When Andrew Yang rolled out a revamped version of his Forward Party last week, it was met with widespread derision from center-left commentators. Much of that criticism was fair. There’s a good chance that his new organization will do little more than siphon votes away from Democrats in hotly contested races against MAGA candidates. There’s the suspicion that Yang’s primary beef with the Democratic Party may be his own inability to win its primaries. And there’s the rather small matter of this new political project seeming to lack any concrete policy goals. As political scientist Seth Masket wrote in the Washington Post, “The Forward Party’s agenda, if it can be called that, is to pass election laws that make it easier for the Forward Party—and, admittedly, other third parties—to win elections.”
Forward’s website, of course, says this in a slightly more high-minded way, declaring that one of its major priorities is to promote a “vibrant democracy” by reforming “our republic to give Americans more choices in elections, more confidence in a government that works, and more say in our future.”
And here’s the thing: Despite Democrats’ laudable efforts to push for voting rights legislation and expose the horrors of Donald Trump’s coup attempt, the party has recently made some serious missteps when it comes to protecting American democracy. Now Yang is arguing that he can fill that void.
The Forward relaunch came the same week that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unleashed a major ad campaign aimed at boosting a Trump-backed, election-denying primary challenger to Rep. Peter Meijer, one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. The ads purported to criticize John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official, for being “too conservative for West Michigan”—but the purpose was as obvious as it was cynical and reckless.
The DCCC’s gambit seems to have “worked”; on Tuesday, Gibbs defeated Meijer by (as of now) fewer than 4,000 votes. As a result, Democrats now have a somewhat higher chance of winning the general election, since they get to run against a presumably weaker GOP opponent who might scare off independent voters. But if Gibbs rides a Republican wave to victory this fall, Democrats will have helped Trump add another Big Lie adherent to Congress.
National Democrats have engaged in similar machinations elsewhere in the country, helping election deniers win GOP gubernatorial nominations in Pennsylvania and Maryland, for example.
Some Democratic lawmakers have pushed back against this high-risk game, pointing out that they cannot convincingly claim to be protecting American democracy while simultaneously aiding extreme candidates who, if they manage to win, could help Trump steal future elections. But party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insist it’s a good idea.
The hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed by Yang. “Maybe, just maybe, forcing people to vote for you and only you isn’t actually democracy,” he tweeted Wednesday morning.
Dems boosted Peter Meijer’s election-denying extremist opponent in Michigan – despite Peter having the courage and principle to vote to impeach Trump at great personal cost. Remember this when Dems talk about defending democracy.
— Andrew Yang🧢⬆️🇺🇸 (@AndrewYang) August 3, 2022
“Dems boosted Peter Meijer’s election-denying extremist opponent in Michigan – despite Peter having the courage and principle to vote to impeach Trump at great personal cost,” Yang added. “Remember this when Dems talk about defending democracy.”
Meijer made much the same point last week, though in starker terms. “I’m sick and tired of hearing the sanctimonious bullshit about the Democrats being the pro-democracy party,” he told Politico.
“If Peter’s opponent…goes on to November and wins, the Democrats own that,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger—another GOP congressman who voted for impeachment—said Wednesday on CNN. (One of two Republican members of the January 6 committee, Kinzinger announced last year that he would not seek reelection after Illinois Democrats gerrymandered him into the same district as a more conservative Republican.)
"Don't keep coming to me, asking where are all the good Republicans that defend democracy, and then take your donors' money and spend half a million dollars promoting one of the worst election deniers that's out there." —@AdamKinzinger, to the DCCC
— John A. Daly (@JohnDalyBooks) August 3, 2022
It’s wrong, of course, to suggest that the two major parties bear equal responsibility for the perilous state of American democracy. Republicans are the ones passing voter suppression laws. It was Republicans who desperately tried to overturn a democratic election by throwing out millions of legitimate votes. And it was supporters of the defeated Republican president who engaged in a violent coup attempt. But Democrats are now using their donors’ hard-earned money to support GOP conspiracy theorists who would make the situation even worse.
“There are…people who say, ‘Well this is just politics.'” Kinzinger added Wednesday, as he blasted Democrats for promoting Gibbs’ campaign. “That’s why I think Americans are just sick of both parties.”
That seems to be what Yang is counting on.