Democratic Ratfucking Worked

Boosting weak candidates in the Republican primaries paid off.

Two months ago, in my post “Democrats Funding MAGA Primary Candidates,” I questioned the practice of the party pouring millions into boosting election deniers and crazies in Republican primaries, noting that I found it not only “odious and undemocratic” but a tactic that risked backfiring.

HuffPo’s Kevin Robillard reports that it did not.

On election night, those risky bets paid off. All six of the election-denying candidates on the ballot whom Democrats boosted ― three gubernatorial candidates, two House candidates and a Senate candidate ― lost, most of them resoundingly.

The strategy was met with scorn and incredulity from “never Trump” Republicans. Other Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum said the strategy was unwise, immoral or both. Thirty-five former Democratic elected officials signed a letter suggesting the party was playing with fire.

“Our democracy is fragile, therefore we cannot tolerate political parties attempting to prop up candidates whose message is to erode our dedication to fair elections,” the officials wrote in August.


Illinois Gov. J.B. Prtizker, a billionaire businessman, was the first to deploy the strategy, pouring tens of millions of dollars of his own money into the Democratic Governors’ Association, which aired ads boosting ultra-conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey in the primary. As of midnight on Tuesday, Prtizker was winning his race by roughly 14 percentage points.

Democrats used similar tactics to ensure Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and Maryland state Del. Dan Cox would win gubernatorial primaries they were likely to win anyway. Both ultra-conservative candidates ran nearly nonexistent general election campaigns, and Democrats romped in the two mid-Atlantic states.


The most important involvement may have been in the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire. After establishment Republicans began airing ads attacking retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, the main Democratic super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, began airing ads designed to boost him and attack Republican Chuck Morse.

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan was considered vulnerable in the Granite State, but after hammering Bolduc for a variety of extreme comments and positions on everything from abortion rights to the FBI to the opioid epidemic, she ultimately cruised to an 11-point victory, a margin better than President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win over Trump.


Finally, Democrats worked to get weaker candidates in two House seats. They pushed Bob Burns in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers the state’s western half and is the more Democratic of the two congressional districts. Rep. Annie Kuster ended up romping, with a 16-percentage-point lead as of 2 a.m. EST Wednesday.

The final district where Democrats interfered may have seen the most hubbub. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), a military veteran and heir to a grocery store fortune who represented a district based around Grand Rapids, had become a darling of “never Trump” Republicans after supporting Trump’s impeachment. Democrats boosted his opponent, John Gibbs, with ads in the primary, spending more on the spots than Gibbs had managed to raise himself.

On Wednesday morning, The Associated Press called the district for Democrat Hillary Scholten.

Granted, we’re talking only six contests, two of which may well have gone the same way without Democratic interference. Still, that it not only didn’t backfire but could conceivably make the difference in retaining the Senate, makes it more likely to be a more common practice in future elections.

FILED UNDER: 2022 Election, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    I questioned the practice of the party pouring millions into boosting election deniers and crazies in Republican primaries, noting that I found it not only “odious and undemocratic” but a tactic that risked backfiring.

    As has been pointed out numerous times, the Democrat ads “boosting election deniers” were all in the form of “don’t vote for X because they’re an extremist” and based on the Premise that Democrats are the ones responsible if Republican primary voters go “oh yeah, I love extremists”.

    It’s Buc’s Law and the fact this is the dominant media narrative despite being a lie is a perfect example of how the mainstream media bends over backwards to legitimize Republican propaganda.

  2. Kathy says:

    One can argue that reasonable, never-trump, rational Republicans in office favor the Democratic party as governance goes.

    One cannot argue that Democrats in office favor the Democratic party more as governance goes.

  3. inhumans99 says:

    I love how you put up posts knowing you are going to get a lot of pushback from the regulars, but your skin is as thick as most of ours (if not thicker), and not as thin as Trump’s, which is part of the reason why I love this blog. Without revisiting your first post on this subject, I believe a few folks pretty much shrugged their shoulders when you pointed out how uncomfortable the Democratic parties actions were in regard to these races, as it has been clear that Republican’s seem to have mastered the art of ratfricking (as an aside, the word itself is so odious and crude, not a fan) so it was hard to clutch pearls at the notion that a handful of Democrats thought they should try their hand at it.

    At times I really do believe that the GOP thinks that most of us liberals are a bunch of stoned out of our gourds hippies that spend all day starring into the sky going the colors, whoa dude, those clouds are so rad man, instead of realizing that liberals have been taking some notes and learning from the GOP on what tactics might work to help defeat our opponents.

    It sucks that the state of our Polity is such that we are learning how to implement and embrace the more questionable tactics used by a good chunk of the GOP to stay in power, but the GOP has no one to blame but themselves for why many members of the Democratic Parts felt they had to go down this path.

