Susan J. Demas: Young Goes Scorched Earth in Detroit Mayoral Race

Michigan state Senate sessions tend to be rather drab affairs.

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With Republicans holding a vice grip on the chamber since 1984 and currently controlling 71 percent of seats, there typically hasn’t been too much drama in the hundreds of sessions I’ve sat through. When the GOP wants to pass something, there’s usually not much Democrats can do.

That’s never deterred Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit), who consistently delivers the most memorable speeches on the floor, often as an act of protest. With his hypnotic preacher-like cadence, Young usually begins with a quote from a dizzyingly long list of luminaries, which has included former President Richard Nixon, Albert Einstein and poet James Weldon Johnson. (This ritual even inspired a @SenColemanQuote Twitter account).

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In case you drifted off or checked your email while Young was at the podium, he’d make you regret it by busting out a gem, like he did last term by announcing with a broad grin, “I’d like to start out with a quote … from myself.”

Many politicos and pundits have been inclined to write him off as a goofy millennial riding the coattails of his legendary father, the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. But the senator happens to be one of the few legislators I’ve covered who actually reads most of the bills he votes on. And he’s surprised quite a few lobbyists and policy wonks who expected brief, joke-filled meetings with him and instead were treated to a barrage of thoughtful, detail-laden questions.

Young will be term-limited next year at the ripe old age of 36. So it makes sense that he decided to follow in his papa’s footsteps this year and embark on his second Detroit mayoral campaign. Name ID would never be a problem.

But taking on a popular incumbent has been. Mike Duggan, the former Detroit Medical Center CEO, became the city’s first white mayor in decades after the near unheard-of feat of winning the 2013 primary as a write-in candidate.

There’s no question that Detroit has made progress under Duggan, especially since emerging from bankruptcy three years ago. All you have to do is stroll through downtown and Midtown, flecked with the kind of hipster-haven bars and restaurants you’d expect to see in Chicago. Real-estate developers are gobbling up property and rents are soaring. And some of your out-of-state relatives have probably stopped asking if you got carjacked every time you go to Ford Field.

But many of the city’s longtime residents living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods far from the glitzy new Little Caesars Arena aren’t feeling the love. And progressives have never liked Duggan, a business-friendly pragmatist who’s not afraid to cut deals with Republicans, like with his auto insurance package crafted with House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt).

Young should be a solid Duggan alternative. He’s young, charismatic and consistently one of the Senate’s most liberal members in Inside Michigan Politics’ annual rankings.

But his campaign was greeted with a yawn from much of the metro Detroit media that’s always been convinced Duggan is a lock. In the eight-way Aug. 8 primary, Duggan won 67 percent of the vote, trouncing Young by 40 points.

So it’s not surprising that Young has opted to make race his closing argument before Nov. 7. That’s what everyone expected when he hired felonious former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick whisperer Adolph Mongo.

There’s the SuperPAC ad accusing Duggan of Kilpatrick-level corruption, but noting only Kwame is behind bars. The reason? “It’s as simple as black and white,” the ad intones. Young went back to this well repeatedly in last week’s mayoral debate, prompting Duggan to frequently call him a “liar.”

And Young has announced a “Take Back the Motherland” rally on election eve. If you were trying to brainstorm an event to make the Fox News, Infowars and Breitbart outrage machines go berserk, you probably couldn’t do much better than this. We should all pray that the neo-Nazis who periodically parade around Charlottesville, Va., don’t decide to take a road trip up to Motown that night.

But if you’re a talented politician with a great name and decades left to make your mark, as Young is, this scorched-earth strategy probably isn’t helpful. It’s a shame that more people around the senator haven’t told him that.

And it’s a shame for Detroit, a city that’s still grappling with serious problems of poverty, poor schools, blight and crime. Citizens deserved a mayoral race that addressed those issues, not a sideshow with theatrics destined to become an ominous segment on “Fox and Friends.”

Maybe next time.

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.

Susan J. Demas: Inside the Quest for the Democrats Great White Male Hope in Michigan

Michigan politics has taken an ugly turn since 2016, and it’s not just on the Republican side.

Our state helped elect President Donald Trump — after he kicked off his campaign by calling immigrants “rapists and murderers,” animatedly mocked a disabled reporter at a campaign rally, and admitted to sexual assault on the “grab ‘em by the pussy” “Access Hollywood” tape that came out weeks before the election.

If you’d like to believe that a plurality of 10,000 voters plunked for Trump solely because they dig lower taxes, that’s fine. But no other Republican managed to win Michigan since 1988 — and they all promised mondo tax cuts — so perhaps that take is a bit myopic.

Many Democrats have naturally been concerned about how to win back areas that went big for Trump, mainly Macomb County and the Upper Peninsula.

The public discussion has focused on how to hone the party’s economic message and how much of Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist populism to incorporate.

