral College certified his defeat. “To borrow from President Franklin Roosevelt, the violent insurrection of January 6 was a day that will forever live in infamy, a permanent stain in the story of American democracy, and the final, bitter, unforgivable act of the worst president in modern times,” Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, declared on the anniversary.
But it’s getting harder to take the party’s grave rhetoric seriously, even as the January 6 hearings deliver ever more damning revelations. The reason? Democratic campaign arms have been aggressively funding incendiary Trump-loyal candidates in a bid to make general elections theoretically easier for Democrats. In the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to elevate a far-right primary challenger to Michigan’s Peter Meijer, one of the few Republicans to vote to impeach Trump a second time. The Democratic Governors Association spent $1.16 million in TV ads reminding GOP voters in Maryland that Dan Cox was Trump-endorsed, guessing correctly that this would get him past a more moderate opponent. Cox, who attended the January 6 rally that preceded the deadly riot, won the Republican primary and advanced to the November general election in a Maryland governor’s race that should deliver a victory to the Democrat, Wes Moore — unless it doesn’t. As Donald Trump proved in 2016, there are no guarantees in American politics.
Theoretically, the Democratic strategy is sound enough. A decade ago, Claire McCaskill, a Democratic senator from Missouri, won reelection against a fringe Republican, Todd Akin, whom she had aided in the primary over more moderate contenders. McCaskill won even as Barack Obama, on the same day, lost the state handily. Since then, Democrats have been hungry to recreate such a victory. In 2022, it just might work: Democrats aided Doug Mastriano, the hard-right Trumpist candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, and he is now down in the polls against the state attorney general, Josh Shapiro. In the Arizona governor’s race, the state Democratic Party has tried to boost Kari Lake, a Republican who believes the 2020 election was stolen and the Democratic front-runner should be locked up. But given how precarious the Democrats’ position in Arizona is — the state’s two Democratic senators won narrowly and the current governor is a Republican — there’s a coin flip’s chance, at least, that Lake is living in the governor’s mansion next year if she makes it through the August primary.
Bolstering big-lie candidates suggests Democrats might not take their January 6 rhetoric as seriously as they want the viewers at home to take it. If these Republicans were the existential threats to American democracy that Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden claimed they were, shouldn’t the goal be to snuff out their campaigns from the beginning? Would the party be taking the risk of installing deranged Trump acolytes as the governors of major states, two of which may decide the 2024 election?
Going forward, Democrats would be wise to meddle less in Republican primaries if only because the future is never so predictable. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was rapturous at the prospect of facing Trump. Professional Democrats everywhere believed the alleged chaos of the 2016 primary would yield a disaster for Republicans in November. Instead, enough swing voters decided they preferred his message to hers. Party regulars — the members of Congress and the Democratic Governors Association, for starters — should figure out whether they actually believe January 6 was the day democracy almost died in the United States. Americans aren’t going to take the message seriously if they see the same party is spending millions to put unhinged Republicans on general-election ballots. Seeing the disjunction, some voters might come to regard the party Establishment as performative and cynical.
Most Americans already care far more about the economy and inflation than whether another Trump aide delivers searing testimony on cable television. Democrats wish it weren’t so. Average voters may care even less when they learn Democrats want election-denying GOP frauds appearing on ballots in November.
Getting enough people to care deeply about the January 6 hearings a year and a half after the actual day of violence is hard enough. A number of Democrats have tried and failed to make 1/6 another 9/11; others have spoken of it as the day fascism nearly overtook the United States. Many of these same liberal politicians are now celebrating Dan Cox’s victory in Maryland or longing for Kari Lake to seize the nomination in Arizona. It’s the sort of hypocrisy that can’t sustain itself.