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MAGA vs. Mike Gallagher: The Inside Story

Rep. Mike Gallagher was one of the GOP’s rising stars. Now, he’s not seeking reelection after voting against impeaching DHS Secretary Mayorkas.

Rep. Mike Gallagher Commemorates First Anniversary Of The White Paper Pro-Freedom Movement In China

When Mike Gallagher was elected to Congress in 2016, he was pegged as one of the future faces of the Republican Party. Eight years on, Gallagher announced he is leaving Washington, D.C. 

Princeton educated. A Ph.D. in international relations from Georgetown. An Iraq War veteran who served as an intelligence officer for the Marine Corps and spent seven years on active duty. Rep. Mike Gallagher was everything establishment Republicans in the mid-2010s wanted in a rising star of the Republican party. But Gallagher came to office the same year Donald Trump won the presidency and completely reshaped the party. Gallagher is a free trader and a hawk; Trump ran on protecting American industry and getting out of foreign wars.

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Gallagher has been walking this tightrope for eight years, managing the tensions between his views and the views of the GOP base incarnate in the former president. Striking that balance, however, has now become untenable, and Gallagher has announced he’s not running for reelection in 2024 on the heels of a major vote against his Republican House colleagues.

As House Republicans, led by Speaker Mike Johnson, moved to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the conference knew it was working with razor thin margins. Two Republican Congressmen, Reps. Tom McClintock of California and Ken Buck of Colorado, had already come out against the GOP’s attempt to impeach Mayorkas. The pair claimed that the Articles of Impeachment filed against Mayorkas did not make clear that Mayorkas had engaged in “high crimes or misdemeanors,” despite the fact that the phrase in Article II, Section 4 had a long history in British common law and its use extended to not only crimes, but the unwillingness to enforce the law in violation of one’s oath of office. 

Gallagher withheld from publicly weighing in on the vote. Instead, he reportedly told conference colleagues in a closed-door meeting that impeaching Mayorkas could open “Pandora’s box.” When the vote came to the floor on February 6, Gallagher voted against impeachment, against his Republican colleagues, and against his constituents back in Wisconsin’s heavily-red eighth district. A number of GOP House members swarmed Gallagher: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mark Green, Jodey Arrington, and Dusty Johnson, among others. 

Not yet time to panic—Republicans had three votes to give. With three defections, the predicted outcome was 215–214. That was, until Democrat Rep. Al Green of Texas burst onto the House floor in a wheelchair from a medical procedure and cast the tying vote. House members pleaded with Gallagher to change his vote, but Gallagher crossed his arms and shook his head. The House would eventually vote to impeach Mayorkas on Tuesday over Gallagher's continued objections, but that will do little to change the perception that the 118th Congress has been defined by rogue GOP members sabotaging the party.

Blowback was swift. Calls started pouring in for Gallagher to resign his position as chairman of the House Committee on the Chinese Communist Party on social media. The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Howell noted in a tweet that there might have been some horse-trading happening between Mayorkas and Gallagher. China is responsible for producing most of the fentanyl that is making its way across the border and into the U.S. Two weeks before the impeachment vote, Gallagher sent a letter asking Mayorkas to increase enforcement on textile imports, which Mayorkas did two days after Republicans filed their articles of impeachment.

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The night of the failed vote, Gallagher published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “Impeachment not only would fail to resolve Mr. Biden’s border crisis but would also set a dangerous new precedent that would be used against future Republican administrations,” Gallagher wrote. “It would only pry open the Pandora’s box of perpetual impeachment.” But, undercutting the point, he noted that Democrats impeached President Donald Trump twice “though they couldn’t produce evidence [Trump] had committed a crime.” By his own admission, the box is already open.

While Gallagher is not as well-known to the Republican base as some of his 2016 classmates like Reps. Matt Gaetz, Liz Cheney, or Mike Johnson, Gallagher and his staff have a reputation for efficient day-to-day operations. His most prominent role in the party was bequeathed by then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who appointed him the chairman of the House Select Committee on China when the 118th Congress began.

Over the past year, the committee has held a number of high-profile hearings and gatherings to workshop legislative proposals. In December 2023, the committee unveiled 150 policy recommendations, which particularly focus on changing the nation’s economic relationship with Beijing due to national security concerns. 

The Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts said the proposals would have put U.S. policy in “an overly protectionist stance, when we should be making investments in the basics and pursuing more trade and investment ties with the world.”

Gallagher generally disagreed with Democrats’ concerns. “There are certain things that require a machete…and then there are things that require a scalpel,” Gallagher told POLITICO in an interview. America “must use both in order to successfully prevent a war with China in the near term, prevent China from controlling the commanding heights of critical technology in the midterm and win this new Cold War over the long term,” he added.

Nevertheless, as negotiations on the 150 proposals continued, they were softened to make them more amenable to Democrats on the committee. It made Gallagher seem competent and the committee seem committed to finding real solutions. Gallagher’s esteem grew in the eyes of his committee colleagues. 

“There is tremendous momentum that is being built behind actual legislative proposals,” Rep. Dusty Johnson previously claimed. Auchincloss seems to agree. “I literally have a list of three dozen pieces of legislation that have been recommended by the committee or by other committees of jurisdiction that can move in a big China bill,” Auchincloss told POLITICO. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, went so far as to say the committee “may offer a model for how you do business in Congress.”

Previously, Gallagher said he was hoping to move forward on “a big China bill” in 2024. Whether his betrayal of his Republican colleagues will endanger what Gallagher surely hopes will be his crowning legislative achievement remains to be seen.

