October 7, 2022

In February 2021, a few weeks after Peter Meijer became one of only ten Republican members of Congress to vote to impeach Donald Trump for sedition, he met with some of the people in his district in western Michigan to virtual town hall. One of them said she was “very disappointed” by his vote. Why, he asked, “aren’t you doing what your constituents want?”

That question “was weighing on me,” Meijer replied. He knew that many of the voters who supported Trump who had just sent him to Congress—it was his first term—would think he had betrayed them. The thought of their reaction made him “heartless.” But what he asked himself, he said, was: “How do I balance that immediate feeling with what we need to do as a country, what I think my party needs to do and where I hope we’re going?”

Meijer’s first term in Congress will be his last, at least for now. On Tuesday, he narrowly lost his primary to John Gibbs, a former missionary and Trump administration official, who said the 2020 election results contained irregularities that were “simply mathematically impossible.” In large part, of course, Meijer lost because Trump targeted him for what he said a rally this spring, Meijer’s “fake vote” to impeach him. Trump also mocked his name. “A guy who spells his name ‘M’-‘E’-‘I’-‘J’-‘E’-‘R’ but pronounces it ‘Meyer’—is that the devil’s spelling?” (The name is really known in the Midwest, where the family has long owned a chain of big-name stores.) Trump then turned the microphone over to Gibbs, who called the former president “a role model for all normal, decent people,” and told the crowd, “Let’s start being a little wilder – let’s have sharp teeth when we go, GRAARR!” (As he growled, Trump smiled.)

But another problem for Meijer had to do with how some Democratic Party organizations responded to a question he posed last year about the balance between the allure (or illusion) of immediate profit and what their party and the country need — and also about how the crisis of Trumpism can happen. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent half a million dollars on an ad boosting Gibbs, apparently on the theory that he would be easier to beat than Major in the November midterms. Gibbs, whose campaign raised far less money, has promoted not only Stop the Steal but also conspiracy theories involving Democrats and satanic rituals. And yet the ad paid for by the DCCC shows him, at a glance, in serious White House meetings with Ben Carson, whom he served at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Trump. (Gibbs, who is black, also served on the Trump Commission of 1776, which was meant to address Act 1619.) A viewer who had the ad muted and missed the caption said Gibbs was “very” conservative, he might think he was paid by the Gibbs campaign.

In an op-ed that Meijer published the day before the primary, in Bari Weiss’s Common Sense newsletter, attacked Democrats who talked about the existential threat to democracy posed by election naysayers and then boosted Gibbs’ campaign. Meijer is right to be angry. He also noted that his contest was not the only one in which Democratic Party entities or candidates had spent money in an effort to secure the Republican nomination for a truly extreme candidate. He cited the Maryland primary, which was supposed to be a test of the relative clout of outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan, who represented what’s left of the Never Trump wing of the GOP, versus Trump’s. The Democratic Governors Association effectively sided with Trump, spending more than a million dollars to promote a candidate, Dan Cox, who chartered buses to Trump’s Jan. 6 rally and tweeted that afternoon:Mike Pence is a traitor.” (A spokesperson for the DGA he said to Times that he was focused on “winning this election in November” and that “this streak wouldn’t even exist” if there weren’t extreme Republicans available to push it.) Meijer also mentioned the Pennsylvania governor’s race, in which the campaign Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro spent some of his money to boost Doug Mastriano, who played a role in the Trump campaign’s “fake voter” scheme, and similar efforts in Illinois and Colorado.

Meijer didn’t even make it to the governor’s race in Arizona, where the state’s Democratic Party made statements in an apparent attempt to undermine the less extreme candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson, who had been endorsed by Mike Pence, in favor of Kari. Lake, who said Arizona should “decertifyThe 2020 election results. (Joe Biden won the state.) At a rally in late July, Lake said, “President Trump taught us how to fight, and I took some notes!” As of Wednesday afternoon, the race was very close. Other Trump candidates prevailed in Arizona, notably Mark Finchem and Blake Masters, who will be the GOP nominees for secretary of state and US Senate, respectively.

The plan, such as it is, is that voters will back away from these candidates and turn to the Democratic Party as a bastion of sanity. That’s a harder argument to make when you’re playing games like this. Many Democrats recognize this as well. “It’s dishonorable, and it’s dangerous, and it’s just wrong,” said Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Politico. In the same piece, Rep. Jason Crow, of Colorado, called the trick “very dangerous” and “essentially dangerous.” The implied risk is that the extreme candidate could actually win. It appears that both Mastriano and Lake have a chance and, as governors of swing states, would be in a position to interfere in the proper conduct of the 2024 presidential election.

And many election naysayers won primary races across the country on Tuesday and in earlier primaries without any help from Democrats. All three of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for Missouri’s open Senate seat were staunch Trumpists. The day before the primary, the former President announced that he was endorsing “Eric,” a name shared by two of the candidates. (Eric Schmidt, one of seventeen state attorneys general who filed suit seeking to overturn the 2020 results in some states, and now spends much of his time suing the Biden administration, was the winner.) These results only underscore the risk of strengthening what could become the dominant wing of one of the two major parties in the United States. Such candidates cannot be treated as part of a comically unelectable, and therefore harmless, fringe.

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