Like many Kenyon students, I was extremely troubled and disappointed when 147 Republican lawmakers voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, citing false claims of voter fraud spread by former president Donald Trump. By voting against certification, these Republicans expressed their desire to alter the outcome of a democratic election and effectively disenfranchise 81 million Americans who voted for President Joe Biden. Included in this group of Republican lawmakers is Rep. Bob Gibbs, who represents Ohio’s 7th congressional district — and, by extension, the Gambier community. It is our duty as constituents to hold Gibbs accountable for his dangerous and treasonous actions, and there is a way in which our community can do exactly that: by voting against Gibbs in the 2022 Republican congressional primary.
Voting as a means of repudiating or endorsing the actions of elected officials is fundamental to our representative democracy, but primaries are commonly thought of as a quirk in our de facto two-party political system. However, there is virtually no chance that a push by the Gambier community to unseat a Republican incumbent with a Democrat in the 2022 midterm elections would be successful, as Donald Trump won Ohio’s 7th congressional district by 32% in 2020. This is why voting Gibbs out of office in the Republican primary is crucial, even if it means voting in another conservative.
I understand those who are hesitant to cast a primary vote for a candidate whose views they do not endorse. Gibbs’ hypothetical primary challenger may still hold views that could reasonably be interpreted as harmful and dangerous, especially to those who identify with various marginalized groups. It is also a possibility that Gibbs will be challenged by someone who poses an even greater risk to our democracy than him, or that he simply will run in the Republican primary unopposed, as was the case in 2020. But if Gibbs’ challenger is a moderate Republican not beholden to Trumpism, I would contend that such a traditional conservative representative poses much less of an existential threat to American democracy than a representative such as Gibbs, whose beliefs and actions are antithetical to a healthy, functional democracy. Differences in opinion between liberals and conservatives will not be the undoing of American political stability. Rather, instability will come from the unraveling of the very institutions that ensure liberals and conservatives can reconcile these differences in a fair and just manner.
Ohio is a state that conducts open primaries, meaning that all registered voters have the discretion to choose which primary they would like to vote in regardless of their partisan affiliation. Furthermore, national voter turnout in the 2018 congressional primaries, a year that saw record participation for a midterm election cycle, did not even surpass 20% of eligible voters. This suggests that any group that mobilizes for the primaries will have substantially more influence than they would in the general election, simply because that group would make up a greater proportion of the electorate. This is especially true for minority political groups in the district, such as those of liberals and Democrats in Ohio’s 7th, who can essentially be ignored in general elections because they are so greatly outnumbered.
Democratic participation in the Republican primary may also have a moderating effect on conservative politics in the area. Gibbs likely acted as he did because, as it stands, he faces no serious political repercussions for his actions. However, if liberals, progressives and Democrats were to constitute a substantial bloc of Republican primary voters, this may incentivize more moderate Republicans to challenge Gibbs in 2024 and beyond, as this left-leaning support will provide a foundation for their campaigns. It may even discourage Gibbs from taking such extreme positions in the future, if he were to feel like he could no longer infringe upon the rights of his constituents with impunity.
After voting in the Republican primary, I will almost certainly vote for the Democratic candidate in the general election, who will likely have policies that are much more aligned with my personal views. The general election is an opportunity for us to cast a genuine vote for our beliefs. The primaries are an opportunity for us to take advantage of our imperfect system to choose the lesser of two evils.