The day following the failed impeachment vote, reports speculated that the political strategist Alex Bruesewitz, a Wisconsin native currently residing in Palm Beach as a member of Trump’s inner circle of political advisors, was considering a primary challenge against Gallagher. Bruesewitz had reportedly considered a run in Wisconsin’s Eighth last year, amid speculation at the time that Gallagher might challenge Tammy Baldwin for her senate seat.

Bruesewitz, in a phone interview with The American Conservative, said that he was “honestly shocked” by Gallagher’s vote against impeachment. “That is a no-brainer vote for somebody that represents a R+20 district,” he said. “The district that knows the effects and the impact of illegal immigration, and that part of the state has been hit hard by drug deaths and an overdose and fentanyl.”

Bruesewitz told TAC his phone started blowing up after Gallagher’s no vote. “Immediately I was getting calls and texts from members in Congress and people in the President's orbit saying, ‘Hey, man, would you consider running against this guy?’”

“They must have read that article back in April,” Bruesewitz said, because “those that reached out to me said, ‘now you can primary, we've got your back.’” Some of the House members, Bruesewitz told TAC, are in House leadership, are chairmen of committees, and are very close with Trump. “If I got in this race, I would have a coalition that would be almost impossible to beat in a Republican primary.”

Bruesewitz gave it some thought and decided he would casually start exploring a run against Gallagher. Word started to get out, and Bruesewitz started receiving calls from constituents in the district. “Different GOP chairs called saying ‘we’d love to host you at events,’” Bruesewitz claimed.

“Let’s just say that if I run, I will have the full support of the MAGA movement behind me,” Bruesewitz said.

The grassroots also applied pressure on Gallagher. “It’s our hope that Trump-ally Alex Bruesewitz enters the primary race because we trust that he will always put the safety of Wisconsinites and the American people FIRST,” a statement from the Wisconsin College Republicans read. “Alex is a son of Wisconsin and grew up in the birthplace of the Republican Party, Ripon, WI.”

Ken Sikora, the GOP chair of Oconto County in Wisconsin’s Eighth District, sent a letter to other GOP county chairs in the district encouraging other GOP chairs to support Bruesewitz’s potential primary challenge. The Brown County GOP, the largest county in the eighth district, also came out and condemned Gallagher’s vote against impeaching Mayorkas.

Bruesewitz addressed the reports in a statement posted February 8 on Twitter. “I’m sure many of you have seen the reports that I am considering running for Congress in my home state of Wisconsin against [Gallagher],” Bruesewitz tweeted. “I am NOT CONFIRMING a run at this time. I have NOT made a decision on this yet. But I will be taking a STRONG LOOK.”

“During this time period my main focus will continue to be on getting MAGA Republicans elected to the house and senate and OF COURSE [Donald Trump] back in the White House!” Bruesewitz concluded.

By February 10, Gallagher announced he would not pursue reelection. “The Framers intended citizens to serve in Congress for a season and then return to their private lives. Electoral politics was never supposed to be a career and, trust me, Congress is no place to grow old. And so, with a heavy heart, I have decided not to run for re-election,” Gallagher’s statement read. “Thank you to the good people of Northeast Wisconsin for the honor of a lifetime. Four terms serving you has strengthened my conviction that America is the greatest country in the history of the world. And though my title may change, my mission will always remain the same: deter America’s enemies and defend the Constitution.”

Some grieved upon hearing the news. Rep. Ashley Hinson called it a “huge loss for Congress.” The former Michigan lawmaker and Senate candidate Peter Meijer tweeted that he “can’t overstate the loss this is to the House’s ability to smartly counter China and lead from the front on AI/cyber.”

Gallagher’s announcement was “disappointing” to Bruesewitz because Gallagher “backstabbed his constituents on the way out of office.”

“He pulled an Adam Kinzinger,” the Never Trump former congressman from Illinois, Bruesewitz said. Bruesewitz added that he did not want to “attack [Gallagher’s] character.”

“He seems like a nice guy. He seems like he loves his family,” Bruesewitz added. “But he's not the type of Republican that we need in office right now.”

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gallagher denied that the fallout from his impeachment vote had anything to do with his decision to not seek reelection. “I feel, honestly, like people get it, and they can accept the fact that they don’t have to agree with you 100 percent,” Gallagher told the Sentinel, “the news cycle is so short that I just don’t think that stuff lasts."

He may well hope. Bruesewitz speculated that Gallagher could run for governor of Wisconsin in 2026. “I feel much more comfortable with Gallagher in a statewide position like governor because governors aren’t in charge of foreign policy,” Bruesewitz said. 

“Keeping the hawks out of Washington D.C. needs to be priority number one for America First,” Bruesewitz stated. “For the future success of the party and country, we need to get these people out. The people that are trigger-happy, the people that want to run around the halls saying ‘we got to go assassinate Vladimir Putin,’ those people are unserious individuals who are responsible for tens of thousands if not millions of deaths across the globe.”

Losing Gallagher, Bruesewitz claimed, “was a big loss for the Bush wing of the Republican Party that is shrinking by the day.”

Gallagher joins three other Republican House committee chairs that will not be running for reelection (so far). House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger, Financial Services Committee Chair Patrick McHenry, and Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers have all previously announced they are retiring from public office. Record numbers of retirements across both parties ensures a lot of new faces will be in the 119th Congress. Retirements could also make more House races competitive and result in a shift in the balance of power in Washington.

One thing is clear to Bruesewitz with the elections upcoming: “We cannot go back to the policies of the Bush era. We cannot go back to that party.”

“The American people widely reject what they sell,” Bruesewitz continued. “The future of the Republican Party is obviously an America First foreign policy,” of President Donald Trump.

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