Gibbs poses with ice cream on the campaign trail. (John Gibbs for MI-3 via Facebook)
Gibbs poses with ice cream on the campaign trail. (John Gibbs for MI-3 via Facebook)

MICHIGAN—The primary race between Republican Peter Meijer and John Gibbs was, for many Michiganders, a canary in the coal mine.

Meijer, the incumbent Congressman from West Michigan’s 3rd district, is a Grand Rapids native and the grandson of philanthropists Fred and Lena Meijer. His great-grandfather, Hendrik, founded the Meijer supermarket chain, and with it started the family on the road to becoming one of the most well-known and wealthy in the state.

When Meijer ran for the seat vacated by Republican-turned-Libertarian Justin Amash in 2020, his campaign was the stuff of PG movies: Support from Michigan’s elite families—DeVos, Bissel, Secchia, VanAndel—and endorsements from major players in Washington. A young and fresh-faced hometown boy who’d served in Iraq, and who had an existing record of volunteer work with veterans, first responders, and urban renewal projects.

On Election Day 2020, the historically red district—controlled by Republicans for 142 of the past 167 years, and once represented by President Gerald Ford—was a close victory for Meijer. His opponent, Democrat Hillary Scholten, took 47% of the vote. But while Meijer’s 53% gave him his first political office, it also gave him two points on incumbent President Donald Trump, who carried the district with just 51% of voter support. 

Two months later, on Jan. 13, 2021—seven days after the Jan. 6 attacks—Meijer drew a clear line in the sand regarding his political integrity by voting to impeach Donald Trump.

The Aug. 2, 2022 Primary Election for the 3rd district had Meijer back in campaign mode, this time defending his seat against a new challenger: fellow Republican John Gibbs.

Gibbs is a Lansing native who was a software engineer for the evangelical Christian ministry WorldVenture, along with other groups like Apple, Palm, and Symantec. He made a name for himself by writing on social media and extreme-right websites about his belief that federal employees should be loyal to President Trump, about conspiracy theories tying members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff to satanic rituals, and attacking moderate Republicans as “cucks.”

In 2017, he was appointed to serve in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development under then-Secretary Ben Carson. Gibbs had no experience in the field at the time of his appointment. In 2020, Trump chose Gibbs to head the Office of Personnel Management—but opposition from major associations and unions, along with bipartisan concerns aired in his confirmation hearing, led to a pause on his confirmation until the end of the Trump administration.

In the fall of 2021, Gibbs announced his candidacy for Michigan’s 3rd congressional district. A few days later, he received Trump’s endorsement. On Aug. 2, he beat Meijer in the state’s Primary Election. 

Gibbs will now take on Meijer’s former opponent, Democrat Hillary Scholten, in the November 8 General Election.

Here’s Gibbs on the issues:

Reproductive Rights: 

Gibbs, a software engineer, cautioned against “workarounds” that allow abortions to save the life of the woman. “It’s definitely not true that the only solution in this case is abortion,” he said.

He also opposes exceptions for rape and incest, because “a child doesn’t deserve to be punished for what happened.”

For the primary, Michigan Right to Life endorsed Peter Meijer, who supported exceptions for the mother’s life.

Jan. 6 Attack

Gibbs has said that people imprisoned on charges related to the attack are “political prisoners.” In a June 28 interview, he supported the conspiracy theory that the attack was a false flag by the left.

“I would not be surprised at all if Antifa or other far left agitator groups, they’d try to infiltrate January 6 and commit terrible acts in efforts to make Trump supporters look bad,” Gibbs said.

He also parroted accusations by FOX News anchor Tucker Carlson, saying US Sen. Ted Cruz’s acknowledgement of the Jan. 6 attacks as a “violent terrorist attack” was “outrightly wrong.”

“Ted Cruz[, who] usually is good, did come out and called the Jan. 6 protesters terrorists a while back, which is very unfortunate. So some people on our side have really not grasped what’s going on here, and that’s sad,” Gibbs said.

In another radio interview, Gibbs said that if elected in November, he wants to “investigate whether or not these kangaroo hearings for January 6th are being used by certain people to go after their political opponents.”

He added that being elected would give him a platform for impeaching President Joe Biden.

“I think if I get in there and God opens a door for me to serve in Congress, that’s something we have to at least look at to see if there’s anything he’s done that rises to the level of high crimes or misdemeanors,” Gibbs said. “There’s so much material to work with there, such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fact that he’s given away our oil supply that’s supposed to be used only for national defense, et cetera, et cetera. There’s so much to look at.” 

BLM, LGBTQ Rights, and CRT

“People are sick of the madness,” Gibbs said. “People are sick of there being 57 genders. People are sick of Black Lives Matter. Radical critical race theory which, instead of defining people by the content of their character, seeks to define people by only their race. Very destructive and divisive stuff. People are sick of all the stuff that’s happening.”

[Editor’s Note: Critical Race Theory is not taught in Michigan’s public schools.]

Here’s Gibbs on other candidates—both Republicans and Democrats:

In a tweet from 2016, Gibbs reportedly called moderate Republicans “cucks”—a pejorative term commonly used by Trump Republicans to describe establishment conservatives.

During the 2016 Presidential race, Gibbs made multiple tweets referencing a baseless theory that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, had participated in satanic rituals.

Years later, Gibbs defended his words: “When I look back at this, I don’t really see anything to apologize for,” he said in a 2020 interview with the Washington Examiner.

Also in 2016, Gibbs tweeted #FreeRicky, after fringe-right personality Ricky Vaughn (not his real name) was banned from Twitter. Vaughn is known for his support of all-white communities, for anti-semetic comments, and for opposing interracial marriages.

In an August 2022 radio interview, he blasted Peter Meijer for not voting in lockstep with his fellow Republicans, then appeared to try to lump multiple political ideologies under the term “Republicans.”

“You know, on the Republican side, we have libertarians, socially conservative, socially liberal, many different camps. The Democrat Party is much more lockstep. They don’t allow dissent. They keep them all together,” he said.

So do Michigan Republicans want extreme-right leadership?

Gibbs’ primary win may be a harbinger of things to come this November—and it might not. That’s because he was helped to the finish line, at least a little, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Prior to Michigan’s Primary Election, the DCCC saw John Gibbs as a weaker candidate than Meijer—and sent him an assist. What’s notable here is how they did it. Meijer spent $2.1 million in his campaign efforts, while Gibbs spent just under $339,000. The DCCC, however, spent $450,000 on TV ads to bolster Gibbs. The progressive group produced a 30-second ad that appeared to favor Meijer, warning that Gibbs was “too conservative” and was “handpicked by Trump.”

The strategy appears to have been to prick the ears of Trump Republicans and use their penchant for such qualities—and for mounting revolutions against anyone in their way—against their strongest candidate. What’s more is that they did it transparently—the ad linked above is literally posted on the DCCC YouTube channel. And it just might have worked.