Democrats' efforts to puff up primary foes of pro-impeachment Republicans are deceitful and self-defeating
Congressman Peter Meijer speaking with attendees at the American Conservation Coalition's 2022 Summit. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rep. Peter Meijer was one of just 10 Republicans to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in 2021. He’s among only five still clinging to a chance of survival as a Congressman after that principled act.

What has been Meijer’s reward from the Democrats with whom he joined forces by standing up to his own party against Trump? A dirty trick from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The DCCC just made a $425,000 ad buy on broadcast and cable in northwestern Michigan designed to help Meijer’s Trump-endorsed opponent defeat him in next week’s August 2 Republican primary. The theory is that Gibbs would make a weaker foe for the Democrats in November than the moderate Meijer.

It is a replay of a failed strategy attempted by the Democrats this year in California, where Rep. David Valadao – another of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump – was targeted in the GOP primary. There the Democrats gave Valadao the same treatment by bolstering the underfunded candidacy of former Fresno City Councilman Chris Mathys.

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“Mathys came surprisingly close to Valadao after Democrats spent six figures on television ads boosting his candidacy because they believed he would be a weaker foe in the general election,” the Los Angeles Times reported in June.

Valadao still prevailed. The Democrats have every reason to oppose him conventionally in what is expected to be a tight November race for California’s 22nd congressional district against Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a moderate Democrat. But it’s hard to imagine the effort to prop up Mathys won’t hurt that cause with voters in the center.

In Michigan, the DCCC’s strategy is deceitful enough that it refused to comment on it to the Detroit Free Press. The ad aired by the DCCC pretends to be attacking the right-wing Gibbs as “too conservative for West Michigan” while aiming it at conservative voters for whom that would be a reason to choose Gibbs over Meijer.

The ad is presumably a sly attempt to help Gibbs, who not only was endorsed by Trump but worked in his administration. Here’s how the Free Press described the “too conservative” elements of the ad.

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“They include his endorsement by Trump, Gibbs' referring to Trump as 'the greatest president,'" his "hard line against immigrants" and more. Photos show Gibbs standing with Trump and sitting with him in the Oval Office while working as an adviser to Dr. Ben Carson, Trump's Housing and Urban Development secretary.”

As the Free Press also reported, “the ad doesn't even say it's been paid for by Democrats. Instead, it says it's from the "D-C-C-C," which is true but many viewers will have no idea what those letters stand for.”

Aside from being duplicitous, the ad runs the risk of alienating independents and moderate Republicans in purple Michigan. The “too cute by half” trick is receiving widespread national coverage labeling it “meddling” and more. Potential allies of the Democrats in the larger cause of protecting democracy are less likely to be fooled than the conservative Republicans targeted by the ad.

David Axelrod, former key advisor to President Barack Obama, lashed out at his fellow Democrats in a Tweet, saying “Republican Peter Meijer placed his young political career at risk by voting to impeach Trump. Disappointing that Ds are trying to help Trump exact vengeance.”

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Even stronger language came Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a key Republican on the House Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and another of the 10 GOP members to vote to impeach Trump.

"It's disgusting," he told CNN Tuesday morning. "You're going to have election deniers win [in November]. So, while I think a certain number of Democrats truly understand that democracy is threatened, don't come to me after having spent money supporting an election denier in a primary, and then come to me and say, 'Where are all the good Republicans?' "

The situation with Meijer is not at all analogous to the famous 2012 Missouri Senate race in which Democrats spent large sums – successfully – to bolster the Republican candidacy of the late Rep. Todd Akin, who had earned national scorn for his bizarre statement that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy. The Democrats succeeded in getting Akin as a general election opponent for Sen. Claire McCaskill, who pounded him in a landslide.

Ten years later, the parallels fall apart. None of Akin’s primary rivals were worthy candidates who had done anything as principled as Meijer’s impeachment vote. They were merely right-wing Republicans who weren’t burdened by Akin’s well-deserved toxic notoriety.

It’s understandable that Democrats wants to flip every close district they can in an election cycle in which they are widely expected to lose control of the House. But trying to finagle the easiest GOP opponent is a longshot strategy at best and – in the case of the small handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Trump -- a nefarious one at worst.

And there’s always the risk it might backfire, as Howard Schweber, an expert in American constitutional law and politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Raw Story in March. We asked Schweber about whether Democrats should be rooting for extremist Republicans to become their opponents.

“I'm always concerned when the gamesmanship gets quite that cynical, and I’ll tell you why. Several decades ago, there was an election in Wisconsin -- in those days, the primaries were open -- in which Democrats mobilized in substantial numbers to vote in the Republican primary.

They wanted to nominate the candidate who they were sure could not possibly win. He was uncouth, he was radical, he was extreme. His name was Joe McCarthy. The country paid a very dear price for that particular bit of gamesmanship.”