But the private, knee-jerk response of some Dems after Hillary Clinton’s loss is that the party needs to run more straight white men, especially at the highest levels. This idea has currency with a faction in the unions, but there are a number of white-glove, cocktail-party circuit intellectuals who subscribe to this strategy, as well.

What’s absent from the discussion is how Barack Obama, the first African-American president who frequently joked about his “funny name,” managed to twice win landslide victories in Michigan not too long ago, including those areas some are convinced will only vote for white dudes.

As things currently stand, the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner is former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who served for more than 14 years in Lansing. Her top competition is Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the former Detroit Health Department head who’s in the Sanders mold and would be the nation’s first Muslim governor. There’s also businessman Shri Thanedar, who immigrated from India, and former executive Bill Cobbs, who’s African-American.

Most Democratic leaders and voters are fine with the field, which, after all, is pretty representative of the party.

But for the forces utterly convinced that a woman, Muslim, immigrant or African-American absolutely cannot win the top job in Michigan next year, the mission is clear: Find the Great White Male Hope.

That quest began in earnest after U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), who rose to national prominence after the Flint Water Crisis, announced in May that he wouldn’t run.

The problem is that big-name candidates aren’t interested and time is running short. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan insists he won’t run. No one thinks Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel wants to give up a job he’s got for life next year. And no one wants attorney Geoffrey Fieger, the party’s 1998 nominee, to run except, well, Geoffrey Fieger.

University of Michigan Regent Mark Bernstein, who’s also a big metro Detroit lawyer, seemed like the best prospect this summer. But he ultimately said no and promptly endorsed Whitmer to boot.

That leaves Andy Levin, the son of U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Southfield) who worked for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and ran an unsuccessful 2006 state Senate campaign. He’s spoken to a number of Dem groups about possibly running for governor or Congress.

The smart money is on Levin keeping his powder dry until his father retires, which could be next year. The Levin name would be almost impossible to beat in the district covering Macomb and Oakland counties. And it’s awfully late to mount a gubernatorial campaign, as he’ll need to raise serious money against some well-funded opponents (in both parties).

Besides, does Levin really want his campaign to be defined by being the last white guy left standing? He already feels pressure to emerge from the shadow of his father and uncle, former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. There doesn’t seem to be much upside here.

And here’s the truth. Anyone who thinks a white male Democratic gubernatorial nominee will be insulated from racialized and bigoted attacks on social media or from shady SuperPACs is living in a dream world. The culture wars have kicked back into high gear, with everything from an immigrant teenager seeking an abortion to black NFL players kneeling during the national anthem becoming major political flashpoints.

Buzzfeed did a thorough investigation of the connection between the Mercers, who are big Trump donors; white nationalists; and Breitbart News, which is run by former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon who’s looking to play hard in 2018 races. Even if these big forces don’t get involved with Michigan elections, there are plenty of copycats who will after seeing Trump’s ‘16 success here.

Now the hits might be more personal against some candidates. Right-wing forces will probably try the same gendered attacks against Whitmer that bloodied Clinton. For a sampling of the likely stealth campaign against El-Sayed, you can just check out the rants against Sharia law former GOP National Committeeman Dave Agema frequently posts on Facebook.

But this battle is coming no matter what. This isn’t the time for Democrats to run scared. It’s time for them to fight for the kind of Michigan they believe in.

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.

Susan J. Demas: Republicans Would Like You To Kindly Forget They’ve Raised Your Taxes

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History, as we all know, is written by the winners. And in Michigan, Republicans have been on a nearly seven-year winning streak, controlling all three branches of state government.

So Republicans, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, the likely 2018 gubernatorial nominee, have been spinning a pretty convincing horror story about the diabolical Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm tax hikes a decade ago. The only way to destroy them is to elect Schuette and Republicans next year, of course.

This is a very smooth talking point. Plenty of people will believe it just because everyone knows Democrats are tax ‘n’ spend fiends while Republicans despise taxes more than venereal disease.

There are just three big facts that annihilate this premise: The 2007 tax hikes were a bipartisan affair; Republicans under Gov. Rick Snyder raised taxes even more in 2011 and again in 2015; and the GOP has been in power for seven years and could have chopped your tax bill at any time.

If any of this is news to you, that may be because most of Michigan’s political reporters didn’t cover the ‘07 theatrics and plenty weren’t even there for Snyder’s ‘11 tax hikes. Most lawmakers from those sessions have been term-limited and even many knowledgeable staffers have departed the Capitol.

But facts are stubborn things and shouldn’t be forgotten. And as someone who has been around for all of this tax drama, I’ll volunteer to be the annoying voice of intellectual honesty.

