Thanks to a primary challenge backed by former President Donald Trump, Rep. Peter Meijer (R), who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, is facing a contentious fight for the GOP nomination in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District.
But Meijer told HuffPost in a phone interview on Tuesday that he has ruled out any kind of campaign to seek the seat independently if he loses to Gibbs in the Aug. 2 primary.
“My mentality is either ‘with my shield or on it,’” said Meijer, referencing a maxim ascribed to ancient Sparta encouraging warriors to return from the battlefield either victorious or dead.
“I am a Republican. The Republican Party is where I feel my values are best represented at this moment,” he added. “The Republican Party has been my home since I started my high school’s Young Republicans club during the first term of George W. Bush’s administration.”
Even if Meijer, a military veteran and former risk analyst, wanted to run as an independent in the general election, the deadline to obtain a spot on the ballot for those purposes has passed. If Meijer chose to run a write-in campaign, however, he would have until the second-to-last Friday before the general election to notify the state of his plans.
There is precedent for a west Michigan Republican abandoning the party over the issue of loyalty to Trump. Meijer’s predecessor in the House, Justin Amash, left the GOP and became an independent in July 2019, citing the party’s allegiance to Trump, whom Amash regarded as corrupt and authoritarian.
Meijer initially ran against Amash on the grounds that Amash’s independence had become an obstacle to delivering for the district. But Amash announced in July 2020 that he would retire rather than seek reelection.
HuffPost followed up with Meijer’s campaign on Tuesday to see if he would commit to endorsing the Republican nominee in his district if he falls short against Gibbs. A spokesperson said only that they would “expect” him to do so.
When asked the same question on Tuesday, Gibbs, a computer scientist and former Trump administration official, declined to entertain a scenario in which he loses to Meijer.
“Thankfully it won’t come to that. There’s never been a single poll showing Meijer in the lead; all have shown strong leads for us,” Gibbs said in a statement. “This is testament to the hard work myself and my team have put in, which will lead to a strong Gibbs victory next Tuesday.”
The Gibbs campaign released an internal poll earlier this month showing him leading Meijer by 18 percentage points.
If Gibbs prevails against Meijer, though, he is expected to have a tough general-election fight on his hands. Nonpartisan redistricting made the electorate in Michigan’s 3rd District more Democratic than it was during the 2020 election cycle. President Joe Biden would have won in the new seat by nearly 9 percentage points.
Many Democrats are openly pleased about the prospect of Gibbs defeating Meijer, since they see the more right-wing Gibbs as the easier candidate to defeat in November. An internal poll released in June by Democratic nominee Hillary Scholten, an immigration attorney, showed Scholten leading Meijer by 2 percentage points in a hypothetical general-election matchup but running ahead of Gibbs by 9 points.
“We have such a strong path to victory either way,” Scholten told HuffPost at her campaign office in Grand Rapids on Monday.
The national Democratic Party is not waiting to let events play out on their own, however. With the goal of facilitating a Scholten-Gibbs matchup, House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is spending $425,000 on a TV ad designed to boost Gibbs by highlighting his pro-Trump credentials.
Meijer would be the “underdog” against Gibbs regardless of Democrats’ involvement, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
In an interview outside of his campaign office in Byron Center, Michigan, on Monday, Gibbs rejected the idea that his win in the primary would jeopardize Republican control of the seat.
Meijer “cannot win the general [election] because too many Republicans are upset with him over his impeachment vote,” Gibbs said. “They simply will not vote for him in November. So he’s absolutely unelectable in the general election.”
Meijer and his team maintain that Democrats are correct to see Gibbs as the weaker general-election candidate.
Meijer called Gibbs’ argument that Republicans would rather stay home than vote for him a “galaxy-brain take that’s divorced from reality.”
“There is no demonstrated electoral history to back it up,” he said.
Meijer also expressed dismay with Democrats’ decision to try to prop Gibbs up.
“Just because I’m not surprised doesn’t mean that it’s not galling ― the staggering hypocrisy of it all, the malevolent cynicism that it represents,” Meijer said. “What do you expect out of a party that’s led by somebody who is as craven a political actor as [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi? It is just par for the Democratic course.”
Some Democrats agree with Meijer that the Democratic Party should not be holding up Trump and his fellow election deniers as a unique authoritarian threat and at the same time seek to elevate pro-Trump candidates in GOP primaries in the hopes that they are easier to defeat in November.
“I’m disgusted that hard-earned money intended to support Democrats is being used to boost Trump-endorsed candidates, particularly the far-right opponent of one of the most honorable Republicans in Congress, [Rep. Meijer],” tweeted Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat.