Rick Snyder is the eighth-most unpopular governor in the country. President Donald Trump’s approval ratings hang below 40 percent in Michigan.
And yet plenty of Republicans seem to be in denial about what an albatross these leaders could be in the 2018 election — which is now just nine months away.
It’s not completely unexpected. Michigan voters tend to tire of the party that’s been in power for awhile. The GOP has run the state since 2011 and has had total control of Washington since 2017.
And 2018 doesn’t seem to dissimilar to the 2010 election, which was a referendum on a term-limited governor and new president, who were both Democrats. In that case, Jennifer Granholm was less popular than Snyder is, but Barack Obama fared better than Trump in Michigan.
Republicans ended up winning it all in ‘10: the governorship, attorney general and secretary of state, as well as majorities in the congressional delegation, state House, state Senate and state Supreme Court.
Now things don’t look quite that rosy for Democrats in ‘18 (for one thing, the GOP’s mad redistricting skillz mean big advantages in legislative and congressional districts). But the Dems are certainly better positioned for gains than they have been since 2012, when Obama won re-election and carried the state by 9.5 points.
Trump-supporting conservatives can’t get over that the first Republican to win Michigan in 28 years could now be a drag on the party. He’s fired up the base and helped the GOP make gains in key areas like Macomb County and the Upper Peninsula. And to be honest, many hardcore Trumpers live in a Fox News-Breitbart-InfoWars bubble where the president is always winning, no matter what the polls say or how many people from his campaign are indicted.
But in politics, a couple years can be a lifetime. Obama won Michigan by 16 points in 2008, but his party went down in flames in the 2010 midterms. Trump only triumphed in Michigan by roughly 10,000 votes in 2016, so it’s not really unimaginable that the GOP gets wrecked this year.
Meanwhile, many establishment Republicans aren’t shedding too many tears over Trump’s stumbling. But it’s another story when it comes to Snyder, our CPA governor who made most of their business tax-cutting dreams come true.
Plenty of Michigan Republicans are deeply in denial that Snyder could be in the same role as his predecessor was during the 2010 election. After all, Michigan’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, down from 13.9 percent at the same time in the 2010 cycle. It’s obvious that Granholm was terrible for the economy and Snyder ushered in “Michigan’s comeback.”
But it would seem that voters aren’t quite buying the hype. Snyder is less popular than other Great Lakes GOP governors also elected in 2010, like Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. And the Detroit News’ latest polling shows 35 percent think Michigan is doing better than in 2010, 33 percent say it’s the same and 26 percent say it’s worse.
News editorial page Editor Nolan Finley seemed positively flabbergasted at Michiganders’ ungrateful response: “Just one-third recognize the remarkable progress Michigan has made during that period. In Detroit, the city Snyder saved, three-quarters think he’s done a terrible job. How could that be?”
Well, let’s start with the economy. Michigan has certainly rebounded from the Great Recession. But who gets credit? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that question asked. It’s probably worth considering that Obama has polled better in Michigan than Trump or Snyder. In the city of Detroit, Obama and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan fare far better than any Republican.
It’s also true that the the recovery hasn’t been even and people tend to gauge progress based on what’s going on in their own lives. The recession hung on in some corners of Michigan until 2013. From 2010 to 2014, the U.S. Census shows poverty shot up 17 percent and median household income dropped 8.7 percent. In 2017, Michigan only added 44,000 jobs (half of our 2016 total) and real disposable income only grew .8 percent.
Attorney General Bill Schuette, the GOP frontrunner to succeed Snyder, has identified another reason some Michiganders might be anxious. Many of us are actually paying more in taxes now than we did under Granholm (though Schuette is still using her as the boogeyman). Snyder’s ballyhooed corporate tax cut in 2011 was partially paid for by $1.4 billion in individual tax increases. So Schuette has made tax cuts the centerpiece of his campaign.
There’s also far more to running a state than just the economy. Snyder burned through a lot of goodwill when he cut education funding early on, gave in on Right to Work, signed anti-LGBT adoption legislation and dragged his feet in helping thousands of people falsely accused of unemployment fraud.
And then, of course, there’s Flint.
Finley scoffed that Granholm “had no clue how to manage a crisis. Everything she attempted made things worse.” But you could say the same thing about Snyder’s shameful handling of the Flint water crisis. Twelve people died of Legionnaires’ disease, lead-poisoned water had a “horrifyingly large” effect on fetal deaths and many of the 99,000 people who drank the water are still dealing with the impact of elevated lead levels, especially children.
Snyder waited halfway through his last State of the State address last week to even mention Flint and quickly returned to happy talk about the “comeback.”
You can pretend people don’t notice things like that. You can insist that they’re misguided or too stupid to realize how awesome things are now. But good luck winning elections that way.
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.