Writing in The Bulwark, Jeff Timmer explains why Michigan May be a Nightmare for the GOP. The state party’s transformation didn’t start with Trump. But his weak polling could plunge MIGOP into wrack and ruin.
Polling through mid–2020 has shown Trump consistently trailing Joe Biden in the mitten state, including a survey released last week showing Trump trailing Biden by a 15-point margin (50 to 35 percent).
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has only increased her popularity. Her approval numbers during the COVID–19 crisis, which has hit Michigan disproportionately hard, have remained in the mid–60s, while Trump’s have been mired in the low 40s. Whitmer gave her support to Biden at a pivotal moment in advance of his win over Bernie Sanders in Michigan and she is included in the speculation about Biden’s choice of a running mate. While Whitmer won’t be on the ballot in Michigan this year (unless Biden picks her), she’s in much better position to sway swing voters up and down the ballot than Trump or any Republican is.
These disastrous top-of-the-ticket numbers are sure to be an anchor for Republicans down-ballot—suggesting that the 2020 election will continue to hollow out the party in the state. For example, Republicans have an exemplary candidate challenging Democratic freshman U.S. Senator Gary Peters. John James, a black 39-year-old Iraq War veteran Army combat helicopter pilot, is the CEO of an international logistics company with annual revenue exceeding $100 million. James ran against three-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018, losing a surprisingly close race and running well ahead of the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate. James has tried to thread the needle of not alienating Trump and Trumpists while also endeavoring to not repel college-educated white voters who increasingly see Trump as less desirable than chlamydia. This needle is proving unthreadable: The most recent poll shows James trailing Peters 48 to 32 percent.
Freshman Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin (who defeated an incumbent Republican) and Haley Stevens (who flipped a GOP open seat) both face weak opponents and are likely to coast to re-election in their suburban Detroit districts.
In the southwest corner of Michigan, bordering South Bend, Indiana—where the Chicago TV market penetrates—moderate Republican Fred Upton, first elected in 1986, faces extinction at the hands of Democratic state representative Jon Hoadley. Upton eked out the narrowest victory of his career in 2018 against a relatively weak and little-known opponent.
Democrats also seem poised to break the GOP’s ten-year hold on the Michigan House of Representatives (state senators are not on the ballot this year) and either hold gains they made at the county and local levels in 2018 or add to them. Michigan adopted a new independent citizens’ commission to conduct redistricting after the 2020 census and the Democrats may well enter 2022 in their strongest political position since the mid–1980s to seize even more congressional seats and capture control of the Michigan Senate for the first time since 1984.
Most Republicans in Michigan seem oblivious to this reality.
What they have in front of them is the opportunity to do something pretty rare in politics, make a bold move that is both smart politically and the ethical thing to do. In this case: throw Donald Trump and his 35 percent ballot number overboard to try to save themselves.
There have been more than enough bright neon signs flashing out their warnings that a big blue wave has been forming. John James flashing 32 percent might as well be posted in Times Square.
But the message isn’t breaking through.
Instead, inexplicably, the MIGOP cult continues to bow and pray to the great orange god they made.
And so the sound most likely to emit from Republicans on the night of November 3, will not be silence—but a loud and collective wailing of defeat and despair.
Jeff Timmer is a political consultant. He was executive director of the Michigan Republican Party and is now an erstwhile GOPer. Twitter: @jefftimmer.