Susan J. Demas: Brian Calley Called It Wrong on Trump

And the Lieutenant Governor Will Pay a Political Price

  Dome Magazine

Dome Magazine

Like most of us, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley placed the wrong bet on how the 2016 presidential election would turn out.

Calley handled President-Elect Donald Trump with the political deftness of Ted Cruz, the GOP hopeful who promised to endorse the nominee in the primary. He then earned boos during his rousing #NeverTrump speech at the Republican National Convention, which also managed to offend his big GOP donors. Cruz continued his clueless streak by eventually endorsing Trump right before the vile “Access Hollywood” tape came out and then publicly wavering afterward.

Not surprisingly, a pro-Trump congressman, Michael McCaul, is threatening to primary Cruz in 2018. No one used to be able to get to the Texas senator’s right. Now that it’s Donald Trump’s party, all bets are off.

Calley’s flip-flopping wasn’t as comical, but it will still cost him. He made a splash by breaking with his boss, Gov. Rick Snyder, by endorsing Trump in May. It wasn’t the most full-throated endorsement. Actually, it was a brief tweet after dark, which is often the mark of a poor decision. Calley then yanked his endorsement back after the tape emerged of Trump bragging about sexual assaulting women. And he called for Trump to drop out of the race.

That was an admirable stand. Several evangelical Christians also made that call. It also probably wasn’t the first time the LG took issue with something Trump did. As someone with an autistic daughter who has been a strong advocate for those with disabilities, Calley also was surely disturbed by Trump mocking a disabled reporter.

But sadly, sometimes doing the right thing has consequences.

Cruz’s Michigan campaign director, Wendy Day, found that out the hard way. Last week, I wrote about Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel removing Day (another Christian conservative) as grassroots vice chair because she refused to campaign for Trump.

Calley will likely pay a political price, as well, despite scrambling to quote Trump’s victory speech on Twitter. In Donald Trump’s party, where loyalty is prized above all else, that’s too little too late.

The LG has been flirting with a gubernatorial run, despite Snyder’s tanking popularity over the Flint water crisis. But even before Trump’s election, most political observers couldn’t see a viable path for Calley in a GOP primary. He’s not well-known statewide and has a reputation as a squishy moderate –– which is amusing to anyone who’s covered him for years and has talked political philosophy with him. But perception is reality, especially in Republican contests.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who’s all but started putting up 2018 lawn signs, will surely take advantage of Calley’s Trump fumble. Sizing up his opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them is what he does best. And Schuette is considered to be far more conservative than the LG –– although in reality, there’s little ideological light separating the two men.

Still, Schuette’s hands aren’t exactly clean when it comes to Trump. The AG led the Michigan campaign of the ultimate establishment candidate, Jeb Bush, who’s still the object of Trump’s ridicule. Schuette did endorse Trump, but has rarely used his name throughout the campaign. And he slammed Trump over the “Access Hollywood” tape and said the main reason he still supported the nominee was to stop the evil that was Hillary Clinton.

The door is open for an enthusiastic Trump supporter to march into the next gubernatorial sweepstakes unscathed. You can bet that McDaniel has been approached already and is keeping her options open. But there are many others who could fit the bill.

We’ve all just watched Trump scramble the political calculus for 2016. There’s no reason to think he couldn’t do it in 2018, as well.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.