Donald Trump is president. So of course, Kid Rock can be the next U.S. senator from Michigan.
That’s the argument pundits and Republicans are essentially making after the Macomb County rock star released a website teasing the prospect (with merch, natch). And it may be correct.
As I told the Washington Post earlier this month, I would have laughed at the idea of Senator Rock in 2015. But I got plenty wrong about Trump and the 2016 election and it’s always worth reconsidering data points and assumptions.
Of course, there’s also a danger in overlearning the lessons of the last election and assuming the next one will take place under identical circumstances (which never happens).
Anyway, here’s why Republicans (and the D.C. media) are so pumped about a Kid Rock candidacy for 2018.
The first reason is the breathless media coverage it would inspire (and already has). There’s nothing like a local-boy-made-good story and the “Cowboy” singer, who still has deep roots in the Mitten State, provides that in spades (even if he doesn’t have an inspiring rags-to-riches story, having grown up in what Politico describes as an “immense, 18-room, 5,628-square-foot estate”).
Sure, Trump frequently flings irascible tweets about certain reporters and the “failing New York Times.” And a new Economist poll shows 45 percent of Republicans favor the courts shutting down media outlets for “biased or inaccurate stories (buh-bye, First Amendment). But Republicans still crave positive mainstream media coverage for all their bluster. And thus far, there’s been plenty for Kid Rock.
Plus, the right-wing media is always happy to step in and provide a boost. As Daily Caller writer Scott Greer tweeted, “Let's face it: we all want Kid Rock to run for office.”
This calculation is undoubtedly correct. Suddenly, Michigan’s once-boring U.S. Senate race, where popular three-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) was expected to wipe the floor with any GOP challenger, will become The Most Interesting Race in the Country.
Now many longtime Republicans have pointed out that other candidates running, like former Michigan Supreme Court Judge Bob Young and businessman John James, are far more qualified, so this lopsided coverage wouldn’t fair. That’s the same argument the 15 other presidential hopefuls made about Trump, however, which was also correct — but many in the media, especially ratings-driven cable TV executives, didn’t care.
That’s why most Republicans believe Kid Rock would be the odds-on favorite in a GOP primary — overpowering Young, James and former Michigan Trump campaign co-chair Lena Epstein (who was banking on the president’s support) — and make the general a nail-biter.
However, the superstar could always just be toying with a run to juice his long-declining album sales. And of course, should he actually take the plunge, he’ll appear as “Robert Ritchie” on the ballot, which means his campaign will have to spend time and money making his two monikers synonymous with voters.
The second reason why Republicans are urging Kid Rock to run is that they're eager to see if Trump’s politically incorrect celebrity schtick can work down-ballot.
Like the president, Kid Rock has had his share of personal drama, from his sex tape to divorcing Pamela Anderson (a former Playboy Playmate best known for hers), and a racking up a few assault charges along the way. But the theory is that if Trump’s crudeness didn’t cost him with voters, especially the once-uptight religious right, Kid Rock will glide by in his U.S. Senate race.
Relatedly, Republicans believe that Kid Rock will cause (white) blue-collar voters to swamp the polls like they would for a free concert. The idea is that this will eat away at Stabenow’s base, which is more rural than that of other Dems, thanks to her farming roots. And the GOP will duplicate Trump’s narrow 2016 win in Michigan. Of course, Trump's poll numbers in the state have slid since then.
This week, the White House said the quiet part out loud to the press and admitted Trump’s surprise tweets announcing a transgender ban in the military was all about politics. “This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take complete ownership of this issue,” an official bragged to Axios. (Thus far, this doesn’t seem like a smashing success, as even staunch conservatives like U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) have criticized the move).
But the GOP knows that 2018 looks to be a Democratic year for two reasons: Their massively unpopular Trumpcare policy and the historic precedent of the party in the White House taking a hit in midterm elections.
The situation could be more dire in Michigan, as Republicans have controlled every branch of government since 2011 and voters start to get twitchy. Michigan also still trends blue in federal races and Stabenow is an excellent candidate, from her stellar fundraising to tireless time on the stump.
This all underscores something that’s been overlooked in all the Kid Rock ruckus. After Trump scored his shocking upset in Michigan last year, there was all sorts of chest-thumping from Republicans that we were a red state now and Stabenow was toast in ‘18.
But as Republicans revealed to Politico, Kid Rock represents a hail Mary pass, as Stabenow has “devoured her last two challengers and will almost certainly make it three in a row if Republicans run another traditional campaign.”
So Kid Rock could be for real and there’s a shot he could win. But the enthusiasm for his candidacy belies some real fundamental weaknesses in Michigan for the GOP.
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.