Our Best Stuff From a Week of Revealing Primaries
The Democrats back Peter Meijer’s challenger in Michigan, and a pro-life referendum fails in Kansas.
Hello and happy Saturday. I was on duty Tuesday night to monitor the results and edit our coverage of the primaries in Wisconsin, Missouri, Arizona, and Washington. (If you want to know what that looks like in a remote bureau as compared to a newsroom, it involves a comfy couch, news on the TV, Twitter on my phone, a 60-pound dog on my lap, and approximately 37 open browser tabs on my laptop.)
The Missouri GOP Senate race we were watching was over quickly, with one Trump-endorsed Eric (Schmitt) beating Rep. Vicky Hartlzer and the other Trump-endorsed Erc (Greitens). Arizona’s and Washington’s polls didn’t close until 11 p.m. ET, so that meant most of my attention was on the Peter Meijer-John Gibbs race in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District.
Meijer (if you missed our preview) was a freshman representative just days into his new job on January 6, 2021. He made an immediate name for himself by voting to impeach Donald Trump a week later, and solidified his reputation over the last 20+ months as a pragmatic moderate and critic of MAGA shenanigans.
Gibbs, on the other hand, worked in the Trump administration, thinks Trump was the best president of his lifetime, and claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate. For good measure, he’s also accused Democrats of participating in Satanic rituals.
Readers, I’ll let you guess who I was pulling for.
Early on, the returns seemed to favor Meijer. He trailed, but Gibbs was winning in two low-density counties that tallied ballots a little quicker, and Meijer was ahead by a comfortable margin in populous Kent County. Surely that gave him an advantage.
And it did, until it didn’t. He took the overall lead briefly, but then Kent County started turning toward Gibbs. Then it was over.
As it became clear that Gibbs would win, a debate broke out among pundits and on Twitter around the fact that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $435,000 on ads featuring Gibbs in the week before the election. I say “featuring” because the ads were nominally anti-Gibbs—if you were a Democrat, that is (and hence not voting in the GOP primary). They assailed Gibbs as “too conservative” for western Michigan and called attention to his ties to Trump. Who’s going to eat that up? Trump supporters, that’s who. Some criticized the DCCC for meddling and warned that the move was playing with fire, while some NeverTrumpers and Democrats shrugged and blamed Republican voters for preferring controversial candidates in the first place.
A Trump skeptic facing a primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed MAGA candidate is not a new storyline—in fact, it’s THE storyline of the midterms for the GOP. And this isn’t the first race that Democratic groups funded. But this one feels different. It’s one thing to fund someone like Dan Mastriano, the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee who was at the Capitol on January 6, over Lou Barletta, a Trump supporter who sought the former president’s endorsement.
We can argue all day about the pros and cons of having a two-party system, but it’s our reality. Our government functions best when both parties are represented by their best. People who can disagree but find common ground, people who can challenge their opponents thoughtfully, each side forcing the other to sharpen their arguments and make the best case for what they want. It requires thought and consideration and hard work, not TV hits and publicity stunts and hyperbolic tweets.
Meijer is everything a good-faith Democrat should want in a representative on the other side. Above all that, he was courageous. He did the right thing in voting to impeach Trump—the very thing, the most important thing, that Democrats complained not enough Republicans did.
But instead of taking the chance they might have to work a little harder for the seat in November, the Democrats put their thumb on the scale in favor of Gibbs.
One of the facile justifications for such meddling is that it means the Democrats will have an easier time in the general election. And maybe, in some cases, that is so. After redistricting, the territory that now makes up the 3rd District went for Biden by 9 points in 2020.
But we’ve seen this show before. I remember 2016. I remember the glee my liberal then-colleagues at the publication I worked for felt about the idea of Donald Trump as the GOP nominee. I remember the cable networks airing his rallies live just for ratings. (It’s been calculated that free airtime was worth $2 billion.) It was all guano and giggles until the wee hours of November 9 when reality set in. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to take that chance again, however unlikely.
It’s true that the GOP has largely surrendered to the Trump cult of personality and welcomed fact-resistant conspiracy theorists. But it’s offensively cynical for Democrats to shrug this off as, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” The GOP might have erected the tents and brought in the simians, but Democrats passed out the bananas.
Thanks for reading. Now, here’s our best stuff from the week.
