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The complicated, often cynical politics of fighting for democracy

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) voted his conscience on Jan. 13, 2021, to impeach then-President Donald Trump for having stoked the violence that had filled the Capitol. John Gibbs won by just under 4 percentage points in Michigan's 3rd Congressional District. John Avlon: The race was relatively close, but not a squeaker; it was likely not a race in which a small push made the difference. Avlon says a quiet secret in politics is that much of it is less science than art; a lot of it comes down to guesswork, instinct, habit and luck. He says the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent about as much on an ad promoting Gibbs than Gibbs himself had raised as of the middle of last month in the midterms.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger blasted the DCCC's ad in a CNN interview on Wednesday. He said that if Peter Meijer’s opponent wins, “the Democrats own that. Congratulations,” he said. The DCCC ad simply elevates the mutual appreciation between Gibbs and Trump. It's hard to argue that the ad — run when election ad time was at its most expensive — was the sole reason that Gibbs got about 4,000 more votes. But there is certainly reason to think that Trump's endorsement of Gibbs last year was more important than the DCC's intervention in this one. In other contexts, Kinzingers recognizes that Republicans have moved from a party that might appreciate holding Trump accountable for the Capitol riot to one that demands loyalty to Trumpism.

Some Democrats have waved away the DCCC’s intervention as normal political jockeying. The DCCC has the very direct goal of winning as many seats as possible. But in this case it actively sought to do so by helping to increase the likelihood that the House will have one more member who might reject the results of a close election. The effects are not solely electoral, but they're using reverse psychology to sell poison, says Amy Davidson Sorkin. This may itself be a cynical long-term play: making it less likely that any moderate (and potentially more-viable) Republican candidate will want to set up shop in a poison-focused bazaar.