    Another lesson we learned is that when your enemy hands you a wedge issue, use this issue as often as you can to get your preferred results in an election. I suspect a lot of Republicans were kind-of rolling their eyes at us when many liberals, and even some Republican’s cringed at the actions of the Supreme Court and felt it was an over-reach on their part as the courts had finally handed Democrats a good old fashioned “wedge” issue that could hurt the GOP in November.

    Look, the GOP was warned this could hurt them at the polls, and since it was better for my mental health to have not strayed too deep into paying attention to who was expected to win their race in each state, and what issues were likely to be impacted by being on the ballot, it is a bit of an eye-opening surprise to me (and especially many in the GOP, particularly this morning) to learn that abortion was what, right above or right below inflation when it came to issues Americans were concerned about. Yeah, abortion helped get people to the ballot box.

    Also, the court’s abortion decision is a hard bell to unring and may hurt the GOP for quite some time, but some states (even purple ones that lean more Republican than Democratic party, but Kansas was among the list of states, so even hardcore “Red” states) have tried to mitigate the damage done by the Supreme Court on the issue of abortion by putting variants of California’s reproductive rights act on their ballot and lo and behold, most if not all of those acts passed. The GOP should learn from this big-time, but I am not holding my breath.

    At least impending Fascism or a Fascist lite government in America was held at bay for at least another 2 years, which is a win that I can happily take even if this win has a ticking clock on it.

    Sorry for the tangents in this post, once I got started I could not stop spewing out word, lol.

  4. DK says:

    Student loan relief also worked.

    The entire ‘liberal media’ (lololololololollolol) commentariat insisted student debt relief was a political loser. Actual polling on student debt relief indicated the opposite. They didn’t care. The right wing narrative must be promulgated no matter what.

    The pundit class isn’t liberal. Just stooges and dupes, epically wrong and out-of-touch with the electorate.

  5. drj says:

    Ratfucking = dirty tricks.

    None of that happened.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:


    At times I really do believe that the GOP thinks that most of us liberals are a bunch of stoned out of our gourds hippies that spend all day starring into the sky going the colors, whoa dude, those clouds are so rad man, instead of realizing that liberals have been taking some notes and learning from the GOP on what tactics might work to help defeat our opponents.

    In order to level the playing field, I encourage Republican candidates and committees to steal the Democrats’ tactic of nominating sane people who want to govern.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    I’m with those who say what the Dems did isn’t rat-fucking. What they said about the candidates was true and accurate and represented exactly what they thought. Yes, they realized that would affect trumpers in a certain way, and they gambled there wasn’t enough non-loony Republican primary voters that actually agreed with the message To offset that. So this wasn’t rat-fucking, but rather a judo throw where you turn your opponents weight against them when they attack you.

  8. Gustopher says:

    Given how lock-step the Republicans vote, what is the risk of pushing for an opposing candidate who is more colorful and openly insane?

  9. Beth says:

    Also worth noting, the Pritzker/Bailey contest was a proxy battle between Pritzker and billionaire butthole Ken Griffen. Griffen backed a different Republican and Pritzker jammed it to him bad.

    I hope Griffen suffers in FL.

  10. Scott F. says:

    In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

    First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice…”

    MLK’s thinking applies here. The great stumbling block in our stride for a robust democracy in the US is not the Trump QAnon election denier or the white supremacists on the right, but the so-called decent Republicans who say mostly the right things, but lack the courage to clap back at the GOP base or vote out of sync with the whole of Republican congress-critters.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: This actually got very little media play outside of niche sources aimed at junkies.

    @Stormy Dragon: @drj: @MarkedMan: I don’t hold Republican base voters who vote for nuts blameless by any means but, in most cases, it’s simply a plurality vote. I would agree that being truthful with ill intent is different from lying with ill intent but it doesn’t obscure the ill intent.

    @Gustopher: I think that’s a fair argument, especially with regard to House candidates. It’s batshit crazy with Governors races, though. Mastriano could well have worked to steal the 2024 election for Trump if he had won.

  12. wr says:

    I do wonder which of our regular commenters who frequently posted that Democrats were doomed because Biden pushed student loan forgiveness, helped some freakazoid Republicans win their primaries, and (after the debate) backed Fetterman when anyone could see he would drag the entire party down with him will be the first to admit he was wrong about any of this.

    Cracking myself up here. These guys are NEVER wrong. Whatever happened, it’s the fault of some Swarthmore sophomore.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: To determine “ill intent” you would have to assume that the Dem funders believe that the two Republican Candidates would legislate and act differently, and they manipulated in favor of the worst one. I don’t think that’s the case. Modern Republican legislators do as they are told when it comes to votes and, with very few exceptions, they aren’t crafting any kind of meaningful legislation. For Republicans, legislation is done by lobbyists and special interest groups. So the net effect of the Democrats attempt at manipulation was to reinforce the candidate that says outright what every Republican is going to do. There might have been differences amongst the R candidates when it came to how willing they are to kiss Trump’s ass, but in terms of policy or legislation there is no difference whatsoever.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @wr: Indeed. The MSM, and some of our commenters, have spent the last several months telling us how incompetent Ds are and listing all the: curse of the midterms, gas prices, inflation, crime, CRT, yadayada that stacked the deck against Ds. Looks like it ain’t over ’til the GA runoff is over, but it sure seems to me like the Ds played their hand pretty well.

