Election 2024

Peter Meijer: Can the GOP Change?

Peter Meijer talks about his run for Senate, his Trump impeachment vote, and possibly competing against Justin Amash on the latest episode of Just Asking Questions.


"We're in dark and uncertain times, but we've made it through worse," writes Peter Meijer in a November 6 announcement that he's running for a Senate seat in Michigan soon to be vacated by Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

Meijer is a former Republican representative for Michigan's third Congressional district—a position once held by Justin Amash, the Republican-turned-Libertarian congressman. Amash recently announced that he is launching an exploratory committee and may enter the Republican primary for the open Senate seat as well. 

Meijer joins Reason's Zach Weissmueller and Liz Wolfe on the latest episode of Just Asking Questions to talk about his run for Senate, what the prospects are for a candidate who voted to impeach Trump for his behavior on January 6, and how he hopes the GOP can change for the better to usher in "a new American century." They also discuss how Democrats funded ads to help a Trump-backed candidate defeat Meijer in Michigan's 2022 primary, the hypocrisy of groups proclaiming to "protect democracy" while fighting against ballot access, and what Meijer thinks about the prospect of running against Justin Amash this year.

Watch the full conversation on Reason's YouTube channel or on the Just Asking Questions podcast feed on Apple, Spotify, or your preferred podcatcher.

Sources referenced in this conversation:

Justin Amash on X: "I've been humbled in recent weeks by the many people who have urged me to run for Senate in Michigan and to do so by joining the Republican primary.

Peter Meijer, a Republican Who Voted to Impeach Trump, Is Running for Senate in Michigan—The New York Times

Democrats Aid Far-Right Candidate Against Republican Who Backed Impeachment—The New York Times

Matt Welch at Reason: Presidential Ballot Will Be Crowded With Third Party Candidates

Meijer's farewell address to Congress.


Watch the full video here and find a condensed transcript below.

Zach Weissmueller: We'll start with your campaign announcement where you say, "We are in dark and uncertain times," but that we need bold leaders to usher in "another great American century." Tell us more about what you see as the darkness of this moment and what you think it will take to escape that.

Peter Meijer: I think if we look around the world and we look at the effects of a United States that seems to have receded—terrorists and authoritarians that have kind of seized that moment. The barbarism that we saw that Hamas conducted against Israeli civilians and military personnel on October 7. We have the continuing grinding conflict in Ukraine. We have the Houthis threatening to shut down—and succeeding in at least discouraging—a lot of international maritime transit. Even Pakistan bombing Iran, right? We're in a position where everything seems far less certain, where we don't know what's going to happen, where events could easily spiral out of control. 

Then you look at a homefront where some of the economic indicators are more positive than they were a year ago, but in the minds of average Americans, they're still thinking back to where their expectations were for how much they were going to pay for their mortgage. And if you have an adjustable rate, mortgage interest rate increases have led that to double. The effects of inflation and some supply chain uncertainties have continued to see elevated grocery prices. That's something that's very near to my heart coming from a family grocery chain in our family's background. And that's before you get to those significant drivers of cost-of-living challenges that have remained elevated: housing, health care, and education. American families that I have talked to, families in Michigan, they feel uncertain about what the future's going to bring. Younger families or those who want to start one are nervous about how they're going to be able to make ends meet and also support raising children. 

When I say dark and uncertain times, it's just a feeling that the stability and the foundation that many people have relied upon, that maybe they have grown up feeling that, that isn't there anymore. When I talk about a new, a second great American century, [I mean] how do we get to a point where by 2050, we again feel that in the United States is not just a superpower on paper, but we feel that sense of forward momentum, that we have policies at the federal level, and we have government officials that care a lot more about what the results of their policies are going to be. And again, to be able to look at objective, demonstrable policy outcomes in a clear and rational way. 

I spent two years in Washington. That is not a lot of time, but it was enough time for me to realize and understand that all the problems I saw from the outside are the consequence of other problems that you need to kind of peel back the layers of the onion of dysfunction in Washington in order to figure out how to get down to some core governing principles, how to not just get in the position of playing whack-a-mole when we have all these events that come up and make us feel like we're lurching from crisis to crisis. There's always going to be areas of disagreement. There's always going to be division. That's a reality of politics. But my God, we should be able to agree that crime is bad. So what are the policies that promote safer communities? We want to have a strong national defense. How do we do that in the most cost effective way? And what should our international engagements be that play to our strengths rather than promote weaknesses (as I think a lot of our post-9/11 military adventurism ended up ultimately doing)? And what is it that we want to see the U.S.' role in the world be? And how do we make sure that we're continuing to build on the areas of core agreement? 

