The case for the DCCC taking out so-called "moderate" Republicans
Also: Trump had *what* at Mar-a-Lago?
Thanks for checking out this edition of Public Notice. We begin today with Noah’s thoughtful piece about controversy surrounding the DCCC’s involvement in Pete Meijer’s primary defeat, and wrap with some quick hitters from me. Cheers — Aaron
Last weekend, Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) excoriated Democrats for boosting his primary opponent. Meijer voted to impeach Trump following the January 6th insurrection; his opponent, John Gibbs is a rabid election denier.
The DCCC, which supports Democratic House candidates, thought Gibbs would be easier to beat in a general election and spent more than $400,000 on ads designed to elevate him in the final days of the campaign. These ads called Gibbs “too conservative” and linked him to Trump; they are honest and negative. But Republican primary voters love extremists, and when they hear that someone is “too conservative” they race to vote for them.
Meijer, as you’d expect, was not pleased. He said the DCCC approach was “a dangerous strategy” which could “backfire in a spectacular way.” He referred to Joe Biden’s low approval numbers, and suggested the DCCC strategy could lead to more Republicans like Gibbs in office, which would be dangerous for US democracy.
“[W]e should not be embracing the zero-sum idea of politics,” Meijer insisted.
From these statements, you might conclude that Meijer considers John Gibbs to be unfit for office and a threat to the constitution. He thinks people of good will should do everything possible to prevent John Gibbs from getting into office. He thinks party shouldn’t enter into it. Right?
Ha ha. No. Meijer is angry at the DCCC for contributing to his defeat. But as soon as he lost, he turned around and attended a Republican unity rally in which he introduced Gibbs.
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“This was a hard fought race,” Meijer said. “You know, it was a long race but a race that John ran very well.” He wished Gibbs “the best of luck and all that is to come.”
Some commenters have pointed out that Meijer didn’t formally endorse Gibbs; he merely went to the rally to show he (unlike Gibbs) supports election results. But as Josh Marshall of TPM points out, “You show you respect the results of the election by admitting that you lost not by holding a unity rally with the other candidate.” Meijer was encouraging all Republicans to unite behind Gibbs. That is the point of a unity rally.
Peter Meijer doesn’t want the DCCC to boost his primary opponent, who he believes (accurately) is a dangerous loon. He wants Republicans to win the House, even if they have to do so with dangerous loons. This isn’t necessarily inconsistent, or even hypocritical. Meijer can believe he is better for the country than Gibbs, and that Gibbs is better for the country than a Democratic House.
It does, however, leave Democrats with a conundrum. And it explains why the DCCC targeted Meijer in the first place.
The myth of the reasonable Republican
The Republican Party has a problem with anti-democratic extremists who want to overthrow elections and establish authoritarian rule by coup. That’s Gibbs. But it also has a problem with supposedly “moderate” Republicans who come across as more reasonable, but who won’t actually confront the extremists. More, these moderates provide votes and support to help the extremists build power and enact their authoritarian agenda.
As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein explains, “the reason Democrats and many others believe that democracy is in danger isn’t because the entire Republican Party is made up of fringe authoritarians. It’s because the bulk of the party isn’t willing to take on the fringe, and therefore Republican majorities in Congress and in statehouses are, given where we are, a threat to democracy.”
Meijer is an exception in some ways. He voted to impeach Trump. That was a real, courageous effort to check authoritarianism and extremism in the Republican Party.
However, when you look at Meijer’s other positions, he is less distinct from his colleagues. He voted against the creation of the January 6 commission. Like all other Republicans in the House, he opposed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. In addition to these antidemocratic positions designed to advance authoritarianism and erode democracy, he also opposed rape and incest exceptions for abortion bans.
Mainstream Republicans like Meijer do not think January 6 should be investigated. They want to disenfranchise voters. They want to strip bodily autonomy from pregnant people.
More, they push these extremely dangerous policies using rhetoric of reasonableness and moderation which can appeal to independent voters. Meijer’s district went to Biden by 9 points. Yet he convinced a fair number of those Biden voters to cast their ballots for a Republican who supports disenfranchising Democrats and protecting an electoral system sliding towards minoritarian rule and fascism. That pretty clearly makes him a danger to democracy.
Of course, Gibbs is clearly a danger to democracy too. He promoted the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chair John Podesta took part in a Satanic ritual. He tweeted in support of a banned, notorious antisemitic twitter account. He’s all in on 2020 election conspiracy theories. He is an irresponsible, poisonous figure, and unfit for office of any kind.
So Gibbs is dangerous. But Meijer is also dangerous, in that, like most moderate Republicans, he supports people like Gibbs (he went to a unity rally) and is more likely to win a general election than an extremist. A vote for Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House is, effectively, a vote for Trumpism, and both Gibbs and Meijer will cast that vote. And the vote counts the same whether it comes from Meijer, who says he doesn’t like Trump, or from Gibbs, who says Trump is God incarnate.
So what do Democrats do? Boost Meijer, who will get into office and vote for terrifying anti-democratic Republican policies, with maybe one or two exceptions? Boost Gibbs, who is less likely to get into office and will vote for terrifying anti-democratic Republican policies with no exceptions? Do nothing and let the incredibly broken and terrifying Republican Party strategize against you without interference so at least you have clean hands?
As you’ve probably noticed, all of those options suck. And they don’t suck because of Democrats. They suck because the Republican Party is an anti-democratic disaster dedicated to extremism, minority rule, and setting the constitution on fire.
There’s a reasonable case that Democrats need to try to encourage a better Republican Party, and so shouldn’t target figures like Meijer, who took a stand against Trump. There’s also a reasonable case that, in this current ongoing nightmare, Democrats have an absolute imperative to win.
I think you can make a good faith argument either way. But I would point out that the Democratic Party is not set up to fix the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is set up to try to beat the Republican Party.
Democrats can’t make the GOP the party of Meijer, even if they want to. If Republicans don’t want their party to be led by Gibbs, then Republicans need to stop handing the party over to people like Gibbs. Instead, Meijer appeared at a unity rally and wished Gibbs good luck. They stood together. And as long as they do, Democrats have little incentive to distinguish between them.
Steve Doocy asked a great question about the GOP’s turn against the FBI
As Republicans remain performatively mad about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, Steve Scalise went on Fox & Friends and ended up being challenged with a very good question coming from Steve Doocy, of all people.