GRAND RAPIDS — Republican congressional candidate John Gibbs’ quest to win a West Michigan district already leaning blue may become a bigger uphill battle after past misogynistic comments from the Trump-backed candidate surfaced online in which he blasted women’s suffrage and their presence in the workplace.
CNN uncovered the blog posts from Gibbs’ time as a student at Stanford in the early 2000s, including one in which Gibbs railed against “the damages done by the 19th amendment,” which granted women the right to vote. The Free Press has not independently verified the authenticity of the blog posts.
“This is a tough one to overcome,” said Bill Jackson, a former conservative political consultant who lives in West Michigan, of Gibbs’ past comments.
“It’s something that’s going to be discussed no doubt the rest of the campaign,” said Allie Walker, vice president of Detroit-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman, who lives in Grand Rapids.
Gibbs faces Democrat Hillary Scholten, who worked in the Department of Justice under the Obama administration in the race to win the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District. The Cook Political Report — which analyzes elections across the country —ranks the district as Democratic-leaning. Walker said Gibbs’ past comments give Scholten “a lot more ammunition” in the race.
The statements from Gibbs highlighted in the CNN story surfaced roughly a week before voters will start casting absentee ballots. And they may be the last thing they see before they fill them out, Jackson said.
The blog posts, which are viewable on an internet archiving service, were a part of “The Society for the Critique of Feminism,” a self-described think tank to inspire “open debate on many of the conclusions that we have come to accept regarding gender issues,” according to one blog post accessed through the archive, which notes Gibbs’ name and contact information are listed at the bottom of the post. One post — titled “Does Christianity support patriarchy?” — argues the bible “clearly articulates the idea that women should not teach or maintain positions of power.”
Anne Marie Schreiber, a spokesperson for the Gibbs campaign, said over email that Gibbs has not ever believed women do not belong in the workplace. “I recognize provocative writing when I see it and I think other people will get it too. I’m a woman and it didn’t trigger me. In fact, I got a chuckle out of it, knowing John,” she said.
She said that she doesn’t believe the blog posts will hurt Gibbs’ chances with women voting in the district, stating, “Smart women will get the context.”
Larkin Parker, a spokesperson for Scholten’s campaign, called Gibbs’ comments “abhorrent and totally indefensible.”
“He wants to send women back to the dark ages and strip them of their hard earned rights. This cannot stand,” Parker wrote in an emailed statement.
Walker said that while some people may write off the comments as something Gibbs said 20 years ago, his campaign has a chance to convince voters of his position on women’s voting rights and involvement in the workplace has changed. “If there are policies or things he’s done or ways that he can show that this was a blip in time, not a long-held belief, not something he still believes. If all those things are true, they have the opportunity to show that,” she said.
“The question will be will voters believe him and be willing to set it aside as the stunt of a hyperpolitical college student,” Jackson said.
Observers have said that Gibbs already faces an uphill battle. Gibbs’ opposition to abortion rights posed a particular challenge to his standing, particularly among some suburban women who have voted for Democrats in recent years, Jackson said.
“I think this just sort of doubles down on those challenges that he’s going to have with… that professional suburban female,” he said of Gibbs’ past comments. “I think these are folks that are conservative in nature and would like to vote Republican, but they need a reason to come home.”
Gibbs is a former appointed official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he worked under the Trump administration. He won 52% of the vote in the recent August primary to defeat incumbent Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids. Scholten challenged Meijer for the seat in 2020, losing the contest by about 6 percentage points.
Former President Donald Trump endorsed Gibbs following Meijer’s impeachment vote in the wake of the violent Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election. Gibbs repeatedly blasted Meijer’s vote.
Political analysts say the race favors Scholten.
The new district drawn by Michigan’s independent redistricting commission more strongly favors Democrats compared to Meijer’s current Grand Rapids-based district. It pairs Michigan’s second-largest city with parts of Muskegon and Ottawa counties and includes the cities of Muskegon and Grand Haven. President Joe Biden carried just over 54% of the district in 2020 after Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Trump in the district with just over 50% of the vote in 2016.
Gibbs has also struggled to compete with Scholten’s campaign war chest. While Scholten has more than $970,000 cash on hand, Gibbs has just over $145,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.
The blog posts aren’t the first comments made years ago by Gibbs that threatened to derail his political ambitions.
In 2020, after Trump nominated Gibbs to oversee the Office of Personnel and Management, his confirmation hearing was filled with discussion about Gibbs’ previous tweets, which CNN reported contained conspiracy theories about the Democratic Party and Islamophobic comments.
“Mr. Gibbs, do you believe that your past statements regarding Muslims will impact your ability to effectively lead a very diverse federal workforce?” asked Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, during the hearing.
“I can assure you that throughout my career and throughout my life I have never tolerated, never accepted any type of discrimination, and if confirmed as OPM director I also would not tolerate any type of discrimination,” said Gibbs, who is Black, per a Senate transcript from the hearing.
Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at [email protected] or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.