So I'm running for Senate because of that desire to not only put family concerns first, an outcome oriented mentality, but also to make sure that that is not just a flash in the pan idea. It's not just, "Oh, this is an easy talking point." Let's have a real conversation about the systemic ways that we can address this. Because I'm someone who enjoys the difficult art of understanding complex systems and how to improve them, not somebody who feels a high going on a cable news show or having a tweet go viral. The dopamine addiction that I think has permeated our society, has permeated our politics. And that's how we are left in those dark and uncertain times.

Liz Wolfe: That's a good way of putting it, the dopamine addiction permeating our politics. I think that's pretty true. But are we actually in exceptionally bad times? You just talked about the post-9/11 period and our military adventurism then and the sort of uncertain foreign policy situation of the early and mid-aughts. And then I'm also thinking about the late '70s and early '80s as a time of extraordinary inflation, where many of the same things you were talking about in terms of it being very difficult to afford a decent life today, families dealt with that then too. So are we really in uniquely bad times right now?

Meijer: I would say for the modern moment, I think there's a feeling of uncertainty that we probably haven't experienced this millennium since maybe the 2008 financial crisis, with the amount of sectors that are struggling and the amount of uncertainty going forward. Now to your point, on the political violence front, I am quick to emphasize in the 1970s, you had hundreds of pipe bombs going off a year. You had domestic violence coming from groups across the political spectrum. The 1960s saw periods of intense social upheaval and unrest, the assassination of a sitting president, of a leading presidential figure, and the leading civil rights figure of our time. This is not the worst time the United States has been in. I don't want to be a Cassandra around that. 

It's the fact that a lot of our challenges we're dealing with, in my view, are far more manageable. And so if they're more manageable, then we don't have a good excuse to just shrug away from them or take a path of minimal discomfort, rather than being disciplined and diligent and focusing on them. I don't want to come across as pessimistic, but at the same time, the feeling I get when I talk to people, the concern and that sense of unease. It's not fear. It's not paranoia. It's not terror. We've had moments of extreme, profound fear in this country, [like] that immediate post-9/11 moment. It's just a sense of "I want to feel hope again that we're on a good trajectory." And it feels like everywhere I look, I don't see something that gives me a reason to hope.

Wolfe: Is it weird that you'll potentially be running against Justin Amash? He's launching an exploratory committee.

Meijer: For the listeners' awareness, I succeeded Justin Amash. He was in Congress. He had left the Republican Party. He was officially an independent/Libertarian during his final term or the latter half of his final term in office. I've known Justin for a while. I solicited his feedback and thoughts on legislation because I think he's a very thoughtful individual. Again, that doesn't mean I agreed with every comment or suggestion, but I think he's somebody who thinks deeply about issues. And that is very much a rarity in our political process. I'm not sure what he's going to do, whether or not that exploratory committee will turn into an actual filing. But, generally speaking, I think the more folks who are engaged in our politics and putting forward thoughtful, principled ideas, is a good thing.

Weissmueller: You both are kind of out of step, maybe in slightly different ways, with the modern Republican Party. Is there something strange about the district to which you were elected that made it possible for both you and Amash to hold that seat?

Meijer: I think a lot of people commented there must be something in the water in west Michigan. We have a fantastic water filtration facility that takes it directly from Lake Michigan, near Grand Haven. But, you know, Gerald R. Ford represented this district prior to being elevated to the vice presidency, before Justin it was, Vern [Ehlers] and Paul Henry. There were a number of officials who had represented it who I think were independent-minded in their own way. I think it's very much a close-knit community. 

It's a wonderful place; it's home. So perhaps there's something in the water, but I think it's better to have members who are in office who are looking into things and not just following the crowd. That's the easiest thing to do in Washington: Look up at the board and say, "Where's everyone else in my party going? And I'll just follow their lead." I can say from experience, and I'm sure Justin would say the same thing, it's far more difficult to say, "OK, how do I approach this issue in a consistent way that can be defensible?" rather than the inherent reactionary polarization that you'll usually see.

Weissmueller: You gave a really interesting farewell speech in the House that I want to play a little bit of, because it lays out some of what you were alluding to earlier about your view of the current state of our government. And I also think it raises what I consider to be one of the most important political issues of our time. So let's roll that excerpt from your 2022 farewell address to Congress.

