This past week I got the opportunity to speak to and interview Peter Meijer, one of the favorites for the GOP nomination in Michigan’s 3rd district. Below is the transcribed interview. You can also find the full recorded interview at the bottom of the article.
What inspired you to run for Congress?
Meijer: I spent a lot of time in public service in one stripe or another. After High School I was in the military and served in Iraq doing intelligence operations. I was very involved in the veterans community and advocating for educational support for our returning veterans. I also spent a lot of time in disaster response and humanitarian aid. Throughout all of those experiences I saw what good work government can do, but also how important it is to have experienced leadership at the helm.
West Michigan is my home. This is where I was born and raised, this is where my wife and I will raise our family. I want to make sure our home in West Michigan has strong and stable representation.
What’s it like running as a young person for congress?
Meijer: It’s funny, in the beginning of my race I had a lot of folks ask “how old are you?” and questions like that. The more they learned about my background, the more they understood I had spent three years between Iraq and Afghanistan. That I have testified before Congress, that I’ve helped pass legislation to make sure our veterans have the educational benefits they deserve. I started to get that question less and less.
I do think there is a hunger for a next generation of leadership to step up. I think there’s a lot of frustration with the status quo and an acknowledgement that we need to be doing things differently. That’s where a rising generation, who aren’t created in the “politics as usual” mold comes in. That’s where we really have an opportunity to try some new things and fight for a better future.
How has it been fundraising for a major congressional campaign and what are the challenges that come with it?
Meijer: The biggest challenge has just been the fact that our campaign, this primary, we launched our race over a year ago. We’ve had self-funders get into this race and then drop out. We’ve had a number of candidates be ascendant and then choose a different path. I think the biggest challenge is running a multi-pronged campaign for over a year. It’s been very successful on the fundraising side, but at the same time its always a challenge just to maintain that momentum for 13 months in a primary and 15 months if we include the general election.
We’ve been successful on the fundraising side. Our campaign has been one of the better fundraisers in Michigan, especially considering our primary is much later. We’re proud of the support we have gained in the community. That’s been one of the things I’ve been most proud of in our fundraising side is over 90% of our donations have been from Michigan. Over 80% is from the district itself. That’s where you start to see a lot of folks who try and fundraise nationally and off the hot issue of the day. What they’re doing though isn’t actually getting votes, they’re just raising money most of which they spend on Facebook ads.
How much did your time in Iraq influence your views in politics, if the time you spent there did at all?
Meijer: I was with the military in Iraq, like I said I ran some intelligence operations. I was also an interrogator and a source handler, really working to counter lots of the Iranian backed militias that were attacking our forces. In Afghanistan, I was non-military, I was a civilian working for the humanitarian aid community. I’ve been on both sides of the blast wall, I have seen the war as a combatant and also as a non-combatant.
One of the things I really left with was the fact that on the ground everyone gets a score. Yet, no matter what the opinion is back in D.C or the media, it’s not always wrong, but it’s never right. That was one of the things that frustrated me the most is you have a lot of good intentions, a lot of good people, a lot of money coming in one end and then a lot of waste, death, destruction and a lack of any positive movement coming out of the backend. So, I came away from that saying one of our biggest problems in our conflicts is we have no strategy. If we do have strategies, they can turn on a dime depending on who’s in power.
As long as we are fighting wars with eyes towards the next election rather than having any sense as to why we’re fighting or what our goals are, we’re going to be beaten and we won’t be victorious. One of my big goals and a big reason to why I’m running is so that we can at least say, “Listen, there’s going to be a lot of places where Democrats and Republicans disagree.” I am under no illusion that partisanship is ever going away. As the former Senator from Grand Rapids in the late 1940s Arthur Vandenberg once said “we should have politics stopping at the water’s edge”. We should not be approaching these conflicts with an eye on how Republicans can win or how Democrats can lose, but how can America ultimately come out on top.
If you are elected to Congress, are you looking to fundamentally change the way congress and maybe even the executive branch deals with foreign policy or just modest reforms?
Meijer: We need to be doing things differently. I think you see how the status quo has failed us, it’s failed our allies, it’s failed our men and women in the military. We need to finally say, “This is what we are out to do, here is what our goal is in Afghanistan,” and then work backwards from an actual, definable and measurable goal and see if we are willing to commit the resources required. If not, let’s rip off that band-aid sooner rather than later.
