Election 2022

Why Do Democrats Keep Backing the Trumpiest Candidate?

In Maryland, the Democratic Governors Association spent more than seven figures boosting the same candidate favored by former President Trump.


Yesterday was Maryland's primary election day. The winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary was supported by both former President Donald Trump and the Democratic Governors Association. Why is that?

For not the first time this election season, Democrats decided to put their collective thumbs on the scale to encourage Republican voters to pick the most extreme candidate. They believe that having Democrats tilt GOP primaries toward bad candidates will ultimately help Democratic candidates once general elections roll around.

Democrats may be right about this, but they are playing with fire by undermining good Republican candidates.

Despite overwhelming popularity, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan is term-limited and unable to run again. A moderate Republican in a largely Democratic-leaning state, Hogan endorsed Kelly Schulz, another moderate Republican and the former head of the state's respective labor and commerce departments. But on election night, Schulz was defeated soundly by Maryland Delegate Dan Cox, who was endorsed by Trump (he called Cox "MAGA all the way") and the Democratic Governors Association (DGA).

In Pennsylvania, Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro ran ads boosting Republican candidate Doug Mastriano, a state senator who insists the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Mastriano ultimately won the nomination, and now has a fighting chance of winning not just the governorship, but the power to hand-pick a secretary of state who may throw the 2024 election into chaos.

Backing extreme Republicans doesn't just carry a potential future cost, it's expensive in the moment. Earlier this month, the DGA spent $1.2 million on an ad targeting Cox, more than twice what Cox had raised to that point. The ad highlighted Trump's endorsement, and claimed Cox was "fighting to end abortion in Maryland" and "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."

While likely horrifying Democrats, the ad goosed Cox's prospects among Republicans: He ultimately beat Schulz by more than 15 percentage points. Like Mastriano, Cox participated in the January 6 Capitol riot, busing people to Washington ahead of time and tweeting "[Vice President Mike] Pence is a traitor" after protesters had already breached the building.

Compared to Schulz, Democrats clearly see Cox as an easier opponent in the general election. They may be right: As opposed to the swing state of Pennsylvania, Maryland leans Democratic by 26 points over the national average. But in an election year expected to be highly favorable to Republicans, it's worth wondering why Democrats would elevate a candidate that other Maryland Republicans call "unstable," "unfit for office," and "a Q-anon whack job."