Clip of Peter Meijer's "Farewell to Congress" on C-SPAN:

I rise today for the last time as a member of the 117th Congress. I do not seek to dwell on the circumstances of my departure, although it does bring to mind a few lines from Yeats' Second Coming. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Perhaps it takes a cataclysm like World War One to capture the naked and malevolent cynicism of our politics. Yeats also well captured the harrowing consequence of elite ineptitude that precipitated the slaughter of tens of millions. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. I read and reread those words while flying out of Hamid Karzai International Airport last August, during the shameful end to 20 years of America's war in Afghanistan. What I saw on the ground during that waking nightmare exemplified some of the best of the American men and women in uniform, but it also reflected the helplessness and incompetence of American policymaking. The failure of our war in Afghanistan, a failure abetted by decades of Congress's lax oversight of the president and his Department of Defense. 

To solve this, I push for Congress to take back its war powers, to take back that constitutional responsibility. But even when it comes to Congress asserting its own prerogative, this body has shown itself unwilling to do its job. The current budget negotiations taking place on the other side of the rotunda, also show a Congress unwilling to confront the very basic task of passing a budget on time. The last time we had a budget passed before the fiscal year started, I was in second grade. When Congress is incapable of solving problems of its own making. How can the American people have any faith that we can tackle the problems arising from the broader world? What hope do we have of outcompeting China, of winning this coming century? If we can't even get out of a mess of our own making? We need the best to regain their convictions. To set an example of what clear-eyed leadership looks like both at home and abroad. We need to hold the worst to account and reprise the moral resolve that has led us through dark times in this country many, many times before. Too many have sacrificed too much for us to squander the opportunity before us, the opportunity to rise to the challenge of this moment, to set aside petty squabbles. The opportunity to build on the promise of limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty. The promise that underpins the American dream.

Wolfe: How do you feel rewatching it?

Meijer: Those were the moments where I was still aggressively campaigning and petitioning and spending a lot of time on the Senate side to get the Afghan Adjustment Act passed, to try to get that into the [National Defense Authorization Act] or into that omnibus that was being worked on because that was a deeply personal issue. It was something that we were so close to being able to get. Ironically enough, it got zero attention. The Afghan Adjustment Act would offer some stability and kind of certainty for the folks who had supported U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that we had evacuated, some of whom we're still in the process of kind of reevaluating, evacuating, and resettling, to give them some permanence as opposed to the kind of temporary status many of them are on. And it's an unholy mess of a kind of bureaucratic conundrum there. I would say that was my main focus. I hadn't even kind of thought about it. My campaign launch video hit a lot of those same themes. I probably should have done some of my research and looked back at those words.

There's a lot of folks who think the chaos in our system right now is the product of political chaos, because of how chaotic our politics are and how our government can't function. And that's what I thought going in today. I'm a big believer that it gets the causality backwards that the more our government screws up, the more you know. The American people feel the consequences of inept policymaking: the more they reach for replacements for alternatives, for explanations for why that individual, when they got into office, couldn't do the things they promised to be able to do. This guy didn't get the job done, so we're going to vote him out and send in somebody who's even more emphatic that they'll do it. So much of the challenge though is that the power has been stripped from many of those offices in Congress. Either Congress has let the executive take it, has given it to the executive, or the executive is just taking that over. The basic kind of mechanical function of our government is broken. That's where you have that promotion of extreme new and ever more chaotic politics. 

If there were fewer things that the government was screwing up—there'll always be people who are dissatisfied—you wouldn't be fertilizing the same ground. I think it's a complicated thing because you start talking about legislative supremacy and notions of subsidiarity and generic concepts. It's challenging to get that done. Not impossible, but challenging to get it done in Washington because every legislator will look at a policy and need to see a very concrete upside because the downside is always theoretically exponential. If it's not broke, don't fix it or if it is broke, try not to fix it, because no matter what you do, if you get your fingerprints on it you might be held to blame.

The art of government is trying to say, okay, politics is the art of the possible. How do you find ways in which you can make a concrete, lasting effort? It's a lot easier to do that if you're getting at some of the structures underpinning responses to issues than if you're just getting distracted by the issues at hand. You need to deal with and react to those issues but you also have to be able to get out of that reactive mindset to be able to put forward a vision and also a backward plan. How do you get to that vision from where we are? What is that pathway?

Weissmueller: Could you talk about the structural issues as it pertains to foreign policy and the balance of powers? 

