Democrats have tried to interfere in several GOP primaries this year, using ads that appear to be attacks on more extreme candidates as a way to subtly promote those challengers. The idea is to line up opponents that Democrats see as easier to beat in the general election.
But Tuesday’s vote was the first in which the closeness of the outcome — Trump-backed challenger John Gibbs won 52 percent of the vote, according to unofficial counts — suggested that Democratic meddling may have swayed the results.
Now, Democrats will see if their high-profile gambit to oust Rep. Peter Meijer will win them a seat in November. Whatever happens, critics say trying to boost Gibbs is ill-advised and undermines the Democrats’ argument that they are the pro-democracy party.
“It’s cynical and dangerous,” said Richard Hasen, a UCLA law professor and director of the Project on Defense of Democracies. “We know that the Trump wing of the Republican Party is doing a lot to undermine people’s confidence in the integrity and fairness of elections.” The idea that Democrats would gamble on electing more of these people because they believe they will be easier to beat in the general election is really playing with fire.
Some of the criticism came from within a party
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who has made protecting democracy a hallmark of her job, called out the decision by some in her party to support Gibbs.
“If we’re going to say as a party or as leaders that we believe in a healthy democracy that requires citizens to be informed and engaged, we have to follow those values in everything we do,” Benson said in an interview. with The Washington Post. “Meddling in another party’s primary does not reflect those values.”
She called it “a dangerous game for anyone to play. as part of a certain strategy, to support election deniers.
“I think playing the other side like that is a very risky proposition,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told The Post on Wednesday. “It’s a dangerous proposition for a campaign committee to try to boost a Republican in the primary, instead of boosting the Democrats.” Because they might actually win in the end and you’ll have something that’s even more extreme.
The Democrats’ second guess came days before the primary.
“It disgusts me that hard-earned money meant to support Democrats is being used to promote Trump-backed candidates, especially the far-right opponent of one of the most respected Republicans in Congress,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn. ) posted on Twitter last week when the ad appeared.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $435,000 on its advertisingwhich showed a series of images of Gibbs with Trump and called it “too conservative for West Michigan.” This apparent criticism may have come across as a compliment to many Republican primary voters.
Meijer, who is in his first term, earned the ire of Trump and many of his supporters by becoming one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach him after the Capitol uprising.
“Democrats got the match they wanted and threw out one of the few members of the House Republican Conference willing to remain principled and defend the Constitution. It’s reprehensible,” said Meijer campaign adviser Kevin Seifert.
Hours before the loss Tuesday night, Meijer told reporters it was too early to tell what impact the ad had. He called the effort a troubling move by a party that has repeatedly warned that Trump and his allies are trying to undermine democracy.
“I know a lot of people — my fellow Democrats in Washington — were outraged just by the cynicism and hypocrisy of it,” he told a crowd of supporters at a downtown Grand Rapids bar.
To essay In an online post on Monday, Meijer accused Democrats of not only helping Gibbs but “subsidizing his entire campaign” because their ads cost more than Gibbs’ campaign spent on the race, with campaign finance filings showing $334,000. Meijer noted that he has been denounced by branches of the Republican Party in his district and called a traitor by some of his former allies.
“Watching this unraveling inside my party was utterly bewildering,” Meijer wrote. “The only thing that sickened me was the ability of my fellow Democrats to sell any pretense of principle for political expediency, while decrying the failure of democracy while rationalizing the use of hard-earned dollars to support an alleged cause.” the object of their fears’.
Hasen, a UCLA law professor, echoed that sentiment.
“Democracy cannot be supported as long as one party believes in it and helps purge the other party of pro-democracy members,” he said.
As voters went to the polls Tuesday, Gibbs downplayed the role of advertising, saying the work of his supporters gave him momentum. He rejected the assumption by Democrats that they could defeat him more easily than Meyer in a district that leans slightly Democratic.
“Meier, first of all, has lost so much Republican support that he’s never going to win that general election in November,” Gibbs told reporters outside the community center. in Byron Center, a suburb of Grand Rapids, after casting his vote. “Many Republicans will stay home or skip the ballot because of the way he betrayed Republican voters.” So overall it is completely unselectable.
Gibbs will face Democrat Hillary Scholten in November, who was unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. in 2020 Scholten lost to Meijer by six points, but the district has since been redrawn to favor Democrats.
Scholten released a statement Wednesday saying “the DCCC ad is exactly what makes me sick of Washington and ready to fight for the people of West Michigan.”
Terri Itter, a sterilization technician at a dentist’s office, cast her vote for Gibbs on Tuesday at the fire station in Alpine Township, north of Grand Rapids. She said she was troubled by the Meijer impeachment vote because she didn’t think the Jan. 6
As for Gibbs, she said she received a letter criticizing him for his support for Trump, but she saw that trait as an asset. “I know they think he’s too conservative,” Itter, 59, said of Gibbs.
Other voters said Trump’s endorsement had the opposite effect than intended.
“I’m not a Trump fan,” said Jessica Morgan, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom who considers herself a libertarian.
Gibbs “has been very strongly supported and believes very strongly that everything is corrupt and we have to hate our government the way it is,” Morgan said. “I like to have more faith, so Peter Meijer was the safer bet.”
Chris Trevino, who voted in the Democratic primary, said he disagreed with Meyer on many issues but respected his vote to impeach Trump. He expected Meijer to beat Gibbs and said he believed Democrats should have focused on their own race instead of supporting a candidate they believe wants to usurp democracy.
“I personally don’t want anyone to support Trump just because I don’t believe all the lies of the election,” said Trevino, 29, who works in cybersecurity. “And anybody that has anything to do with election denial, I just want them gone.”
Tom Hamburger in Washington contributed to this report.