Impeachment Republicans Eleven Months Later
The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta recently wrote a fascinating profile piece on freshman Republican congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan. On January 6th of this year, the newly-elected Meijer had only been in the U.S. Congress three days when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He and his House colleagues were evacuated to safety that day, wearing smoke hoods and gas masks as insurrectionists burst into the lower chamber.
It was a trying time for Meijer. In the days that followed, articles of impeachment were introduced against then President Trump, and the congressman was left without much of a feel for how his Republican colleagues would be voting. Few were defending Trump behind the scenes, and the GOP leadership under Kevin McCarthy held no meetings, nor provided any guidance on the matter. As Alberta put it, “everyone was on their own.”
Meijer, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, knew the facts warranted impeachment; of that, there was no question. Still, he was tormented by the weight of his decision. He had barely gotten his feet wet in Washington, and hadn’t even finished unpacking in his new DC apartment. And yet, there he was, tasked with perhaps the most consequential vote he would ever make — the impeachment of a sitting U.S. president — a president from his own party. Doing what his conscience, duty to country, and respect for the Constitution told him to do could have meant career suicide… before that career had even begun. He got very little sleep over those days.
What little feedback he did get on the matter came from his Michigan district. Many constituents, including prominent community figures, had fully subscribed to Trump’s “rigged election” lie and other pro-Trump conspiracy theories, and were promising retribution if Meijer voted yes. Meijer did find some like-minded Republican colleagues in the House, and after seeking their counsel and further weighing the consequences of his decision, he bravely joined them in voting to impeach Donald Trump.
Only ten Republican representatives, including Meijer, voted that way. And he was the only freshman among them.
Meijer, of course, was expecting some backlash. He was fully aware of how committed his party’s base was to the president. But he did see a silver-lining in his vote that went beyond what he saw as his patriotic duty. He believed his decision might ultimately do a service to the GOP by helping to start a post-Trump, pro-truth intervention within the party. He hoped his example would send a message against political extremism, illuminate a better direction for Republicans, and perhaps even inspire others in the party to stand with him.
After all, as he and others stated in interviews earlier this year, there were several dozen more House Republicans that agreed that Trump should have been impeached for his role in what happened. Some were even calling for the 25th Amendment to be invoked that day, decrying Trump’s “Big Lie” and his other anti-Democratic efforts as being wholly unacceptable. But days later, those same people wouldn’t back up their sentiments with an impeachment vote. It was a decision they ultimately made out of fear — fear for their and their family’s safety, and fear for their political futures.
Meijer had hoped that January 6th would mark a turning point for the Republican party, but we know that things didn’t turn out that way. He and his fellow Republican dissenters, instead, have been met with scores of graphic threats, accusations of treason, committee removals, state-party censures, Trump-led primary challenges, and — as in the case of Liz Cheney — the refusal to even be recognized as a Republican in her home state. The GOP chair in Meijer’s state even joked that “assassination” may be one way of dealing with pro-impeachment Republicans.
Meijer now admits that his hopes for a healthier aim for the Grand Old Party had been ridiculously naive. He believed there had been an opening for moral, principled leadership, but it soon became clear that the base was too intoxicated off of culture rhetoric, misinformation, fear-peddling, and performative grievance to unite behind anything other than Trump.
Two of his Meijer’s fellow pro-impeachment Republican colleagues have already announced their retirements, seeing no future for them in the party. Others are slated to be primaried out of office next year by candidates loyal to, and endorsed by, Donald Trump.
“They want life in the shoes of the 10 of us to be miserable,” Meijer told Alberta, speaking of Trump and his loyalists.
This has been especially true in regard to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who’ve been serving on the January 6th committee, in the pursuit of public accountability for what happened that day. They were even labeled "Pelosi Republicans" by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for agreeing to serve on the select committee, after McCarthy dissolved the bipartisan committee that he himself had called for the creation of.
Alberta writes, “The question [Meijer] and his friends now ask of themselves isn’t just ‘Can I win reelection?’ It’s ‘Am I going to have to talk for the next few years about Italian military satellites and bamboo ballots and whatever [MyPillow CEO] Mike Lindell says?’”
Such outlandish topics seem to keep even the most noxious Republicans in the House — including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andy Biggs, Lauren Boebert, and Paul Gosar — in good standing with today's GOP.
The irony in all of this is that the Republicans who voted to hold Trump accountable for his provocation of the deadly January 6th attack are the very types of political leaders that the GOP had long sought after, recruited, and hailed as the future of their party. They include young men and women, ethnic minorities, and military vets of strong character and accomplishment (at least in how character and accomplishment were defined and valued within the party in the pre-Trump era). They’re also more conservative, in their voting records and policy positions, than their MAGA counterparts (most of whom don’t even participate in creating legislation, but spend an extraordinary amount of time in front of cameras trashing those who do).
Behind the scenes, the ten's Republican colleagues in the House still express their appreciation for the stance they took, and agree with the direction they want the party to go in, but very few dare to say so publicly, and certainly not on camera, because they know their own political careers would be on the chopping block next. So, they remain silent and hope for the party’s problems to just kind of work themselves out, somehow, at some point, down the line.
With the Democrats performing so terribly (including in polling), now that they’re pulling the strings in Washington, there’s even less motivation for career-concerned Republicans to put time and effort into repairing their own party. The result of that neglect will likely be the long-term continuation of the pendulum-swing politics that Senator Ben Sasse recently described. This hasn't been a good thing for the country, nor will it be a good thing going forward.
I think what sticks with me the most about these ten dissenters — particularly with Meijer (who came to DC as a total novice) — is that their plight really is a testament to how Republicans of character and principle, who can be relied on to put their country before partisanship and personal interest, really have no reason or motivation to run for office — at least not in today's political environment.
Why would such a person even bother, when they (and their families) are turned into pariahs the moment they react to tough situation by demonstrating integrity and doing the right thing?
I honestly can't think of an answer, and that — to put it mildly — is very concerning.
Sean Coleman is back in John A. Daly's upcoming thriller novel, “Restitution.” Click here to pre-order.