Meijer: I approach a lot of these with sort of a policy-agnostic, but process-obsessive mindset. If you think about war powers, oftentimes it's within the context of why we need to end this war, and that's why we need to repeal it. I mentioned the example of the war on terror in 2001 and thereafter, you had that authorization for the use of military force that was passed shortly after 9/11, had that sunset every two years or four years or six years? Probably six is too high. But two years, three years, five years, something within that band that's not necessarily saying that nothing would happen after that five-year period. It's saying that there would have to be far more frequent engagement by the Department of Defense, by the national security community with Congress. And Congress would because they'd have to cast a vote, senators and representatives would have to be casting an affirmative vote, either in favor of continuing or in opposition to continuing military efforts. They would be asking better questions. They would feel more of a sense of ownership. They would have to articulate and defend. But in the process of asking those more difficult questions, the Department of Defense would also have to sharpen its pencils. Policymakers on the national security side would have to more firmly articulate and align their efforts with what they were saying. 

This notion that if we're just going to be hands-off and everything will be fine, has become so detrimental and so ruinous because you have a defense policy establishment that essentially looks at Congress as a body to avoid. There were a couple of times when I would be getting a classified briefing and I would say, "Oh my God, thank God we're finally getting a briefing on an issue. I've been waiting for a while." And then I turn around and realize they're trying to sell you a timeshare. We need your support on this bill or this authorization. So we're telling you how big of a problem is going on in this region. Not because you should be aware, or not, because it should be informing how you were approaching something, but because we're going to have to ask you for something. If the executive had to ask Congress for more, the amount of transparency would be higher. The feeling of responsibility among members would be higher. I think things would just function better again. Would that lead to less or more? I think there's arguments to be made in either direction. But if we look at the strikes that the president has just conducted recently against the Houthis, against Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria, both are picking from a variety of different authorizations coming from the Constitution. Whether it's article two—defense powers of the president in a self-defense capacity—or article one—authority from authorizations for use of military force that were passed in 2001 or 2002. Again. It's doing an end run. It is failing to engage, and I think it allows the American people to check out because their representatives are checked out. That type of lack of transparency, of lack of attention, lack of concern, I think ultimately only dooms those projects to failure because then, when people start to pay attention after something bad happens, they catch themselves up on 20 years and in the span of a two minute TikTok video. That's probably not going to be conveying an accurate reality.

Weissmueller: How is this rubber stamping–type approach particularly insulting to the people who serve in the military?

Meijer: It just shows a disregard, right? By way of background, I was in Iraq as a soldier doing intelligence operations in 2010 and 2011. Then I was in Afghanistan, as an [nongovernmental organization] conflict analyst with a humanitarian aid community. So no uniform, no weapons, neutral living on the economy from 2013 to 2015. I think in both of those conflicts, we found ourselves with allies of convenience that just looked at the U.S. as an entity to exploit. We didn't necessarily have any specific strategy or objective or goal we were going towards. Or if we did, it would change frequently enough that what we were doing was never aligned towards any specific intent. That notion of a self like an ice cream cone. The reality is that the entire time you're there, there's a risk that you're undertaking. American service members are dying. 

I don't reflexively say you got to bring everyone home, or there's no scenario in which we should be in some of those areas. But, our policymakers sure as hell need to articulate why those risks are being undertaken. To what end? What are those terms? How often would those be reevaluated? Because I think the majority of the war on terror, or at least our kind of post-9/11 moment, has been this linear sense of engagement where it's like, maybe some sanctions, then we're going to have some airstrikes, maybe a special forces raid, maybe the Marines are going to be there temporarily, or maybe we're going to hold and build with kind of large conventional forces. To what end? What's our goal? You can't even measure if they've been effective if you don't have a consistent goal or you keep changing it. And again, lives hang in the balance. Civilian lives or military service members' lives are lost and the taxpayer is footing the bill for all of that.

Weissmueller: I pulled a couple clips from your campaign announcement that I think can give your viewers a sense of the issues you're running on. In this first one, you talk about the importance of making more babies. Let's roll that clip.

Clip of Peter Meijer's campaign announcement:

I'm Peter Meijer, and I'm running for U.S. Senate. And I want to let you in on a secret, most politicians are terrified of the media, of saying what they actually think, of proposing things that are big and bold. We should be making it easier for people to get married, buy a house, and just have more babies. My wife and I just had a son, and I can tell you babies need to be the vision for our future. And when those babies go to school, parents should never have to worry if their children are guinea pigs in someone's social experiment. Parents deserve a say and choice. That's why we need a regime change in education. We need to expel the anti-Semites and activists who are poisoning young minds with hate. We need to hold universities accountable when they swindle students by hitting them and their tax free endowments.

