Raid the Republican Party to save the party

Raid the Republican Party to save the party
© iStock

Democrats’ instinct after winning the White House and Congress in 2020 might be to stand back and let the Republican Party slowly self-destruct. Such inaction would not necessarily preserve democracy. A Trumpist GOP would continue to win elections, maintain power over certain states, and could regain control of the Senate or House in 2022.  

The responsibility of saving the Republican Party — and the rule of law — has been thrust not onto principled Republicans alone, but also Democrats and independents. To do so, they must contend with a primary system that easily could end the political careers of the Republicans who crossed Donald Trump in defending the 2020 elections, such as Georgia’s Gov. Brian KempBrian KempOn The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Businesses contribute thousands to backers of Georgia election law after condemning it Conservative group to defend Georgia election law in All-Star Game ads MORE and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Democrats and independents need to cross over and vote in Republican primary elections. Such “reverse primarying” could ensure that the general election at least would be a choice between candidates who believe in the sanctity of elections and good governance. 


Raiding a party’s primary is typically done to scupper a rival party in the general election by voting for their more extreme candidate. I propose the opposite: increasing a moderate Republican’s chances by cutting the far right off at the knees. Nearly 60 percent of GOP voters want Trump to keep playing a major role in the party. Eradicating the danger of extremism will require more than focusing on voter registration and increasing turnout. Non-Republicans need to “primary from across the aisle,” and do it nationally.  

Some Republicans who value facts are defecting from their party, rather than fighting to take it back. Starting a third party composed of Republican emigres has been recently floated. If these developments continue, who would remain to haul the Republican ranks back to reality?  

Even if Democrats could win every election — which they can’t — it is in their collective national interest to hobble far-right extremists and conspiracy-theorists in the GOP. Otherwise, the country’s fissures could widen and we likely won’t have seen our last attempt to overturn an election. 

Should Democrats care if the same policy is applied to their party? No. Both moderate and left-leaning Democrats believe in democracy and the will of the people, even if there are sharp policy distinctions between them. Ultimately, any Republican at heart who registered as a Democrat might vote for more left-wing candidates to attempt to sink Democrats’ chances of success in the general election, yet this concern is likely not as important as the need for Democrats to ensure they don’t lose our freedoms through having despotic Republicans win elections.

State rules vary significantly regarding who can vote in a party’s primary. But many potentially flippable red states — including Georgia, Montana, South Carolina and Texas — are among the 15 with open primaries where any voter can choose which primary to vote in. Nine states, including Maine and Arizona, let only unaffiliated voters select which party primary to vote in. Nine other states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, have closed primaries, meaning Democrats would have to register with the GOP to vote in a Republican primary.  


The remaining primary systems rest in between fully open or closed. Laws in six states allow parties to decide each election cycle whether non-party members can vote in their primaries, such as in North Carolina and Idaho. Another six states, including Ohio and Iowa, let voters choose — but they have to do so publicly or their ballot may be deemed a form of party registration. 

In short, non-Republicans could solidify the moderate Republican wing in many states just by asking to vote in a GOP primary, and in most others by mailing in a form to change their party affiliation. They could go right back to voting for Democrats in the general election. 

This strategy may sound drastic. But the Republican Party is stuck with many politicians who apparently hold no fealty to the rule of law or some who may fear for their lives if they break with the charade they helped create.  

Democrats who recognize that the danger of Trumpism remains have a limited number of ways to act. They can attempt to change right-wing media, or try to sway extreme Republican voters and politicians directly through labor-intensive, one-on-one modes of communication. Or, they can assist moderate Republicans in taking back their party. 

Would moderate Republicans appreciate Democrats as allies? It hardly matters. But if they truly want to end the widespread falsehoods and disregard for the rule of law, they should get on board. If a rush of “blue GOP voters” leads to moderates winning Republican primaries in 2022, that could create a virtuous cycle that re-centers the right-wing news media and re-instills the protection of democracy within most of the party. 

Republicans’ unwillingness to stand up to Trump enabled misinformation to overwhelm so many of their voters that there are serious concerns about whether they can save their party. Reluctantly — possibly by all involved — non-Republicans now need to lend a vote. 

Martin Skladany is a professor of law at Penn State Dickinson Law. He is the author of “Copyright’s Arc.”