  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    @wr: The problem is -and don’t take this as me agreeing or disagreeing with you – that we can’t perform a controlled experiment. We can’t wind time back and eliminate the Swarthmore sophomore variable and look at what difference that made. Do the D’s gain even more seats? Do they lose seats? Does nothing happen?

    Because of that, everybody on all sides mostly gets to live in I Was Right All Along. The music is nice there, but there’s not much of a view.

    And then there’s the issue of dealing with events that have a stochastic nature. You can make a bet that 80 percent likely to double your money and have the 20% side come in, and lose. You weren’t wrong to make that bet, as far as I can see. But plenty of people will say you were.

  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    There’s a conversation up on the NYT this afternoon that includes Frank Bruni, Jonathan Last and Mallory McMorrow. Last accurately points out that the election results that occurred, were one among the several possible results that could have happened. If the results varied by a few percent, the outcome may have been much different.

    To bluster that this or that observer was “wrong” in prior predictions means little, given the closeness of the race. Yes Dems beat the odds, but was it because of the Dem message or the awfulness of many R candidates?

  17. Monala says:

    @inhumans99: as i wrote on the open forum, abortion is an economic issue. If inflation is tough now, imagine how much harder it will be if you have to have a(nother) child you can’t afford.

  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    You can count me among those who don’t think this counts as ratfucking.

    I do think it was risky, but less risky than some other things I’ve seen Dem pols do.

    For instance, Gray Davis ran ads through a surrogate in the Republican primary attacking the moderate candidate as not conservative enough. So he got the more conservative candidate, who was easier to beat. He beat the guy, then lost the recall.

    It’s hard to see how these things interact, but I note that Davis never gave voters a reason to like him, a reason to be for him. And those chickens came home to roost.

    I do not think what happened in this season, as described above, is at the level of what Davis did, let alone what might be called “ratfucking”.

    It does highlight a problem with being super reactionary – of having a knee-jerk “if Democrats hate it it must be good” reaction. And if people got burned from that sort of reactivity … GOOD!

    Taking the opposite position of everything your rivals believe is not thinking for yourself. It’s the opposite.

  19. Lounsbury says:

    @DK: A dubious assertion and rather smells like pre-set belief, what data is there for that – for a relief that I understand is in fact suspended. From general electoral historicals, it is rather atypical that a potential action that has not yet actual had real processing generated any change.

    It may in future of course. But unless there is actual voting data showing a targetted demographic impact, an assertion on belief. Rather easier to credit abortion rights actions by Democrats and reaction to loss as actual vote motivating in particular by the apparent ballot correspondences in initivates etc. – although of course again real voting data, not ad hoc assertions based belief should be drawn on, at least there though there is some data correspondence

  20. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog: The question is valid but it is also perhaps a false binary as of course the factors are not exclusive and it may very well be the combination of those factors could have been required to overcome the inflation, economic factors.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: I would give this a thousand thumbs up if I could. Telling the truth about one’s opponents should never be held against one. If they get trashed for what they say, maybe they should just STFU.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: I would agree that being truthful with ill intent is different from lying with ill intent but it doesn’t obscure the ill intent.

    What ill intent, James? Telling the truth by using someone’s own words against them in order to further one’s own cause???

    Get off your high horse, James.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Taking your caveats into consideration, does it matter? Their predictions were wrong.

    Instead of poking holes in those of us who are crowing about our successes today, maybe they should engage in a little introspection? For once?

  24. Gavin says:

    Democrats made sure Republicans put their worst foot forward.

    Democrats don’t have to lie about Republicans — the truth about Republicans’ actual intentions is worse than any lie Democrats would spend the time to invent.

  25. Gustopher says:

    Democrats didn’t put a gun to anyone’s head to make them nominate the most visible lunatics. If Republican’s want to nominate the concussed and the Q pilled, that’s on the Republicans.

    Motherfuckers have to take responsibility for who they vote for.

    And if the lunatics get elected… people need to experience the consequences of their actions in order to learn from their mistakes. We lived through Trump (not all of us, obviously, but the nation as a whole), and we would live through whatever other shit comes down the pike (not all of us, obviously).

    This is why I oppose the filibuster even though getting rid of it will eventually cause some real harm — if nothing gets done in Washington, you might as well vote for a lunatic because it has no consequences.