Western Michigan's 3rd and 6th congressional districts share a long border and mainstream conservative politics. Both have PVIs of R+5 and Señor Trumpanzee narrowly won both districts-- with 50.6% in MI-03 and 51.3% in MI-06. Each has one big county with a majority of the district's voters-- Kent County (Grand Rapids) in MI-03 and Kalamazoo County in MI-06-- and each of those counties in blue. Biden beat Trump in Kent County 52.0% to 45.9% and beat him in Kalamazoo 58.4% to 39.6%.
Meanwhile, Fred Upton was reelected in the 6th with 55.9% and Peter Meijer won the open seat in the 3rd with 53.0% (after Justin Amash retired), both seats having been targeted by the Democrats. And then, politically, everything changed: Upton and Meijer both voted to impeach Trump. Trump's deranged supporters in the two districts are on the warpath.
This morning, NY Times reporter Jonathan Weisman wrote that Meijer is trying his darnedest to stay above the fray and not get into any screaming fits with the wingnuts. Meijer: "Sometimes when you’re surrounded by cacophony, it helps to have someone sitting there who isn’t adding another screaming voice onto the pile."
Unfortunately for Meijer-- and Upton-- many of their constituents inhabit an alternative reality in which Señor Trumpanzee was re-elected, their votes were stolen, the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection was peaceful, coronavirus vaccines are dangerous and conservatives are oppressed.
"Upton, 68," wrote Weisman, "took office... the year before Meijer was born, 1987. But the two find themselves in similar political straits. Both will face multiple primary challengers next year who accuse them of disloyalty-- or worse, treason-- for holding Trump responsible for the riot that raged as they met to formalize the election results for the victor, President Biden. Both men followed their impeachment votes with votes to create a bipartisan commission to examine the Capitol riot, two of 35 House Republicans to do so. Both face a backlash from Republican voters who are enraged by what they allege are an effort by the F.B.I. to hunt down peaceful protesters, a news media silencing conservative voices, a governor who has taken away their livelihoods with overzealous pandemic restrictions and a Democratic secretary of state who has stolen their votes."
One of Meijer's opponents, brain-dead QAnon nut-case Audra Johnson, has refused to get vaccinated and predicted that the U.S. will soon be in a Civil War. Hopefully the delta variant will kill millions of people like her before they can start shooting their normal neighbors.
In March, a Republican-led State Senate inquiry into Michigan’s 2020 vote count affirmed Mr. Biden’s Michigan victory by more than 154,000 votes, nearly 3 percentage points, and found “no evidence” of “either significant acts of fraud” or “an organized, wide-scale effort to commit fraudulent activity.”
“The committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain,” it concluded.
The Meijer name graces grocery stores that are a regional staple-- founded in 1934 by the congressman’s great-grandfather, Hendrik Meijer, a Dutch immigrant-- and a popular botanical garden and sculpture park, established by his grandfather, Frederik, that is one of Grand Rapids’ biggest attractions. His father, Hank, and his uncle, Doug, took over the Meijer chain in 1990 as Forbes-listed billionaires.
Peter Meijer’s pedigree is matched by his résumé: a year at West Point, a degree from Columbia University, eight years in the Army Reserve, including a deployment to Iraq as an intelligence adviser, and an M.B.A. from New York University.
But these days in some circles, “Meijer” is less synonymous with groceries, gardens and prestige than with the impeachment of Mr. Trump.
“Last time, the problem was we were running against Peter Meijer,” said Tom Norton, who lost to Meijer in the 2020 primary and is challenging him again in 2022. “The advantage this time is we’re running against Peter Meijer. It’s a complete flip.”
In his Capitol Hill office, Meijer said that in one-on-one discussions with some of his constituents, he could make headway explaining his votes and how dangerous the lies of a stolen presidential election had become for the future of American democracy.
“The challenge is if you believe that Nov. 3 was a landslide victory for Donald Trump that was stolen, and Jan. 6 was the day to stop that steal,” he said. “I can’t come to an understanding with somebody when we’re dealing with completely separate sets of facts and realities.”
At a recent event, he said, a woman informed Meijer that he would shortly be arrested for treason and hauled before a military tribunal, presumably to be shot.
“People are willing to kill and die over these alternative realities,” he said.
Yet at least one of his primary challengers is amplifying that alternative reality. Ms. Johnson, a pro-Trump activist, splashed onto the scene in 2019 as the “MAGA bride,” when she appeared at her wedding reception over the July 4 weekend in a Make America Great Again dress.
She helped organize armed protests of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic restrictions at the State Capitol in Lansing and traveled with a convoy of buses to Washington for Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 protest against election certification.
While she said she did not enter the Capitol that day [most likely a lie], she said she knew people who knew people who did-- peacefully, she insists.
“Honestly, they’re terrified that the F.B.I. is going to come knock on their door,” Ms. Johnson said.
...One of Upton’s challengers, state Representative Steve Carra, has introduced legislation to force such an audit in Michigan, even though he conceded that he had only skimmed the March report, which not only concluded that there was no fraud but called for those making such false claims to be referred for prosecution.
“To say that there’s no evidence of widespread fraud I think is wrong,” said Carra, who was elected to his first term in November, at age 32.
He sees a golden opportunity to finally unseat Upton, who has been in Congress since before Carra was born. Redistricting could bring a new cache of voters from neighboring Battle Creek who have not spent decades pulling the lever for the incumbent. Upton’s challengers are bringing his moderate voting record to primary voters’ attention.
But above all, there is Upton’s impeachment vote.
“When Fred Upton voted to impeach President Trump, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” Carra said, sitting on a park bench in Three Rivers, Mich.
Jon Rocha, another of Upton’s challengers, spoke in measured tones to a reporter about his rival’s vote to impeach. Upton had been acting out of emotion, said the former Marine, who is Mexican American and a political newcomer, and had failed to consider Trump’s due process or take the time to investigate.
But onstage in front of the crowd at the Festival of Truth, Mr. Rocha’s tone darkened.
“This country is under attack,” he thundered. “Our children are being indoctrinated to hate the color of their skin, to hate this country and to believe this country is systemically racist and meant to oppress anybody with a different skin pigment. I can attest to you, as an American Mexican, that is not the case.”
Oppression is a theme: Ms. Johnson said she understood-- though, she hastened to add, did not condone-- violence by beleaguered conservatives. Mr. Norton suggested that transgender women were driven by mental illness to lop off body parts, and yet it was only those who objected who were ridiculed. Larry Eberly, the organizer of the Festival of Truth, warned the crowd that “we’re being manipulated” into accepting coronavirus vaccines, bellowing to cheers, “I will die first before they shove that needle into my arm.”
In the end, none of this may matter to the composition of Congress. The anti-incumbent vote may be badly split, allowing Representatives Meijer and Upton to survive their primaries and sail to re-election.
Meijer’s district had been held for a decade by Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning iconoclast who was fiercely critical of Trump and was the first House Republican to call for his impeachment. Amid the backlash, Amash left the Republican Party in 2019 to try to run as a libertarian. Then, when Amash found no quarter, he retired.
But Meijer will have his name, the support of the Republican apparatus and a formidable money advantage.
The question vexing him is not so much his own future, but his party’s. That is where he looks wistfully to Ford.
“Was he necessarily the leader on moving the Republican Party in a direction? I can’t speak to what his internal conversations were,” Meijer said. “But in terms of giving confidence to the country that Republican leadership could be ethical and honest and sincere, I think he hit it out of the park.”
Despite the tantalizing opportunties to flip one or both of these two swing districts, so far there are no declared Democratic candidates in either.