In an interview with POLITICO Magazine, Meijer said he’ll now support whomever the 2024 GOP nominee is, amid little doubt it’s likely to be Trump. And he’s doing more than that for the former president. Just days before Meijer announced his intention to join the increasingly crowded Senate GOP field, he submitted a court filing arguing that Trump’s name should be allowed to appear on Michigan ballots next year amid debate over whether Trump is disqualified from the presidency because of his conduct on Jan. 6.
“It’s something that I’ve grappled with,” said Meijer, the 35-year-old scion of a mega Midwestern supermarket family and an Iraq War veteran, who called Trump “unfit for office” after Jan. 6.
It’s also a significant about-face for a politician who was one of just 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol riot, and his rationalizations sounded somewhat tortured. In fact, he seems to blame Trump’s revival more on Democrats and their “cynical calculation” than the GOP voters who remain in his thrall.
All of this is one of the clearest signs yet that even Trump’s critics are coming to terms with — and adjusting their politics to accommodate — the likelihood he’ll once again be the party’s presidential nominee.
Meijer faces a tough primary in the race to replace retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); he’s going up against former Rep. Mike Rogers, who largely occupies the mainstream GOP lane, and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who’s a Trumpier figure. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already come out against him, saying he can’t win.
Meijer brushed that criticism aside in our conversation and zeroed in on where he thinks the Republican Party is going, as well as why he views President Joe Biden as a bigger threat to the country than a second Trump term.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Adam Wren: When we last talked, I asked you whether you would support Donald Trump if he were the nominee in 2024. And you told me, “I have no idea how I would do that.” As you launched your Senate campaign recently, you said, “When it comes to 2024 I’m going to support the Republican nominee.” Did Trump change or did you?
Peter Meijer: It’s something that I’ve grappled with. I think [former Trump Attorney General] Bill Barr’s response has been, “I’ll jump off that bridge when it comes to it.” I would say one of the things that’s really changed between then and now is my frustration at the cynical calculation that I’ve seen on the Democratic side.
From time to time, some have admitted as much and other times they haven’t, or they’ve chosen not to kind of confess this desire [for Trump to win the nomination]. I don’t think it’s a controversial thing to say that the Democrats have kind of salivated — or at least this was the case going back towards the middle of this year before Biden’s poll numbers imploded — they were salivating at the prospect of a Biden versus Trump rematch, thinking that given the president’s weaknesses, his strongest chance of reelection was against Donald Trump. The substance of the Alvin Bragg indictment, I think, has been rightly viewed by folks across the spectrum as just quite spurious and politically motivated. And it’s not the timing of the classified documents investigation because I think that timing — I don’t take issue with that timing, it’s hard to know the fundamental substance of that — but when it comes to a lot of the Jan. 6 related investigations, kind of election-related investigations …
I’ll put it this way: Even if this substance is not political, the timing of it could not have been more calculated in order to support the reemergence and kind of bolster Donald Trump.
I may not feel this way if I saw the Democratic Party doing everything in their power to — if they truly viewed Donald Trump as the threat that they say he is, then if I saw them acting consistent with that, versus essentially forcing a game of chicken upon the American people — then I may have stayed where I was when we were having that conversation. But certainly right now, I’m just very much in “a pox on all houses” mentality.
My overarching goal is to make Joe Biden a one-term president. I think that economic damage that he has wrought and will continue to bring will have far more wide-reaching negative consequences on the country than a second non-consecutive Trump administration.
And frankly, if Donald Trump is returned to the Oval Office, there would probably be few better motivators to rein in executive power. I’ve been railing against the risks of the office of the presidency which I think is the most dangerous institution in the country today.
Wren: A little less than a year ago, you also told me “to hell with” the idea of running against other Trumpist candidates in this kind of moment. What changed? The moment or you?
Meijer: I think what changed with me was thinking about just accepting whatever direction we’re heading down, rather than being engaged, being in the fray, and being able to have a voice. Not only talking about issues, but trying to offer a different direction.
So much of our conversation today, if we’re talking about problems, we rarely talk about how many of those problems are symptoms of deeper problems, and rather than getting at the root of the dysfunction we end up living in the realm of the symptom. Being able to have those conversations with folks — here’s how you actually solve it — is something you can only do when you’re in the skirmishes.
Wren: In your primary, you face a growing GOP field that includes former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. The National Republican Senatorial Committee said, “Peter Meijer isn’t viable in a primary election, and there’s worry that if Meijer were nominated, the base would not be enthused in the general election.” In certain corners of your party, there’s some concern that you could split the moderate vote with Rogers and open up a path for James Craig. What’s your theory of the case?
