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Rep. Peter Meijer on his loss to Trump-endorsed challenger in Michigan primary

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Rep. Peter Meijer lost his Republican primary to represent Michigan's 3rd district this week. The first-term congressman served in the Iraq war and cast one of his first House votes to impeach former President Donald Trump. He lost to John Gibbs, a former Trump official who has pushed false claims about the 2020 election. Congressman Meijer has criticized the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spent big money on ads to boost his opponent. Democrats have used that tactic in several states, hoping the more extreme Republican candidates will be easier opponents in the fall. Congressman Meijer joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

PETER MEIJER: Thank you for having me on.

SIMON: What do you think is wrong with Democrats buying ads in Republican primaries?

MEIJER: Well, I think if you want to say that everything is a cynical, partisan ploy at the end of the day, then just say it. I think if a party wants to be self-righteous and sanctimonious and claim to be, you know, the party of democracy, contrasting themselves from the other side of the aisle that they view as an existential threat to the United States as a going concern, you can't hold both of those opinions simultaneously if the same time you're decrying the threat, you're amplifying it and energizing it.

SIMON: What about the argument that Democratic groups have used saying that the Republican Party, at large, is promoting candidates who would overturn lawful election results and it's just too late to play by those old, circumspect rules?

MEIJER: I heard the same thing going into Jan. 6 on the Republican side, right? That was what Steve Bannon said - oh, enough of the Queensberry rules. It's win at all cost. I mean, there's no incentive with that type of a politics to do anything but hug the most extreme elements of your party on either side of the aisle. If that's what our politics becomes, then we're just going to see greater and greater partisan swings and greater and greater partisan intensity. And I think that is fundamentally bad for the country. It's bad for the notion of governing. It'll be fantastic for advertising revenue, for consulting dollars. A lot of people can get rich off of that. Meanwhile, our country, our democracy gets ever more poorer.

SIMON: Mr. Meijer, you represent an area of Michigan - Grand Rapids area - that Gerald Ford once represented. How do you think your party has changed from the kind of Republican Gerald Ford was?

MEIJER: You know, I don't want to single out the Republican Party here 'cause I think the party of Gerald Ford on the right and the party of Tip O'Neill on the left, that world is long gone. There is very little incentive to be seen as substance-oriented. There's very little incentive to be seen as governing. There's a tremendous incentive to be seen as fighting, you know, the traitors in your midst, the RINOs on the right, the DINOs, which admittedly is, I think, a little less catchy in Democratic circles.

But I look at my colleague from Oregon, Democrat Kurt Schrader. Now, he's one of the most pragmatic members of the House, got primaried from the left and a seat that was considered safe Democratic under him because he reached across the aisle. He had a broad constituency. Now he's in line to be picked up on the Republican side, right? So I think both parties are doing what they can to narrow the size of their tent, in some cases, to their political detriment in the short term.

SIMON: Congressman, it's hard not to reflect on the two years you've had in Congress. It begins with Jan. 6 and then, a few days later, your vote to impeach. And now it draws to a close because you lost a primary to a Trump-endorsed candidate. What's happening in this country, do you think, in its political institutions?

MEIJER: You know, I don't want to overextrapolate from my one scenario. Every candidate, every opponent, every race is going to be different. But I think there is certainly a broader trend. And I saw this kind of firsthand in Washington - a fear of trying to improve something because if you touch it, you take responsibility. If you leave a problem alone and let it fester, you can - you're essentially held harmless under our current environment and under the current kind of media communicative mechanisms.

But I think broadly, populist sentiment and a belief that our institutions are failing, our institutions are corrupt, our institutions are irredeemable is becoming a very common belief on both sides of the aisle, and there is good reason to believe it. But the perversity is that dysfunctional government creates space for dysfunctional politics, and the dysfunctional politics makes it harder to actually make the government function.

SIMON: Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, thanks so much for being with us.

MEIJER: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.