Shortly after voting to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in instigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Peter Meijer (R–Mich.) issued one of the more reflective statements you're likely to find in a congressional press release.
"This vote is not a victory. It isn't a victory for my party, and it isn't the victory the Democrats might think it is. I'm not sure it is a victory for our country," Meijer, who was one of just 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment, and the only first-term GOP member to do so, said. "But it is a call to action for us to reflect on these events and seek ways to correct them."
Later, he told The Atlantic's Tim Alberta that the Republican Party needed an intervention over its addiction to Trump—he wanted to provide "hope for some who wanted to [see] the Republican Party get past the darkness and the violence and that sense of foreboding and doom," even if it cost him a long career in politics.
On Tuesday night, it did.
Meijer narrowly lost a primary contest in Michigan's 3rd district to a Trump-backed challenger, John Gibbs, who has echoed Trump's conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. In a narrow sense, the result is yet another illustration of the current state of the GOP, where the former president's grievances continue to carry serious weight, particularly with the types of voters who turn out for primaries.
In that group of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, Meijer is now the second to lose a primary this year, following Rep. Tom Rice (R–S.C.). Four others retired rather than choosing to run again, and three are facing primary challenges later this year. Rep. David Valadao (R–Calif.) is the only member of the group to survive a primary so far.
But while Republican primary voters are ultimately responsible for the choices they make, the Democratic Party's cynical campaign strategies helped bring about last night's result.
As Reason's Robby Soave noted earlier this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent $435,000 on an ad claiming that Gibbs was "too conservative" for western Michigan—effectively boosting the election-denying Trump-endorsed candidate. The spending was not trivial: it was 100 times more than what Trump had actually donated to Gibbs' campaign.
"Politics is a dirty game, and both parties routinely engage in this sort of brinkmanship, doing whatever it takes to win more seats," Soave wrote. "But Democrats boosting Gibbs are squandering considerable moral high ground they might have otherwise possessed on the issue of the so-called existential threat to democracy."
Democrats have turned to this same playbook elsewhere. In the Republican gubernatorial primary in Pennsylvania, for example, an ad funded by the presumptive Democratic nominee helped elevate state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R–Fayetteville) above a crowded field of GOP contenders. Mastriano participated in the January 6 protest in D.C. His refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania has stoked worries that he would refuse to certify a prospective Democratic win in 2024 if he wins this year's election. (In Pennsylvania, elections are overseen by the secretary of state, a position appointed by the governor).
In a post for Common Sense, Meijer wrote that Democrats are making similar efforts to boost Trumpy candidates in Colorado, Maryland, and Illinois.
The January 6 riot should have been a warning to both parties about the potentially dangerous mixture of rage and conspiratorial thinking that increasingly dominates right-wing politics. Instead, it has become just another opportunity for playing politics, as Democrats have cynically elevated the right-wing fringe they condemn as a threat to the future of American democracy.
But there is an added irony to what happened last night in Michigan. For now, Meijer represents the same district that was previously the domain of Justin Amash, the Republican-turned-Libertarian congressman who was ejected from the GOP for frequently criticizing Trump and, ultimately, for supporting Trump's first impeachment. Michigan's 3rd district has produced two consecutive independent-thinking, freedom-oriented Republican lawmakers. Tuesday's results ensure that there won't be a third, thanks to both halves of the two-party system.
Like Meijer observed about the impeachment vote, Tuesday's election result isn't the victory Democrats might think it is.