The reality is in both of these conflicts and our involvement in Iraq and Syria, which is evolving and we alternate who we’re fighting over there (Syria) for what reasons? Whether its the Iranians, the Iranian backed forces, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Sunni militant wing and the Syrian Government. There are the Turkish and Russian proxies in there as well. Both are just utter messes that our troops and strategy get pulled into one side or the other on this civil war. We have to recognize that these are conflicts that will only have a solution that is political and that’s diplomatic. Military forces can be a part of that, but they can’t be the main part.
That’s really where my goal is. Forcing Congress to finally become accountable. We have had Congress basically delegate and be unwilling to actually take a firm stance because they don’t want to be responsible. I think that unwillingness to take responsibility is what leads us to copy and paste what we’ve been doing and to keep carrying that on for two decades now.
A key issue in Michigan is free trade, especially as it is viewed as a net negative due to the loss of jobs in the state. What do you believe should be the plan of action for states like Michigan, when it comes to free trade and potentially new free trade deals that could be signed in the future?
Meijer: One thing that we’ve seen, as we’ve seen with other parts of the rustbelt and industrial Midwest, seeing that export of skilled manufacturing go overseas. The other important thing to remember is that Michigan has a strong bias towards the auto industry. It was reshaped greatly with NAFTA, but some of Michigan’s greatest trading partners come from Canada. They are a huge trading partner for us and when it comes to Mexico, I think Michigan is second I believe behind Texas in the amount of import/export trade we have with Mexico. Yes, we want to ensure as much of that capability as possible, but we also need to make sure when we are engaged in trade agreements that there’s reciprocity there.
You didn’t ask about it, but I’ll talk about tariffs which I think the President has deployed very effectively as a tactic. I am comfortable with tariffs as a tactic. If they can gain you a stronger position negotiating, if they are short term, if they are in a position where they can help compensate or give you leverage to correct imbalances. Especially when it comes to China and when it comes to IP theft. When it comes to government subsidies and state owned enterprises that are not competing at a level playing field with American corporations, I think there’s absolutely a role for them. We just need to make sure as we deploy these tactics, that they don’t become our strategy. That’s where we run the risk of increasing a protectionist mindset around the world.
You’ve said you support the President’s use of tariffs. If you are elected to Congress, will you support his trade war with China or would you like to see a pullback?
Meijer: In general you’ve seen a lot of leading economists who were initially highly negative towards the President’s use of, in your words “trade war,” in my eyes “strong negation tactics” with China on a litany of abuses. Those date back decades, the IP theft, state-owned enterprise, subsidies and other ways they have put themselves in a favorable playing field. The best time to push against that would’ve been in the early 2000s, shortly after China joined the WTO and had more preferential trade agreements that were signed. It’s something that we have to stand up against at one point and nobody had the guts to do it until now.
I think that it is working in the general sense. It’s going to be evolving and the Chinese, along with a lot of other countries, they view their trade and economic policy as an extension of their national security policy. They conduct industrial and economic espionage in order to further their economic ambitions. We talk about the whole of government’s approaches in other realms and we need to recognize that our economy and our national security are intrinsically linked, as many other around the world already recognize and operationalize.
Currently Michigan’s 3rd district is represented by Justin Amash, who has decided to fly his banner under the Libertarian Party and has had numerous confrontations online with the President. How different is your approach going to be?
Meijer: I think on conservative values, limited government, economic freedom, individual liberty, there’s a lot that we share. The reality is that my experience, the roles that I have been in, my style and approach to leadership is about building coalitions, about building relations with stakeholders. I am not the type to get into twitter battles. I just think that there are other ways you can advocate your interests and the interests of your constituents.
This district is one that analysts consider favored for Republicans, but one that could be in danger if the year is bad for the party. What has your campaign done to make sure you are well positioned for a tough race?
Meijer: What we see in a lot of 2020s politics is a desire to nationalize everything. Everything ends up becoming these binary questions, when in reality what our campaign has been about since day one and one of the reasons for why I’m running is so we can return a sense of strong, stable and effective representation to west Michigan. During COVID, with my background in the military and humanitarian aid and my family owns a chain of supermarkets across the Midwest, something we quickly pivoted towards doing was bring grocery care packages to folks who couldn’t go out and shop for themselves. This was because they were quarantined or at risk of being infected.
