The Cox conundrum: He may benefit from Democratic attacks | COMMENTARY

Given the angry claim made last week by former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz that the Democratic Governors Association was spending over $1 million on a television ad campaign to promote her main primary opponent, Del. Dan Cox, we were prepared for something truly nefarious. Was the DGA’s “Meet Dan Cox” effort going to endorse him? Claim he’s the second coming of Ronald Reagan? Try to position the one-term delegate representing Carroll and Frederick counties as Larry Hogan’s rightful successor?

Well, take a look for yourself. What hit the airwaves this week fits more readily into the category of attack ad, with an announcer pointing out that Mr. Cox was a “MAGA conservative” who opposes all restrictions on gun ownership and is “wrong for Maryland.”


Did we somehow miss the endorsement part?

Maybe. Maybe not. This is how weird Republican politics have gotten. Even in a state where Mr. Hogan, who has long portrayed himself as a pragmatic moderate and a critic of former President Donald Trump, remains immensely popular, there is a real concern that Ms. Schulz will be seen as insufficiently conservative. The influence of the Trump wing, especially in midterm primaries, which tend to have low voter turnout, should not be underestimated, even in Maryland where Joe Biden handily bested the incumbent in November of 2020.


Ms. Schulz is surely correct about one thing: Maryland Democrats would dearly love to see Delegate Cox as the gubernatorial nominee, assuming that any Democratic candidate would easily beat him in the General Election, given his Trump allegiance, support for the Jan. 6 uprising and conservative doctrinaire views — or, as Governor Hogan succinctly put it, his record as a “QAnon conspiracy theorist.”

Thus, the DGA ad may essentially be pulling double duty. By calling attention to the Cox-Trump connection, it may both help Mr. Cox win the July primary nomination (or at least force Ms. Schulz to spend campaign funds she might use in the general election), while setting him up for failure in November.

As a rule, we don’t care for candidates or their political parties seeking to mess with the primary election on the other side of the aisle. The DGA and a political action committee affiliated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been criticized for seeming to boost other far-right candidates in Pennsylvania, Colorado, California and Illinois. Nor are we enthusiastic about the practice of voters briefly changing their party affiliation to sabotage the opposition. (In Maryland, incidentally, the deadline to change party affiliation before the gubernatorial primary passed on June 28 if you harbor such ideas.)

It’s not just a matter of poor sportsmanship or whatever the political equivalent of that might be. It’s that such manipulation sends the message to voters that politicians and their party apparatchiks are insincere schemers — and it can have unintended adverse consequences. What if, for example, all the attention given Delegate Cox elevates his status within his party and makes him a powerhouse in state politics for years to come, helping give rise to more extremist candidates in local and state elections?

While we can’t fully explain the Democrats’ motives in launching their “Meet Dan Cox” ad at this particular moment, the real problem here is that the Republican Party is deeply divided, and Ms. Schulz finds it easier to attack the DGA then to draw a clear distinction between Delegate Cox and herself on major issues like abortion rights and gun violence.

If her fellow Republicans can’t recognize that she gives them the best chance to recapture the governor’s office in a state where Democrats outnumber the GOP by a 2-to-1 margin by following the Larry Hogan example, there is no hope for the Schulz candidacy. For her to keep walking the tightrope between her party’s extreme right and Hogan center will leave Democratic Party leaders overjoyed by either a Cox nomination or a Schulz nomination that’s been irreparably damaged by some serious identity issues.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.