Weissmueller: Why is making life better for parents top of mind for you?

Meijer: You could look at our demographic issues that we're facing as a country, but a lot of this I just boil down to a simple question: how or what is our government doing to make the American dream within reach? What are they doing to further complicate things?

The number one frustration I have is when every policymaker, your legislator or politician, reacts to a problem with a new set of legislation or a new law. As opposed to saying, "what are we currently doing that is either helping or that is hurting?" If it's helping, maybe do more of it. If it's hurting, let's stop it. The easiest thing for the government to do is to stop doing things that are demonstrably ineffective or that are making the problem worse. That's a lot easier to do than proposing something new that's uncertain. 

Our role as policymakers, the role of our legislature, and specifically the role of our federal government is to be able to get out of the way, to resist that urge to always tinker and fiddle. When you look at our housing policy in particular, that is where a thousand good intentions have been the individual bricks in a road that has led straight to an unaffordable hell in our current market. That is geographically dependent, but all across the board, that is a massive major strain. You have more folks who are unable to afford to buy a home, are kind of locked into renting, aren't building up a base of assets, or postponing having families for financial reasons. I'm very skeptical of what the government can do in an affirmative sense, but starting with getting the government out of the way, I've yet to have anyone who's pushed back and said, "Oh, that won't work." 

Reducing the regulatory burden on the educational side is largely a state and local issue, but at the federal level, there are all of these strings attached. There are these compliance and reporting incentives that both raise costs but also can be used to tweak our education system away from sort of demonstrable objective outcomes. You kind of wake up and look at that San Francisco school district that gave a quarter million dollars of taxpayer funds to a "woke kindergarten." From a parent's standpoint, they step back and say, "Hey, you know, maybe there's a conversation there that should have taken place with those parents." But the idea of removing so much individual consent or individual notion from every single dynamic of a government that continues, oftentimes not in a malevolent way but just out of a sense of hubris and arrogance to presume they know better and drive or incentivize outcomes that, stray from objective standards and into the realm of social experiment. 

I very much respect the libertarian non-aggression principle. You should be very, very humble and understand who can do what, our technocrats need to be humble, our government policymakers need to be very humble in appreciating what the unexpected outcomes of something may be. Because if you don't and you are reckless and arrogant, you know there's going to be a reckoning and that will be socially challenging. The bills come due, we're going to have to pay for it one way or the other. So let's have some humility on the front end, so we're not surprised on the back end. 

Wolfe: There are some libertarians, and I would probably count myself among them, that are a little bit more concerned about what our fertility rate looks like over time and whether or not we're going to be emulating Japan with their sort of graying population. How do you look at these thorny questions? How would you convince a skeptical libertarian or a libertarian who's antagonistic to your idea that baby-making is important? What would you say to them if you had 30–60 seconds to make your case?

Meijer: I would certainly agree that the government shouldn't be in the position of promoting a specific agenda. That's where I come back to policymakers also being very humble because a lot of well-intentioned policies, especially including in the pro-nativist camp, can lead to outcomes that are far from intended. Boiling down to that affordability question, you don't achieve higher affordability through subsidies that can have a temporary impact, but eventually, the market will adjust and it becomes a dependency. There are some things that I think are relatively objective social goods that if the government is maybe not in a position to be able to affirmatively promote or where they're promoting a policy could have negative effects, it should be doing everything it can to make sure that it is not operating contrary to that social good.

Wolfe: Why does it matter at all in the first place? Why does it matter that we have children running around and attending schools and on the playgrounds vs. a situation like Korea or Japan?

Meijer: Anyone who's interested in the long term fiscal sustainability of the U.S. should care or anybody who wants the U.S. to continue to be a growing and thriving country should care. Our social security system was set up when there were 14 workers for every retiree. Now the ratio is  2.1 to one. At some point, the math just kind of runs out. I'm very skeptical of the heavy-handed role of the government, what it could do in terms of affirming those policies and why I say the number one thing is, if we agree that this is good, we should be able to agree that the government shouldn't be doing anything to prevent that. The more you peel back those layers, that should be a place where you can reach bipartisan consensus and where it's aligned with just general limited government principles.

Wolfe: I find myself generally torn on this issue. I appreciate the ability to, in a sense, play devil's advocate and promote the libertarian side that's maybe more antagonistic to your thesis. I have a 16-month-old. I am extremely soft on the issue of babies, and I think that we should probably all have as many of them as possible. 

Weissmueller: One other thing that jumped out to me from that ad, which is an issue that's very important to Michigan voters, I presume, is when you're talking about manufacturing and competition with China. Let's roll that clip.

