October 26, 2022 - 7:00am

Democrats are very worried about Arizona. Next month, the swing state will elect a new governor, and it looks increasingly likely that voters will choose Kari Lake — a Trump loyalist and an up-and-coming star of the Republican Party’s MAGA wing. Whatever your opinion of her politics, Lake’s 22 years as a television news anchor have turned her into a charismatic communicator and a compelling politician. Indeed, she has been earmarked for a future White House campaign, either as Trump’s running mate in 2024 or even as a presidential candidate herself.

Democrats contend that if Lake wins, she will imperil the integrity of future presidential elections, given the governor’s role in certifying electoral college votes. While this is true, Democrats should not be allowed to forget that they wanted Lake to be the Republican nominee, believing that her extremism would make her a weak general election candidate. The Arizona Democratic Party went so far as to send out emails in an effort to hurt Lake’s more moderate opponent in the Republican primary. Now, election day is approaching and, to the Democrats’ dismay, Lake is turning out to be a formidable competitor.

The Lake debacle is even more disheartening because it was part of a broader strategy deployed by Democrats. Throughout the primary season, Democrats repeatedly boosted extremist candidates who they thought would be easier to beat. While their support for Lake was limited to emails, they spent millions of dollars on commercials and digital advertising in these other races. In total, Democratic groups spent over $53 million helping 12 Republican extremists — six of whom ended up winning their primaries and will be on the ballot next month. 

Among this cohort are figures even more unsavoury than Lake. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Democrats boosted Doug Mastriano, an avowed Christian nationalist who chartered buses to Washington D.C. on the day of the January 6 Capitol riot. Next door in New Hampshire, they helped out Don Bolduc, the Senate nominee who has spoken of the need for potential military action in the case of another “stolen” election. Perhaps most irksome was the successful Democratic effort to oust Representative Peter Meijer — one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the Capitol attack— from his Michigan seat in favour of his Trump-endorsed opponent. 

It’s not yet clear if the gambit will prove to be successful or if it will backfire. Some of the races look competitive; others not so much. Regardless, voters who care about democratic norms and political accountability are left with a depressing choice: vote for the Republican Party, where a significant portion of members still don’t accept the 2020 election result, or the Democratic Party, an institution willing to roll the dice on American democracy for partisan electoral gain. 

While it may feel like Democrats deserve to learn their lesson by losing the elections where they meddled in Republican primaries, the stakes are too high for that kind of vindictive thinking. This is especially true in the gubernatorial races, where the integrity of the 2024 presidential election is potentially on the line. 

But Democrats can only play these cynical tricks for so long. Eventually, voters will catch on to the hypocrisy of helping extremists win Republican primaries and then calling these same candidates “a threat to democracy” in the general election. If Democrats truly believe radical Republicans are putting democracy in peril, they need to act like it. Otherwise, they’ll expose themselves as being no different from their Republican adversaries: just another group of politicians doing whatever it takes to get hold of power.

Seth Moskowitz is an editor at Persuasion. He blogs at Brain Candy and tweets at @skmoskowitz.