WASHINGTON — The defeat Tuesday of Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, the young conservative scion of a supermarket empire who voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump, it was another sign that the party’s conservative core is bent on ousting those who dare to break with Mr. Trump, who has embarked on a revenge tour aimed at punishing his opponents.
Mr. Meijer was defeated by a far-right challenger backed by Mr. Trump, becoming the second of 10 Republicans to break with the party to support impeachment to be ousted in a GOP primary.
Republican voters in the Grand Rapids-based district rejected Mr. Major in favor of John Gibbs, a former Department of Housing and Urban Development official with a history of firing inflammatory, conspiratorial tweets. He won the former president’s support after Mr Meijer backed Mr Trump’s impeachment for sedition on January 6, 2021, calling him “unfit for office”.
With Mr Meijer’s defeat, more than half of the Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump – at least six in 10 – will not return to Congress next year. His defeat underscored the continued appetite among right-wing voters who form the party’s base to oust those who defied the former president.
Two other Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump — Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse — also faced challenges Tuesday from Trump-endorsed opponents.
As of early Wednesday morning, both Ms. Herrera Beutler and Mr. Newhouse appeared to be doing better, helped in part by an open primary system and a crowded field of challengers. But there were many outstanding ballots.
In the days after the Jan. 6 attack, Republicans alarmed by the violence, including Mr. Meijer, hoped that Mr. Trump’s impeachment would purge him from the party. Instead, they have been marginalized and driven out of GOP congressional ranks as primary voters favor those who have adopted Mr. Trump’s playbook of attacks fueled by cultural grievances and conspiracy theories.
Four Republicans, most of whom were squeezed by unfavorably redrawn districts, decided to drop out rather than run for re-election. Representative Tom Rice of South Carolina was defeated in June by a primary challenger backed by Trump, who called Mr. Rice’s support for impeachment a betrayal. And Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has become Trump’s main rival and fiercest critic in Congress as vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, is trailing significantly in public polls.
The result is that the already thin ranks of moderate and mainstream conservative Republicans in the House are likely to be even thinner next year, with brash Trump-style candidates to replace them. If they prevail in November, they will help set the tone for a possible Democratic majority in which loyalty to Mr. Trump is the driving force.
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In another era, Mr. Meijer would have been seen as the poster boy for the party’s future: a 34-year-old, self-funded conservative military veteran who served in Iraq and has supported a hawkish foreign policy, even until now. to defy the Biden administration by secretly flying to Afghanistan last August to monitor evacuation efforts as US troops withdrew.
But on his third day in office, Mr. Meijer was evacuated from the House chamber as a violent mob besieged the Capitol. A week later, he voted to impeach Mr. Trump, becoming one of the most outspoken Republicans to warn about the former president’s corrosive effect on the party.
In an interview a few days after his vote, Mr. Meijer admitted that he “might as well have finished his career in Congress.
“But I think it’s also important to have elected leaders who don’t just think about what’s in their own self-interest, not what’s going to be politically expedient, but what we really need for the country,” he told the ABC.
Mr. Meijer’s hunch turned out to be correct. At 3 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday morning, he trailed nearly 5 percentage points and the Associated Press called the race for Mr. Gibbs.
But Mr. Meijer put up a much stronger fight than even some of his allies in Washington had predicted, with suburban voters in his district coming out to strongly support the incumbent. But in the end it wasn’t enough to overcome Mr. Gibbs’ challenge.
Mr. Gibbs’ nomination will create an uphill battle for Republicans’ efforts to retain the seat. The district was pulled from one that narrowly voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 — but previously supported Justin Amas, the libertarian former congressman — to one that President Biden would support by nine percentage points.
Mr. Gibbs, in 2016, he spread baseless claims on Twitter that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman was participating in a “satanic ritual” — one of the central tenets of QAnon, the false pro-Trump conspiracy theory. CNN first reported the posts.
Democrats are so positive about their chances of retaking the district that they poured $425,000 into an advertisement campaign bolstering Mr. Gibbs in a widely offensive effort at election engineering.
The contrast between the two candidates could hardly have been starker. While Mr. Meijer voted to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Gibbs has actively promoted conspiracy theories that claim to show that Mr. Trump was the winner.
Mr. Gibbs said in an interview in April that it was “almost certainly mathematically impossible” for Mr. Trump to lose in 2020.
Mr. Meijer’s short time in Congress has vividly demonstrated the nightmare consequences — both personally and at the ballot box — that have historically befallen those who cross Mr. Trump and that have prevented so many of his Republican colleagues from defying the former president. .
After Mr. Meijer voted to impeach Mr. Trump, he spoke openly about his “assumption that people are going to try to kill” him and the nine other Republicans who voted to impeach the former president on high crimes and misdemeanors. He looked for armor to protect himself.
Now, after just one term, Republican voters have kicked him out.
“A guy who is in our group should vote with our group,” one voter he said at the polls in Kent County on Tuesday, declining to identify himself but saying he had endorsed Mr. Gibbs.
In Washington State, neither Ms. Herrera Beutler nor Mr. Newhouse was as outspoken as Mr. Meijer. They have largely kept a low profile and refused to comment on the far-right wing of their party they condemned in the days after January 6.
But Ms. Herrera Beutler briefly drew attention last year toward the end of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial when she confirmed in a public statement that Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, had leaked a phone call she had with Mr. Trump on January 6 in which Mr. Trump sided with the rioters.
Both she and Mr. Newhouse were running in crowded open primaries. In these races, all candidates from each party are on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the general election regardless of party affiliation.
This system, which favors candidates more inclined to compromise and consensus, could serve as a lifeboat for the duo.
Both were trying to fend off Trump-backed challengers who ran less sterling campaigns, and Mr. Trump’s endorsements failed to clear the field in either race.
The former president’s anointed candidates were Joe Kent, an Army Special Forces veteran who is prolific on social media and on conservative talk shows, who was running against Ms. Herrera Beutler, and Loren Culp, former police chief and author, challenging Mr. Newhouse in a deep red district.
Mr Kent has campaigned as a ‘Stop the Steal’ candidate and has unsubstantiatedly suggested that an otherwise peaceful crowd on January 6 was infiltrated by so-called deep state agents. Mr. Culp, who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Jay Inslee, a Democrat, in 2020, refused to concede that election, alleging widespread fraud.
Both Mr. Kent and Mr. Culp were running third in their districts in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Sam Easter contributed reporting from Kent County, Mich.