Clip from Peter Meijer's campaign ad about competing with China:

Do you know that China is graduating ten engineers for every American engineer? This is not a time where we can afford to play nice. I'm a free market guy, but if corporations want favors from our government, then they better be investing here. If we're going to have to pay for electric cars, then we better be building them in Michigan, not Mexico. And we should be using supply chains that are American, not Chinese.

Weissmueller: What I heard there was "I'm a free market guy but…" But what? Could you explain that a little bit further? 

Meijer: The reality of our current economic climate is that we are a free market with a heavy asterisk around so many different areas either from heavy-handed federal policy or regulatory jawboning or just objective pieces of legislation that have been passed. Washington is picking winners and losers. We are making determinations. Plenty of companies come to D.C. for handouts. The ideal world is to peel that back and to get away from it. If we have this world and I want to deal with the world as we have it, I would like to see us get to a world, where we do have far less federal policies that are creating a more challenging business environment, especially those that are not readily defensible on grounds of safety or just objective environmental components, but are around more nebulous goals, strings attached to dollars.

In my state of Michigan right now, we have made so many parts of our state regulatory apparatus burdensome that the only companies who are coming here are those that we're forking over hundreds of millions of dollars to incentivize them to come. At that point, they're oftentimes the only companies that don't want to relocate or won't be received well anywhere else. And many of them end up having Chinese economic ties. This is where untangling that web is essential. But where do we have that web having some very clear understanding of where we are opening up liabilities with our dependence on Chinese supply chains? I'm certainly not somebody who has any issue if our pool floaties are made in China. But if the majority of our prescription pharmaceuticals are coming from outside the country, and in the event of a disruption to global trade or international shipping or anything we saw along the lines of COVID-19, now we're in real trouble. I think it's about reducing those vulnerabilities, appreciating those vulnerabilities, and not just having a reflexive, what I think we've seen all too often, a reflexive notion, and even incorporated into American policy that ends up hurting our own ability, that we can go from buy American policies to the Jones Act to a handful of other places where you can just align what the stated intent of the policy was, and demonstrably show that the policy is not reaching it. That worries me. That's where I'm highly suspect of affirmative policies. But when we're looking at how our system is being managed at the moment, being very clear that we should not be permitting or accepting taxpayer dollars, that maybe shouldn't be going there in the first place. But if they are, then those should be focused domestically. If we have these policies, then they should be promoted in such a way that is doing minimal damage while we still have them.

Weissmueller: You're known as one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his behavior on January 6, 2021. Given what the GOP has become, we've seen Trump on this glide path to the nomination. How big of a problem is that for you in terms of being viable in a Republican primary?

Meijer: I frankly don't think it's much of a problem. I was just having this conversation earlier. There's an interesting dynamic and I'm not labeling Reason as a sort of "media." You are obviously a media organization, but in the broader media narrative, everything can be reduced down to these kinds of polar dynamics. Right? You're either pro or anti; you're on one side or the other. I never called myself somebody who was anti-Trump or never Trump. I took serious issues up to and including obviously voting to impeach the former president for his actions on January 6th. I thought that that was worthy of both condemnation and also worthy of adjudication in the Senate. Because that was a dark and shameful day. The American people deserve to hear the facts presented and for the then-former president to make his case.

The reality that escapes so much of our politics and where it becomes challenging is that I don't accept that you have to be all one thing or all the other that you know, you're in either the black box over here or the white box over here. I try to call balls and strikes. I try to be as honest a broker as I can of not excusing something that I would have condemned had it been, somebody of the opposite party doing. I think that's something I grew up despising politicians for—watching John Stewart back when he was actually funny and seeing him playing clips of a member of Congress arguing against the two-year prior version of themself on the same issue, with the only difference being who was the president and they supported it when their guy did it and they opposed it when the other person's guy did it. I think that leads to the cynicism we have. So that's who I try not to be. I try to have that consistent approach to try to call balls and strikes and be an honest broker. I can honestly say I would vastly prefer my least favorite Republican candidate to a second Joe Biden administration.

Wolfe: Why were so many of your colleagues such cowards when it comes to the impeachment vote?

Meijer: There were certainly plenty of folks who had what I would say are sincere and reasonable objections. The vast majority of folks will just, and this is not limited to that vote, and almost everything it would say there is safety in numbers, where is everybody else going, I'll just follow suit.

