Meijer’s Defeat Shows Republican Intolerance for Trump’s Antagonists

WASHINGTON — The defeat on Tuesday of Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan, the young conservative scion of a supermarket empire who voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump, was another sign that the party’s conservative core is bent on casting out those who have dared to break with Mr. Trump, who has embarked on a revenge tour aimed at punishing his adversaries.

Mr. Meijer was defeated by a far-right challenger endorsed by Mr. Trump, becoming the second of 10 Republicans who broke with the party to back impeachment to be ousted in a G.O.P. primary.

Republican voters in the Grand Rapids-based district rejected Mr. Meijer in favor of John Gibbs, a former official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development with a history of firing off inflammatory, conspiratorial tweets. He earned the former president’s backing after Mr. Meijer supported impeaching Mr. Trump for inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, calling him “unfit for office.”

With Mr. Meijer’s loss, more than half of the Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump — at least six of the 10 — will not return to Congress next year. His defeat underscored the continuing appetite among right-wing voters who form the party’s base to force out those who defied the former president.

Two other Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump — Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse — were also facing challenges on Tuesday from Trump-endorsed opponents.

As of early Wednesday morning, both Ms. Herrera Beutler and Mr. Newhouse appeared to be faring better, aided in part by an open primary system and a crowded field of challengers. But there were many ballots left outstanding.

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack, Republicans alarmed by the violence, including Mr. Meijer, hoped that impeaching Mr. Trump would purge him from the party. Instead, they have been the ones to be marginalized and expelled from the G.O.P. ranks in Congress, as primary voters favor those who have adopted Mr. Trump’s playbook of attacks fueled by cultural grievances and conspiracy theories.

Four Republicans, most of them squeezed by unfavorably redrawn districts, decided to retire rather than run for re-election. Representative Tom Rice of South Carolina was defeated in June by a Trump-endorsed primary challenger who called Mr. Rice’s support of impeachment a betrayal. And Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has become Mr. Trump’s chief antagonist and most vocal critic in Congress as the vice chairwoman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault, is trailing her Trump-endorsed primary opponent significantly in public polls.

The result is that the already thin ranks of moderate and mainstream conservative Republicans in the House are likely to be even thinner next year, with brash, Trump-styled candidates replacing them. Should they prevail in November, they will help set the tone for a potential G.O.P. majority in which loyalty to Mr. Trump is a driving force.

In another era, Mr. Meijer would have been considered a poster boy for the future of the party: a 34-year-old, self-funding conservative military veteran who served in Iraq and has espoused a hawkish foreign policy, even going so far as to defy the Biden administration by secretly flying to Afghanistan last August to witness evacuation efforts as American troops withdrew.

But on his third day in office, Mr. Meijer was evacuated from the House chamber as a violent mob laid siege to the Capitol. A week later, he voted to impeach Mr. Trump and became one of the more outspoken Republicans warning of the former president’s corrosive effect on the party.

In an interview days after his vote, Mr. Meijer conceded that he “may very well have” ended his career in Congress.

“But I think it’s also important that we have elected leaders who are not thinking solely about what’s in their individual self-interest, not what is going to be politically expedient, but what we actually need for the country,” he told ABC.

Mr. Meijer’s premonition proved correct. By 3 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday morning, he was trailing by nearly 5 percentage points and The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Gibbs.

Still, Mr. Meijer put up a much stronger fight than even some of his allies in Washington had predicted, with suburban voters in his district turning out in strong support of the incumbent. But it was ultimately not enough to overcome Mr. Gibbs’s challenge.

Mr. Gibbs’s nomination will create an uphill battle for Republicans’ attempts to hold the seat. The district was redrawn from one that narrowly voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 — but previously backed Justin Amash, the libertarian former congressman — to one that President Biden would have carried by nine percentage points.

Mr. Gibbs, in 2016, spread groundless claims on Twitter that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman took part in a “satanic ritual” — one of the central tenets of QAnon, the false pro-Trump conspiracy theory. CNN first reported the posts.

Democrats are so bullish on their chances at retaking the district that they poured $425,000 into an advertising campaign bolstering Mr. Gibbs in a widely maligned effort at electoral engineering.

The contrast between the two candidates could hardly have been starker. While Mr. Meijer voted to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Gibbs has actively promoted conspiracy theories claiming to show that Mr. Trump was the winner.

Mr. Gibbs said in an April interview that it was “almost certainly mathematically impossible” for Mr. Trump to have lost in 2020.

Mr. Meijer’s short time in Congress vividly illustrated the nightmarish consequences — both personally and at the ballot box — that have historically met those who crossed Mr. Trump and that have kept so many of his Republican colleagues from defying the former president.

After Mr. Meijer voted to impeach Mr. Trump, he spoke openly of his “assumption that people will try to kill” him and the nine other Republicans who voted to charge the former president with high crimes and misdemeanors. He sought out body armor to protect himself.

Now, after just one term, Republican voters have cast him out.

“A guy who’s on our team should vote with our team,” a voter said at the polls in Kent County on Tuesday, declining to identify himself but saying he had backed Mr. Gibbs.

In Washington State, neither Ms. Herrera Beutler nor Mr. Newhouse has been as outspoken as Mr. Meijer. They have largely kept low profiles and declined to comment on the far-right flank of their party that they condemned in the days after Jan. 6.

Still, Ms. Herrera Beutler drew attention briefly last year toward the end of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, when she confirmed in a public statement that Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, had relayed a phone call he had with Mr. Trump on Jan. 6 in which Mr. Trump sided with the rioters.

Both she and Mr. Newhouse were running in crowded open primaries. In those races, all candidates from every party are listed on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the general election regardless of party affiliation.

That system, which favors candidates who are more inclined toward compromise and consensus, could serve as a lifeboat for the duo.

Both were trying to fend off Trump-backed challengers who ran less than sterling campaigns, and Mr. Trump’s endorsements failed to clear the fields in either race.

The former president’s anointed candidates were Joe Kent, an Army Special Forces veteran who is prolific on social media and conservative talk shows, who was facing off against Ms. Herrera Beutler, and Loren Culp, a former police chief and author, who was challenging Mr. Newhouse in a deeply red district.

Mr. Kent has campaigned as a “Stop the Steal”-style candidate and suggested baselessly that an otherwise peaceful crowd on Jan. 6 was infiltrated by so-called deep state agents. Mr. Culp, who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Jay Inslee, a Democrat, in 2020, refused to concede that election, claiming that there was widespread fraud.

Both Mr. Kent and Mr. Culp were running third in their districts in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Sam Easter contributed reporting from Kent County, Mich.





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