At every turn it has been our goal to make this campaign about the community and about west Michigan. I think that’s frustrated the media, who want to nationalize and also frustrated the Democrats too. It’s what they want, they want everything to be binary and that’s not just how politics works. To me that’s not what we need out of our representatives.
You are the heir to a multi-million dollar fortune. How can you connect to the many working class people in your district?
Meijer: I chose not to commission in the military, I chose to enlist. I’ve chosen to try and not have my life be one that’s defined by the circumstances of my birth, but one that’s defined by service and by building relationships with the community. I’m proud of the work my family has done, providing a service, providing livelihoods and keeping a lot of economic activity local. That’s in addition to all the philanthropy my family has done.
I’m running as my own man though. I’m running on my record and not on my last name and that’s what I’m looking too bring to Congress.
After 2018, the GOP has started to emphasize the need for more female candidates in competitive districts. Your main opponent is a woman, why should voters pick you over her?
Meijer: You’re absolutely right that the Republican Party, especially Republicans in Congress, we need to look more like the country. Part of that is recognizing that and being more representative of that. Like Congressman Will Hurd in Texas likes to say, “Having a Republican Party that looks like the country.” It’s obviously important to increase representation, but gender is not the only factor in play here. I’m looking to represent everyone in west Michigan, regardless of whatever characteristic or trait.
You have taken some positions, support for coverage on pre-existing conditions, a focus on environmental conservation, that we haven’t seen from many members of the GOP. Do you see these positions becoming the norm in the party as more young adults like you start running for office?
Meijer: I’m going to push back on the first assumption that Republicans are not supportive of coverage for pre-existing conditions. By and large, and the President has spoken to this as well, that’s something we recognize was a failure our healthcare system and it’s important to not leave those folks out in the cold.
To your point on the environment, that’s something where the Republican Party has been out of step with the country and out of step on where it needs to go. I’m proud that we’re starting to see the Republican Party, from the President to Leader McCarthy in the House, taking some very strong pro-environment decisions and looking to correct the failures of the pre-2016 establishment. To recognize that the Republican Party has a very strong foundation with a conservation and stewardship mentality going back to Teddy Roosevelt.
This is an issue that we were on the right side of, but one we’ve been ignoring, neglecting and belittling for too many decades. Economic development and protection of the environment can go hand in hand. The Roosevelt Conservation Caucus in Congress and the American Conservation Coalition, who’s an outside group who are looking to bring a forward looking approach to conservative positions on the environment. That’s where we need to go and that’s where we’re starting to go.
What do you think is the best way forward for the Republican Party to fight climate change and what’s the pathway you would like to see the party take? Is it nuclear for renewable energy or is it another way?
Meijer: That’s (nuclear) definitely a component of it on the energy side. One reality is that if you look at carbon emissions around the globe, capitalist societies tend to be much better at protecting and conserving the environment and curbing emissions than socialist and communist societies. The Democrats notion that the “Green New Deal” is some sort of solution I think is patently false. I view it as an ounce of prevention versus “pound and cure.”
We could never destroy the planet, but we can make it increasingly expensive and costly for us to still have the access to the natural resources that are allowing us to live today. That’s really where I get worried, it’s the sense you’re taking prudent regulatory steps that don’t overstep and become so burdensome that they wind up shifting production to places with lower regulatory standards. It’s taken into account with our trade agreements, but if you have a company that’s left the US because there’s gonna be more lax environmental standards in another place, we can’t give that a pass.
On the energy production side, it comes down to taking all the above approach, understanding all the existing subsidies and getting to a point where you’re not just fighting subsidy with subsidy. It’s recognizing our energy independence is going to require not only a shift to renewables, but also maintaining some on demand energy production. Whether that’s natural gas or nuclear, it has to be part of the mix. That’s where I think from an economic standpoint we’ve seen price per watt generation get to a point where its just about comparable. As we start to phase out legacy systems, we keep in mind the fact that we are in a better position as a country when not only we have a more resilient grid where renewables play a role, but also we aren’t letting ourselves get held hostage by foreign energy production.