Wolfe: Am I missing anything or is that a pretty clear-cut situation where there's just an extraordinary moral cowardice problem among Republicans right now

Meijer: The sort of line is you never have to explain why you voted no on something. But, if you vote yes, somebody will always find something to blame. I had some colleagues who would agree with everything you said, but they read the article of impeachment and they were uncomfortable that it was alleging a criminal action, not a criminal process. But that didn't have a kind of broader dereliction of duty. There were Republicans who were trying to work with Nancy Pelosi on having a more limited article, who had committed to voting in favor of it. But she said, "No, we're going with what we drafted," because her goal was to have as few Republicans and support as possible. 

I'm going to save a lot of that for a memoir. The way I look at things, change the party, change the person who's doing it from somebody who's on my side to oppose or somebody who's opposed to me to being on my side. If that changes how I view the action, then my ethics are clearly only situational, and I should find something that I can be consistent about. There's going to be things that are at a sticking point to you in the minority you might be comfortable with if you're in the majority or vice versa. But the sort of just reflexive approach where it doesn't seem like anybody actually believes anything, I don't abide by that. I don't like that. I saw plenty of it, but it disgusted me. I enjoyed quietly being like, "Now, no, you voted this way in the effort to hold Eric Holder in contempt. But, how are you making the distinction between this, and just one of my colleagues' credit?" They would say, "Okay, I can find 2 or 3 distinctions, but I don't really believe in it." Some of this just comes down to shirts and skins.

Weissmueller: You would support even your least favorite Republican over another Joe Biden presidency. We can possibly put Donald Trump into that category. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but, why is that?

Meijer: To me, the two most pivotal days in my time in Congress were January 6, 2021, and August 15, 2021, when Afghanistan collapsed. Both were moments where a lot of folks that I had thought better of or systems I had thought that had some competency—the shine was totally off. Both of those respective apples, one on the domestic political side, the other and our kind of incompetency of our national security apparatus, and the unwillingness of a lot of people to gauge and react to appropriate risks. 

Weissmueller: Is it fair to lay the disaster of the Afghanistan withdrawal completely at Biden's feet? 

Meijer: I want to be very clear. I felt very much betrayed and felt like that was sort of a betrayal by proxy of a lot of the folks who had hinged on us when Biden announced that he was going to withdraw by then said September 11th, and then it was moved up to September 1st. That was in April of 2021. I was supportive of that or supportive of Trump's effort to withdraw. We immediately had a bipartisan group of us working in Congress saying, "Okay, we still got a lot of folks who supported us, the Special Immigrant Visa program. What can we do now that we have a time frame, now that we have sort of a final clock, that should light a bit of a fire to go and process all of this?" It was roadblock after roadblock. Those flights only started leaving on July 29th. And it was 200 people a day. Not every day. Then within two weeks, the entire country collapsed. And we were left with the mass evacuation that we had. 

When I say we encountered roadblock after roadblock, some of it was just bureaucratic incompetence, making sure everything goes through the interagency process, yada, yada, yada. There was also a great fear on behalf of the Biden administration that the evacuation of Afghans, which was supported in a bipartisan way and was very much not controversial would end up getting compared or draw light to the problems that we were having on the southern border, which at that time the Biden administration was aware of and were paranoid of that becoming a larger media focus because they thought it would be so politically damaging to them or raise uncomfortable questions. Now that fear that led to basically the evacuation of Afghans who had supported the United States forces, that we had a commitment to, that ultimately was really the inflection point that tanked his approval rating. I both have a deep feeling of kind of personal betrayal from that and just a kind of a knife in my gut that I still feel very sharply. 

Weissmueller: Like the insane post-COVID spending bills?

Meijer: Like the American Rescue Plan was probably, I think the consensus estimates that at least three to four points, or at least two to three points of the inflation that we saw could be solely attributed to the $1.9 trillion coming out of that. We're always going to have some inflation just with COVID.

I think there were some well-intended policies that I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. When you're passing policies, when there's very clearly no economic imperative to do so, and it's just all sort of a partisan grab bag that buck stops at the president's office. But the broader challenge and issue that we have, I mentioned sort of legislative supremacy, and our executive branch is far too powerful. The fact that we feel like if you elect the wrong president, the country is going to take a nosedive. A lot of that problem is because of the office. I think the office of the president is one of the most dangerous institutions in the Western world right now because of how much power, both through Supreme Court decisions and through legislative ineptitude or inattention has ultimately accrued into that office. That to me is far more important than who the individual office-holder is and what their policies are.

