The Review recently sat down with John Gibbs (‘01), the Republican nominee for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, to ask him about his run for Congress. Born and raised in West Michigan, at Stanford, Mr. Gibbs wrote for the Review, graduating with a B.S. degree in Computer Science. Since then, he worked in Silicon Valley and spent seven years as a Christian missionary in Japan. Upon his return to the United States, he received his M.P.A. from Harvard’s Kennedy School and served as the Acting Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Community Planning and Development in the Trump administration.
Mr. Gibbs defeated first-term Representative Peter Meijer in the Republican primary on August 2nd and will face Democrat Hillary Scholten in the general election. The race is considered to be very competitive. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Stanford Review: Why did you decide to challenge Peter Meijer and run for Congress?
John Gibbs: I thought we needed leadership. I thought that the people in my district here in West Michigan just really needed someone who would represent what they believe and fight for that, and I felt that there was a void there. So I kind of felt that I had to do it, especially with the background and the places that God has taken me, I think that they've prepared me really well for the task. With everything happening in the country, I thought it was opportune to be able to make a difference. After talking to a lot of people who are wiser and more experienced than me and praying about it and deliberating and getting my ducks in a row, I really felt it was the right thing to do.
Review: You are a conservative Republican running in a district that Joe Biden won by 8 points in 2020. What is your message to people who voted for Mr. Biden in the last election? Why should they support you this year?
Gibbs: You did have a few independents that went over and voted for Biden in 2020. I would say that just like putting your hand on a hot stove, they're not going to try that again. If you look at the gas prices, the inflation, the fact that we're in a recession, you look at the total embarrassment that's happening in Ukraine, the loss of 13 servicemen in Afghanistan due to Biden’s extremely reckless withdrawal, I think a huge number of people see that and they feel it in their bank accounts. My platform and my policies, which are focused on bringing down gas prices, reducing inflation, getting us out of recession, and getting economic growth — those are totally bipartisan issues. Getting hit at the gas pump [and] paying so much more at the grocery store, that affects you the same if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Our solutions — conservative solutions — are the best to uplift everybody, no matter what side you're on. That’s the message to folks who are in the middle.
I was raised in a Democrat family — my parents [and sisters] are Democrats. I know how to get along with people from different political backgrounds while still holding my convictions. I know how to understand those perspectives. Sometimes we’re talking about the same problem, we just have different ways of looking at it. We've been able to talk to people who aren’t on our side and make sure there's no acrimony and kind of stuff that Biden was talking about, which is really divisive, but more of a ‘we disagree but we gotta go for it together here.’ So I think I've got the right combination of issues and my personal background, that I can bring in folks who are in the middle and even a few Democrats as well.
Review: You mentioned you come from a family of Democrats. Why did you become a Republican? Was there one specific moment or book that caused you to embrace conservatism or was there a broader reason?
Gibbs: Well, in the early days of the internet in the mid-90s, I used to check Drudge Report because he had breaking news at that time, and he also had a list of authors he would link to at the bottom and you could click and see their latest columns. And that's how I discovered Thomas Sowell. I read Vision of the Anointed and that pretty much hooked me. I was so fascinated, so I read that and then I continued to read a wide range [and stay] informed on things. Walter Williams, for example, was someone I’d read quite a bit. So that's how I started.
Then when I got to Stanford, I got to know some conservatives there through the Stanford Review. Having actual conservative friends in the flesh — which I didn't have in high school, I just kind of had the reading — made a big difference. Being able to have people I could be friends with who could sharpen me and my conservatism. So yeah, that was it — discovering Thomas Sowell in high school and continuing to build on the ideas at Stanford through the friends that I had.
Review: I can tell you that to this day the Review is still a phenomenal place for conservatives to come together and sharpen our thinking — that legacy has certainly continued on. Can you expand a bit on what the Stanford Review culture was like in the late 1990s?
Gibbs: The Review, we were very close knit, I would say. And, you know, it’s like, ‘who wants to write about this topic or that topic?’ and ‘Who’s the Editor this year?’ So [the] frequent communication [in] deciding who’s going to do what really facilitated friendships. We would go out to eat sometimes and even go shooting. And that's kind of how I got well acquainted with the Second Amendment was something going out shooting with folks and it was really, really cool.
I also remember distributing the newspapers, we would go and drop them off at the dorms. Even back then sometimes you had issues with people not wanting [the Review] being distributed in their dorms, but it wasn't terribly bad most of the time.
Review: You were a CS major at Stanford and you worked for Apple for a number of years, both of which are relatively unique in the world of politics — most elected officials are lawyers, businessmen, or professional public servants. How has that experience affected your approach to politics and what you would pursue if elected to Congress?