Meijer: A) Let’s see who gets on the ballot. There’s a lot of hypothesizing. It cracks me up. That’s the NRSC’s sphere. And when I met with them, they said, “Michigan is not winnable.” I was like, ‘O.K., then why do you care?” “Well, if you get in then we’re worried that it’ll elevate the less electable candidate.” “Well, you just said Michigan is not winnable.” “Well, we’re worried that you can’t win the primary, and we’re worried that if you do win the primary, there’ll be a depressed base turnout.” “Alright, guys, which is it?” If I’m dissecting an argument diagram here, and putting it into two buckets, each is in contradiction with the other, and each has contradictions internal to themselves.
I have far greater problems with just the kind of cowardice of our political class than I do with Donald Trump. I have greater problems with that type of mentality within D.C. Republican circles that do nothing to respect or appreciate or even try to understand why it was that there was a lane for Donald Trump to rush in. I think they all attributed it to some nihilistic populism, when in reality he was standing in contrast to a political system that was just talking to itself, that was not offering solutions. And then they believed that they had some type of monopoly on political conversation, when they were hemorrhaging customers left and right, because they weren’t meeting the expectations of the demand.
That’s hard because it doesn’t fit neatly into a pro-Trump, anti-Trump dynamic. My frustration after Jan. 6 was that there were a lot of people who were more than happy to scream and shout behind closed doors about how terrible things were. And then when it came out into the open, they kind of swallowed their pride and voted with the herd. The reason why everyone has kept talking about Jan. 6 on the right as a wedge issue is because of the cowardice of a lot of those institutions to actually step up and lead and say what they believed, and rather, they sat back and let others take the wheel. And I, frankly, view those with that mentality as a far greater threat than anything. Donald Trump is just a bystander in comparison to those, that sort of blob — a homogenizing impulse that fundamentally believes nothing, and is not willing to take any risks or any chances.
Wren: That blob — do you want to name names?
Meijer: Most of Washington, D.C.
Wren: You’ve been asked a number of times since your campaign launch why you are a better candidate than Rogers. But I don’t think I’ve heard an answer.
Meijer: I think there’s a tension right now in the party. There are folks who are trying to figure out a way to manage through this moment because they believe that things will revert back to the way things were once Trump leaves the stage. That’s probably most of the Republican apparatus. And I think that is not only just the height of wishful thinking, but also this is where I have very complicated feelings towards the former president. I think a lot of the ways in which he kind of shook up the political establishment was a net positive. Like, he shook it too much. After the election, he kind of lost control of where the trends were going. But that does not mean in any way, shape or form that I think we should be returning to the pre-Trump moment. There were some strengths from that for sure. There was some improved organizational mobility and maybe a broader tent. I do not at all believe in the wholesale rejection of Donald Trump or the folks that he brought into the party.
This is the tension right now on the Republican side: You have folks who secretly want to go back to the way things were, and think if they do nothing, that the MAGA movement will burn itself out, and everything will return to the way it was. The other alternative is, things are perfectly fine, and they will need to continue with the status quo. The reality is it’s got to be a mix between the two. It’s got to be a blend. That’s where I think you actually have to offer a vision that can encompass that. And to me that vision can really only be achieved by delivering on policy. Because the failure of any party to be able to deliver on policy is what’s underpinning the broader disenfranchisement and disillusion of voters that will then lead them to support candidates going further and further to extremes.
Wren: In your campaign rollout, you said that Biden “has done far greater things to bring disgrace to that office” than Trump. What are those things?
Meijer: I think they’re far less dramatic, but I think more insidious. Specifically, let’s just acknowledge the fact that Biden did not come in with an overwhelming mandate from the American people to enact revolutionary change. It’s not like the American people were speaking with one voice that we want you to dramatically overhaul the size and scope of the federal government. And yet what they proceeded to introduce and force through the budget reconciliation process was arguably some of the largest increases in the role of federal government, done in a partisan manner, since the Lyndon Johnson administration.
I frankly hold Jan. 6 and the withdrawal from Afghanistan as singular moments of American disgrace, with the way that execution was conducted in Afghanistan leading to far more broad-reaching foreign policy implications and concerns about America’s global standing in the world.
You have the complete and utter disregard of upholding and enforcing existing laws on the southern border and now over 10 million folks that came through illegally combined with disastrous economic consequences from that incredible deficit spending, and the ham-fisted way in which the Biden administration has approached governing. Is that as dramatic as Jan. 6? No. Do I think that will have far more insidious and dangerous repercussions in the long term? Absolutely.
Wren: During his presidential campaign, former Vice President Mike Pence said that anyone who puts himself above the constitution should never be president of the United States. Agree or disagree?
Meijer: I say I would largely agree. The challenge becomes if you have two individuals who’ve done so, there’s a lot more shades of gray. Biden has done so in less dramatic ways, and he’s gotten much more of a pass from the media on it. I always play a fun game where it’s like, okay, how would the media reaction be to this if Trump was the one doing these exact same things? I’m frustrated by that dynamic quite a bit.
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