Wolfe: I sincerely appreciate the argument that you're making and the pragmatism that you're talking about with regard to how Joe Biden has actively made the inflationary situation so much worse in a way that harms people's budgets. But I'm still struggling with this fundamental idea that, if push came to shove, you would feel more comfortable supporting Trump than Biden, in seeking another term. How do we know that it's not going to get worse in a way that fundamentally threatens American democracy and our institutions?

Meijer: Let me try to have a consistent standard again, that notion of being consistent. Understanding the components and depths of a problem. The numbers of Democratic voters who viewed the 2016 election as illegitimate were the mirror image of Republican voters who viewed 2020 as illegitimate. That doesn't excuse Republicans from doing that. Obviously, the post-2020 election period was dramatically different from the post-2016 election period. But to me, it says that the problem that's underlying this is more widespread, right? The violence on January 6th and the violence that we saw over the summer of 2020; neither excuses nor should allow anyone to condone one while condemning the other. I think both are worthy of condemnation. Both may have degrees of difference in various attributes, but the common thread is a large group of people expressing a frustration that they felt could not be resolved within the system, so they engage in activities that were attacking the system from without rather than working from within. 

Let's look at what is underpinning some of this. What is the problem beneath the problem? Because if we don't address it, if we don't get at some of those issues of institutional trust, if we don't have a government that feels like it is representing everybody, that there are minimal incompetent moments that are going to be highlighted. If we reduce the amount of times when someone looks at the government and says, what are these? Trying to swear less, but insert your profanity of choice guys doing. Then maybe we can get to the point where that temperature is boiled down. The challenge is from one partisan position to the other. Let me condemn all the things that I can on the other side and then find convenient ways of rationalizing my own. 

Wolfe: When you first learned about Democrats backing and supporting the person who was trying to primary you—and was ultimately successful in doing that—who was very far to the right of you, what did that feel like at that moment?

Meijer: I wasn't surprised. I was surprised that it came through the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That was actually their first independent expenditure of the 2022 midterms. It was blunt, paid for by [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. I have my own conspiracy theory behind that, that they make a blunder to basically send the bad signal to Democratic voters in the district to say, "Hey, you know, there's really no competitive Democratic primaries you can vote in either." Now, I don't think that had a large impact. I think I called it sanctimonious bullshit on CNN. 

Again what do you actually believe in? Very few things that happened while I was in Congress came as a surprise to me in terms of me just objectively being like, I can't believe this is happening. So, a lot of my worst assumptions or worst predictions, or just my lowest estimation assumptions ended up being affirmed, but I was really surprised.

Weissmueller: There's very likely going to be a sizable percentage of voters that are voting for neither Trump nor Biden, possibly covering the spread. That's got the Democratic Party and probably the Republican Party panicked. Is there any antidote to that kind of establishmentarianism?

Meijer: No. To me, the strongest method is having trusted, objective folks who can look at a situation and just say, "Okay, you know, Democrats are railing about gerrymandering and how the Republicans are being evil down in Texas. So defend what you guys are doing in Illinois and defend what you're doing in New York." I think it needs to be called out. It needs to be pointed out. 

It cracks me up the amount of times when everything is the most important. This time is different. We need to throw the rules out the window up until the time when we want those rules back because they protect us. Up until the next time is even worse. And now, trust us now. If you look at the way in which President Biden every single time, he wants to blame Republicans for something, it's always MAGA Republicans. It's always extreme MAGA republicans. It can be Susan Collins and Mitt Romney and they are extreme MAGA Republicans. I think that is certainly not helpful.

Weissmueller: What is the GOP that you, Peter Meijer, would like to see?

Meijer: To me, that party is one where you can look at a Republican-run city, you can look at a Republican-run state and say, "Gosh, that kind of seems like a place that I want to live." Where folks are moving and voting with their feet. That they're already doing that with the amount of outflows from California to Florida is telling, but having more opportunities to see policies in action. 

I think that grounding or policy discussions within communities and focusing on those outcomes, it improves trust, it improves confidence. When you have subsidiarity, right, you have lower levels of governance that folks can get engaged with. Then they feel they have a voice. Then they don't feel like what is happening is something happening to them, but something that they are a part of that is a government of, by, and for the people. But that requires the right structure, that requires the right setup. It requires, you know, conservatives getting back to a fundamental idea of conserving the values of the founding and conserving the principles of the Constitution. I think it's behind a lot of the fears, a lot of the frustrations, and a lot of the anger in the Republican Party today. It's all about giving it direction. Rocket fuel can take you to the moon with the right nozzle, or you can blow up on the launch pad. We have the fuel, we need the nozzle, and we can go far. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.