I used to root for crazy. In fact, as a lifelong Democrat, I was thrilled when President Trump announced he was running for president.
When I watched someone who I thought was little more than a pompous, know-nothing goofball descend from his gaudy golden escalator to kick off his campaign, I thought he’d be nothing more than a laughingstock and a sideshow.
Even as the campaign wore on and Trump’s potential for doing real harm became more clear - racist rhetoric and incidents (augmenting his prior role as birther-in-chief), virulent insults to women, coarse and frightening anti-immigrant and anti-refugee language, inciting violence at his rallies, petty personal spats, and so much more - I have to admit that I kept hoping for him to keep winning Republican primaries.
To be sure, I was dismayed by his candidacy and his success. Actually, “grossed out” might be the more appropriate term. I was grossed out that so many Republicans were willing to overlook Trump’s utter lack of knowledge, compassion, and integrity for a chance at upending the status quo - or worse, that they actually loved him for his more odious qualities and views. But I rationalized their moral failing by reminding myself that primaries on the left and the right traditionally only turn out the most extreme of partisans.
Besides, I was rooting for crazy because I wanted to win. I thought - I knew - we could win in the general election. And then, we didn’t.
The 2016 election was when I learned my lesson about not rooting for crazy. But even now, there are still Democrats cheering on the worst of the worst in our society in the hopes that it will give them a slight electoral edge.
Trump-backed Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach’s narrowest of victories in the recent gubernatorial primary - wherein he ousted a GOP incumbent - is the latest example of some local Democrats allegedly hoping for a hardline opponent so that they might stand a chance in the general. But all across the country, Senate races from Arizona (Kelli Ward) to West Virginia (Don Blankenship) are tempting Democrats to root for crazy. Many House races are, predictably, even worse.
One could argue that while rooting for crazy may be morally wrong, it isn’t tactically problematic - especially if it’s all mental. Silently wishing for a hopefully more beatable opponent isn’t impactful, and American politics is, after all, a zero-sum game. Right?
I’m not so sure. We live in an age of outrage fatigue, hyperpartisanship, and information warfare all actively affecting our elections. In such a precarious position, it seems that anything - including the perverse sense of confidence from facing someone truly bonkers - that increases complicity from Democrats, progressives, and independents unhappy with our country’s direction is a bad thing. When we’re rooting for crazy, what we’re doing is giving ourselves permission to relax a little. It’s a voice in our heads wishing that what we see as self-evidently bad politics and bad policy will be as obvious to our neighbors as it is to us. Unfortunately, it’s also an unearned and unfounded indulgence in faith that things will be just fine.
The time for making those kinds of easy assumptions about elections is long past. The time for knocking doors and making calls, however, is very much here. Being anti-Trump or anti-Trumpian will certainly be key to winning over the majority of our country who opposes this callous, thoughtless president and all that his administration represents. But it will also take belief in our own policies and candidates and values to carry the day - and that belief will need to be backed up by the hard, yeoman’s work of politics.
So Democrats, don’t root for crazy. Just go out and beat it.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.