A common putdown for Trump-skeptical Republicans—at least those in Washington, D.C.—from the right is that these RINOs opposed Trump because they didn’t want to miss out on invitations to “Georgetown cocktail parties” where they could hobnob with other powerful people. It’s a silly argument, but—as it turns out—there’s a whole generation of up-and-coming conservatives who spend their weekends mingling with other elites at swanky parties. In this thoroughly reported piece, Alec exposes not only this somewhat superficial example of hypocrisy among the “new right” but explores what it says about a movement that wishes to extol the virtues of “middle America”—claiming it is the best model for society—without actually getting to know or engaging with the people it claims to idealize. As one source told Alec, “I don’t think you have to be making pilgrimages to rural Texas every week to think that policies [American Compass founder Oren Cass] supports are good for the country.” Grab a lavender cookie and a bellini and read the whole thing.
In French Press (🔐), David lauds Nancy Pelosi for her trip to Taiwan and her consistent opposition to the Communist regime in China, but he notes that she didn’t exactly go it alone. Three Navy ships—an aircraft carrier and two amphibious assault ships—operated off the coast of Taiwan to serve as a deterrent to any Chinese interference with her trip. He discusses the importance of showing not only resolve but capacity, and how the combination is especially important in helping us maintain our “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan. “If aggression from China isn’t countered by a ramped-up American response, then ambiguity is empty. We demonstrate neither capability nor resolve. But when China threatens the life of our speaker of the House, then sees three of the most powerful warships afloat (carrying the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world) all within striking distance of the Chinese mainland, then they see Pelosi’s resolve supported by the Navy’s capability.”
Speaking of China … There aren’t many issues on which Democrats and Republicans work together easily in Congress, but China has been an exception. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed the House 428-1 and 100-0 in the Senate. There is currently widespread support for the Taiwan Security Act, which would give billions in security aid to Taiwan, and designate it as a major non-NATO ally, but the bill is delayed. What gives? With both pieces of legislation—not to mention Pelosi’s trip to China—the White House has pushed back. What gives? Haley explains in Uphill that the Biden White House is unwilling to provoke China, in part over sensitivity to the “one China” policy that officially recognizes only the mainland and in part because it hampers the administration’s ability to get China to cooperate on its climate initiatives. She writes: “The Biden team views the rest of the year as particularly sensitive for relations with China, as several key international and internal Chinese Communist Party meetings are on the schedule for the coming months.”
Abortion was on the ballot for the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, as Kansas’ primary featured a referendum over whether to amend the state constitution to explicitly state it did not guarantee a right to abortion. The measure failed by a wide margin—59 percent to 41 percent. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. No, the biggest surprise was the turnout: More than twice as many people voted in the primary than four years ago, and there were more votes on the referendum (more than 900,000) than in both parties’ gubernatorial elections combined (730,000). In The Sweep (🔐), Sarah explained that voters treat issues differently than they do candidates—their agreement on some issues might outweigh differences on even a hot-button issue like abortion. In Stirewaltisms (🔐), Chris looked at what the turnout might mean for the general election. “Partisans are highly engaged and, as usual for the past 12 years, mad as hell. My expectation was for an election in which we again watched the two parties try to turn up the intensity with their own voters as much as possible in another bid to win a base vs. base election. But the Kansas result hints at the possibility of a surge in low-propensity voters.”
And now the best of the rest.
Democrats are eager to forgive some amount of the $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt held by Americans, from $10,000 to $50,000 to the whole shebang. Jacob Becker argues that there are better ways to address the problem than outright forgiveness.
The Senate voted 95-1 this week to approve Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. The one nyet? Josh Hawley, who’d written an op-ed explaining why he’d vote no. Ahead of the vote, Andrew Fink responded to Hawley’s essay and explained why Hawley was wrong.
It used to be commonplace for pro-lifers to support exceptions to abortion bans for rape and incest. That trend has shifted over the years, and it’s all the more apparent now that Dobbs has made it a practical matter, not a philosophical one. Ben Woodward details which states provide exceptions and how those measures vary.
Are we in a recession or not? In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome says that’s the wrong question to ask, and he complains (rightly!) that we are wasting time fighting over definitions instead of looking for policy solutions that could ease the burden of a recession if/when we get there.
Wisconsin has its primary this Tuesday, and the GOP gubernatorial race has become a battle in the proxy war between Donald Trump, who has endorsed Tim Michels, and Mike Pence, who has endorsed Rebecca Kleefisch. Harvest reports from the Badger State.
On the pods: Catch up on all the news of the week, from Zawahiri’s killing to the primary elections to Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, with the whole gang on The Dispatch Podcast. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss Kansas’ failed abortion referendum and a lawsuit against Idaho’s abortion ban. Jonah welcomes AEI fellow and former Princeton professor Joshua Katz to The Remnant for a conversation on free speech. After all that, turn in for Curtis Chang’s reflection on resting on the sabbath and the “spiritual discipline of letting go” on Good Faith.