The Democrats Made Them Do It?
Republicans are angry that their voters keep choosing crazy, illiberal candidates.
We’ve talked about the idea of “boosting” candidates before. To recap:
Politicians often try to pick their opponents.
Sometimes they attempt to put a thumb on the scale; sometimes they try to drop an anvil on it.
Some attempts to boost a candidate from the opposing party are efficacious. Some are not.
The ur-example of boosting is Claire McCaskill 2012, where her campaign identified Todd Akin from a crowded field early on, ran ads pushing him all throughout the primaries, did research on how to help him, and even offered strategic insights directly to the Akin campaign.
That’s the anvil approach. Without McCaskill quarterbacking his campaign, Todd Akin would have finished with maybe 10 percent in his 2012 primary.
This week you are seeing all sorts of chatter about how Democrats are responsible for crazy Republicans winning primaries across the country.
Is that true? No.
Let’s start with the following:
Doing anything to help an illiberal candidate is bad. It’s immoral to give aid to someone you believe is dangerous. It’s unpatriotic to elevate someone who would be bad for the country. It’s unwise to spend resources you might need in the closing weeks of the race.
If I was running a D campaign and my opponent was either going to be a Larry Hogan clone or an insurrectionist, there’s no way I’d help the insurrectionist.
If I was a D voter with the opportunity to crossover and vote in the R primary (and the D race was not competitive), I’d have something close to a moral duty to vote for the Hogan clone in the R primary.1
Even if you are the biggest Democratic partisan in the world, you should prefer slightly worse odds against a Good Republican™ when the alternative is an openly illiberal Republican.
Okay. With all of that out of the way: What’s with the “Democrats are making Republicans nominate dangerous candidates with all of their ads!”
We saw this with Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania:
And now we’re seeing it with Dan Cox in Maryland:
I won’t bother linking to the tweets. You’ll have to take my word that this is a line of argument that a certain species of Republican is very interested in.
But there are a few problems with it.
(1) In general, we’re seeing similar results in most R primaries, whether or not Dems have “meddled.”
In Massachusetts, Republicans pushed aside one of the most popular governors in America so that they could go ultra-MAGA. The Democrats weren’t running any boosting ads. In Wyoming, Republicans are going to kick Liz Cheney to the curb even as Democrats rally to try and support her. Look across the map and the two spots where normie Republicans have whipped MAGA are Colorado and Georgia. But those are the outliers.
In general, we’re seeing the same results in state after state, regardless of whether or not Democrats boost bad-guy candidates.
(2) In the specific cases of Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Democratic boosting does not seem to have made a significant difference.
I showed my work on the Mastriano race here. Recap: Dems spent very little money and spent it very late; Mastriano was endorsed by Trump; Mastriano had already separated himself from the pack by the time the Ds got into the race; the only real alternative was also MAGA-friendly.
Except for the MAGA-friendly alternative part, most of that holds true for Dan Cox’s victory last night in the Maryland gubernatorial primary.
The DGA spent relatively little money boosting Cox—only about $1.2 million.
Cox was endorsed by the most important Republican in America: Donald Trump.
Cox already had a healthy lead in polling.
Cox seems to have won by a significant margin.
Dan Cox didn’t win because the DGA put him over the top. He won because Maryland Republicans preferred him.
(3) Republican voters have agency.
Ad spending does not create electoral success. Ask Jeb Bush, Jon Huntsman, Steve Forbes, David McCormick, et al. That’s because voters have agency. They find candidates they like.
There is a certain threshold for viability that needs to be crossed in politics: You need enough money so that voters know who you are and what you’re selling. But once you cross that line, the marginal utility of each dollar declines. Making the sale is in the hands of the candidate and the voters.
What’s important to understand about the boosting Dems did for Mastriano and Cox is that they weren’t hiding the football and making the candidates out to be more acceptable than they are. They were highlighting how deplorable the candidates were.