Gibbs: One of the key influences is simply looking at things in terms of data and analytics. Being a computer science major, that’s how you’re trained to look at problems, break them down into smaller pieces, and then apply [an] algorithm in order to come to a solution. So looking at things in a methodical, systematic way, and getting a little bit of the emotion out of it is something that was really first of a part of me during the computer science major. And so that’s kind of how I get at a lot of political issues. Look at the data first, see what the data says. As opposed to polemics or ideology, we really want to look at the numbers and the data as much as possible. That's probably one of the key influences the computer science major had on me.
Besides that, just the issue of efficiency and producing a product, which is obviously what you do as a software engineer, you're working on a product that is going to be released. Government often doesn’t produce products, per se. It just keeps the machine going sometimes. And so, as much as we can get the thinking into government of efficiency and execution, that’s a good thing. It’s super important in government [to] make sure we have a results oriented mentality otherwise we're going to have huge amounts of inefficiency and waste. I'm one of 435 so I can't change everything myself, but whatever committees, coalitions, and caucuses I’m in I can try to influence [them] in that direction, getting people to think about innovation and creative ways to look at things.
Review: In recent years, some conservatives have called for a repeal of Section 230 or other measures to protect free speech on Big Tech platforms. How has your career in Silicon Valley affected your approach to Big Tech in particular?
Gibbs: When I was at Stanford and working as a software engineer, you didn't have censorship like we have today. The internet was much more of a free place. And so this wasn’t really on the radar so much at that time. Some factions out there (especially on the far-left) realized that the ability to communicate freely online gives power to their political enemies, which is why they’re trying to suppress and crack down on the ability of people to communicate freely. And that phenomenon, that shift in thinking happened after I had left Silicon Valley.
Regardless, Section 230 reform is one option, and there are other options you can put on the table. Like for example, your water company can’t cut off your water if you're a Trump supporter. It would be interesting if a similar dynamic would apply to social media. I think you can make the argument that social media is the public square, legally, it probably qualifies for that threshold. So the protections that apply in the public square should apply to social media as well.
There’s also the idea that you need more private sector competition, which I think is true as well. You always want vibrant competition in all of our industries. Social media is no exception. But you know, the email just came out last week. Literally the government and the FBI telling Facebook what they should censor and what they shouldn't — that is outrageous. The government cannot regulate speech like that. I do think there has to be some level of government examination of this problem in order for the private sector to be able to solve it. So we’re gonna have to really take a serious look at that.
Review: Personally, I thought the most interesting part of your background was the time that you spent in Japan as a Christian missionary. What is the most valuable thing that you learned during that time?
Gibbs: You know, one of the things that led to me becoming a missionary in Japan was the study abroad program at Stanford. I don’t know if they still have the SCTI program (Stanford Center for Technology and Innovation) at University of Kyoto. I did that my junior year — one of my best experiences in undergrad. It's such great immersion and [it’s] where I basically got my fluency in Japanese.
Little did I know, one day, I would actually be using that to go back to Japan as a missionary. There’s so many things you learn about how God works differently in different cultures. One of the things that’s very tangible that you learn is the uniqueness of American culture, you really, really learn to appreciate American culture like nothing else when living in a place like Japan. And I think that Americans dramatically underestimate the goodness that we have in our culture.
You know, we see the media and you know, you see the negatives you see, you know, the crime and see various unfortunate things that happen and those do happen. You don’t deny that we have some issues that we need to work on as Americans. But I do think that we underestimate the positive aspects of our culture. For example, work life balance. I would say that Americans have a far better work life balance than the Japanese. In America, you can work really hard at work and be successful and also spend time with your wife and kids and love that too. Whereas in Japan, it’s more seen as if you are a hard worker that means you stay at work til midnight every day and you don't see your wife and kids.
And even just physically, I'm in Michigan, that's where I'm from. We have beautiful green grass and trees everywhere. Whereas in Tokyo and most of Japan you don't really see green grass that much, they don't really like it because they believe it's hard to maintain. So I think the biggest takeaway is just being able to appreciate our country. I think a lot of folks who have a lot of complaints these days, we should send them to go live in Japan or South Korea or Uzbekistan or wherever it might be for a few months or even a couple years and then have them come back and see what they think. I think they'll find their level of appreciation for our country will increase.
I came back from Japan seven years ago, and it still impacts me. When I drive on the street and see green grass. I'm like, "I love green grass, it’s so beautiful." Even after seven years, I still have that feeling. So it's definitely had a big impact.
Review: My last question is a little bit of a fun one: what three historical figures would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Gibbs: One would be King Alfred the Great of England. He was a very devout Christian, and he was also a great government leader, which is what I strive to be. [Next,] there's Pope Saint Pius V, who presided over the Council of Trent, which is, I would argue, the greatest reform of any organization in human history. It looked at the problems that were there [in the Catholic Church] and addressed them comprehensively. [Finally,] Saint Augustine was one of the best writers on the integration of faith and practical lived life but also faith in government.
Some of the Framers should probably be in there, but we have more on them because they’re more recent — we have more of their writings. So I think some of the ones that go back a bit further are more interesting.