The House Democrats' campaign arm is running a TV ad that could undermine Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., in his competitive primary election next week against Trump-backed opponent John Gibbs.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched the 30-second ad, which amplifies Gibbs' ties to former President Donald Trump by way of attacking him — which Meijer's campaign said was an attempt by Democrats to boost their chances of winning the district in the fall.
Emily Taylor, his spokesperson, said in a statement that the ad was “clear evidence” that House Democrats fear Meijer.
“Democrats don’t want to face Peter Meijer in the November election because Peter is the best candidate to represent West Michigan in Congress, and he’s the only candidate who will put the interests of the 3rd District ahead of partisan priorities,” Taylor said. “We are confident that voters will see through Democrats’ political games while Peter remains focused on the issues that matter most to the people he represents.”
Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who secured an endorsement from his former boss, is “too conservative” for Western Michigan, the ad says, pointing to his work for Trump's secretary of housing and urban development, Ben Carson.
The ad asserts that Gibbs was “handpicked by Trump to run" and claims he has promised to carry out the former president's conservative agenda in Congress, including a hard-line stance on immigration and support for “patriotic education.”
While the ad is presented as an attack on Gibbs over his connections to Trump, GOP primary voters could be motivated to vote for him for that reason. Meijer, his first-term opponent, was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Not all Democrats support the campaign committee's strategy.
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., voiced his opposition in a strongly worded tweet Tuesday afternoon.
"I’m disgusted that hard-earned money intended to support Democrats is being used to boost Trump-endorsed candidates, particularly the far-right opponent of one of the most honorable Republicans in Congress," Phillips wrote, referring to Meijer. "Another reason to reform our broken campaign finance system."
Phillips and Meijer are members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Asked about criticism of the ad, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the campaign committee’s chairman, disputed that it boosts Gibbs.
“Well, the ad criticizes the far-right candidate. So I don’t think it’s inconsistent with our larger goals,” Maloney said. “Obviously, our focus is on winning 218 seats, and each race will require a slightly different strategy. We think this makes sense in this case.”
The ad is the latest effort to covertly boost certain Republicans by meddling in GOP primaries, with Democrats hoping those candidates will be easier to defeat in a general election. One example includes party efforts to propel state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the Republican primary for governor of Pennsylvania. Mastriano, who was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, won the nomination and has trailed Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, in recent polls.
Some progressives argue it's a risky strategy — and one in tension with the Democrats' message that Trump's movement is a threat to American democracy.
Michigan gave President Joe Biden a slim victory over Trump in 2020, and it has been a prime target for election deniers. At a GOP primary debate this month, top contenders for governor declared their loyalty to Trump while promoting his stolen election falsehoods.
Matt Gorman, a former communications director of the House Republican campaign arm, said the ad "speaks to how desperate Dems are" in their quest to keep control of the House this fall.
"This isn't a strategy you undertake if you're confident you can beat the other person in a general election," Gorman said.