Here’s the Shapiro ad that was “boosting” Mastriano:
And here’s the text, minus the creepy, crisis music:
This is Republican state senator Doug Mastriano. He's the Republican who's ahead in the polls for governor. He wants to outlaw abortion. It's Mastriano who wrote the heartbeat bill in Pennsylvania and he's one of Donald Trump's strongest supporters. He wants to end vote by mail and he led the fight to audit the 2020 election. If Mastriano wins, it's a win for what Donald Trump stands for. Is that what we want in Pennsylvania?
Now here’s the DGA ad “boosting” Cox:
And again, the text minus the foreboding music:
Meet Dan Cox, Donald Trump's handpicked candidate for Maryland governor. Cox worked with Trump trying to prove the last election was a fraud. 100% pro life, he's fighting to end abortion in Maryland and Cox will protect the Second Amendment at all costs, refusing to support any federal restrictions on guns. Even pushing to put armed guards in every school. Dan Cox: Too close to Trump; too conservative for Maryland.
Let’s pretend that you make Coxonium and this product is poison.
I decide to run ads promoting Coxonium that say,
Coxonium is good for your health! Tastes great, goes down smooth, and cures whatever ails you!
If people buy Coxonium, maybe that is my fault? I have lied to them about Coxonium and what it does. Sure, maybe they should have done their own research. Not relied on a single ad. Checked the news to see if anyone had died from Coxonium. But whatever. I’ve still got some culpability. I was selling people a bill of goods.
But what if I run Coxonium ads like this:
Coxonium is poison. Real, genuine poison. If you take it, you will probably die. Do not buy Coxonium because it will kill you.
And what if people who see this ad say, “Well shit, Lurleen. I been fixin’ to git myselfs some poison and damned if that Coxonium don’t look like the finest poison there is. Let’s buy it!”
Is that really on me and the ad?
Because it seems to me like the culpability lies with the guy who loves poison and can’t wait to buy it, even after being told what it does.
Here is the real reason Republican elites and members of Conservatism Inc. are so wrapped around the axle about Democrats boosting their crazy candidates:
They need to blame someone for the outcomes they don’t like. But they can’t blame Republican voters.
Because if you acknowledge that we are living in a moment where some very large portion of Republican voters are illiberal, then you are forced into some uncomfortable choices. You can either:
Make your own accommodation with illiberalism; or
Start supporting Democrats, however imperfect they may be.
You can, perhaps, understand why this choice so vexes many people who have the Republican party and/or Conservatism deeply entrenched in their personal identity.
For them, it’s easier to throw their hands in the air and insist that real Republicans aren’t as bad as Mastriano and Cox—it’s just that the Democrats made them do it.
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The All-Star Game is wonderful because it lets you see that, at heart, the players and coaches are just like us: They’re fans, too.
Giancarlo Stanton grew up in SoCal. He was a Dodgers fan. He went to a lot of games and mostly sat in left field. Last night he hit a two-run homer to left, about where he sat as a teenager. At the end of the game, he was named MVP.
The kid becomes a fan, who becomes a player, who turns other kids into fans.
It’s the circle of baseball life.
Before the game started, the players came out of the dugout and Mookie Betts led the crowd in wishing happy birthday to Rachel Robinson, who turned 100 yesterday. It was absolutely electric and when you caught the players faces close-up, every one of them realized how special the moment was.
Mookie Betts gets it. All of it.
This razzle-dazzle double-play is one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen and it happened because Andrés Jiménez wanted to show off for the fellas and make them smile.
Finally, there was Alek Manoah, who pitched the second inning mic-ed up so he could talk to Joe Davis and John Smoltz throughout the inning. It was hilarious.
I’ve got the video for the entire thing for you, but the best part comes when Manoah is up 0-2 on Jeff McNeil and he asks Smoltz to call his next pitch for him. Smoltz calls for a slider, back foot. And Manoah goes so deep to the back foot that he hits McNeil—and immediately blames Smoltz for it.
I nearly fell off the couch laughing.
No matter how hard MLB tries to screw up this game, they just can’t do it. Baseball is too good.
3. Library Envy
You’re going to want to click on this Twitter thread. After scrolling through it, you’ll either need a cold shower or a cigarette.
And I don’t even like Saint Larry!