Let’s start in 2007, a frenzied time of a short-lived government shutdown and all-night sessions when lawmakers (and even a few reporters) were reduced to sleeping on the Capitol floor. Michigan was dead broke, thanks to a recession that actually started on the watch of GOP then-Gov. John Engler.

Granholm struck a deal with then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) to temporarily raise the state income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. As the Senate was GOP-controlled, the plan had to have R votes to pass, and it did. So Bishop, now a congressman, can truthfully state he wasn’t one of them, but he certainly did sign off on the tax hike deal.

They also made a mess of the sales tax and eventually fixed it with a Michigan Business Tax (MBT) surcharge. Fun times.

So when Snyder was elected three years later, the Republican’s first order of business was to slay the MBT. Most economists agreed it was a terribly structured tax, so that was all well and good, but Snyder’s plan for a $2 billion corporate tax cut did have a rather big problem.

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You see, unlike the federal government, Michigan can’t run a deficit. So in order to make up for the $2 billion hit to the state budget, Snyder proposed budget cuts and — get this — a $1.4 billion tax increase on individuals. The income tax stayed locked at 4.35 percent the first year and then would stick at 4.25 percent.

But the real hit to taxpayers’ wallets was getting rid of tax deductions for basic things like owning a home, having kids, donating to charity, saving for retirement, and paying for kids’ college. Suddenly, plenty of people used to receiving tax refunds in April were socked with bills for thousands of dollars.

That was fun, too.

But because Snyder and Republicans weren’t ready to quit their tax-hike addiction, they followed all that up in 2015 with the first gas tax hike in 20 years. By upping the tax from 19 cents to 26.3 cents, Michigan vaulted into the top five states, per the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

In return, we were supposed to get better roads and bridges. Now maybe you’ve met someone who thinks they’re driving on fewer potholes now; I’ve yet to interview anyone who does.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, we’ve had a GOP governor, House, Senate and Supreme Court. The GOP could have cut taxes for folks at any time. But even this winter, the Republican-led House failed to pass an income tax cut.

Now Schuette wants us to believe that Democrats somehow are to blame for all these tax hikes and only electing Republicans in ‘18 can save us.

Republicans have failed to protect taxpayers time and time again in the last decade. That’s their record. They can’t rewrite history.

If they want us to believe that things will be different this time around, they should have to answer for their record.

But they’re probably banking on a weakened and neophyte media and a demoralized Democratic Party to save them from tough questions. And to be honest, that’s not a bad bet to make.

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.

Susan J. Demas: Snyder Decides It’s Necessary To Destroy His Legacy To Save It

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Some days, it feels like Gov. Rick Snyder is just going through the motions, running out the clock until December 31, 2018.

Gone are his peppy promises of working in “dog years” on his agenda, complete with PowerPoint-heavy special messages on problems he’d quickly dispatch with “Relentless Positive Action.” His zest for playing the “One Tough Nerd” persona that got him elected has certainly faded.

Snyder isn’t the first governor to get worn down by the job. Running a state home to 10 million people and a $57 billion budget is no easy task.

And many critics, myself included, noted Snyder’s predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, seemed to be looking for the exits in her last two years. As the Great Recession barreled through Michigan, she was constantly tormented by rumors the Obama administration would tap her for a cabinet or Supreme Court slot.

Snyder isn’t looking for his next political gig, however. Oh, there was a time when he was the belle of the pragmatic conservative ball. Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley started breathlessly banging the Snyder-for-president drum in the summer of 2014. A fews months later, Ron Fournier, now of Crain’s Detroit, tweeted: “Watch this Snyder guy in 2016. He gets stuff done.”

But now, in a time when the national media churn out endless speculative candidate stories, Snyder’s name is never mentioned to challenge U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) in ‘18 or for any other high-ranking job. And no reporter even bothers to explain why.

Because everyone has heard of the Flint water crisis. And no one waxes eloquent about Snyder’s decisive leadership and innovative data-driven approach anymore.

Of course, President Trump has never been one to hold failure against anyone (the thrice-bankrupt real estate developer has seen fit to hire several alumni of Goldman Sachs, which helped cause the aforementioned Great Recession). But Snyder shot himself in the leg there, as he refused to endorse Trump. So Snyder can’t really pin his hopes on an administration post, no matter how many people quit.

Flint has irrevocably diminished Snyder’s governorship. But the curious thing is that he seems content to finish the job himself.

Snyder could have helped rehabilitate himself by leading the conservative opposition to Trump’s authoritarian nativism, as I noted after the election. He already made himself a powerful enemy by withholding his endorsement, so why not stick to core principles and send a powerful message as a Rust Belt governor?

Naturally, that was expecting too much of Snyder. But he did manage to surprise even some cynics like me by backing away from two big fights that defined him in the media as a “moderate” governor: immigration and health care.

After declaring himself to be the “most pro-immigration governor in the country” back in 2011, Snyder refused to condemn Trump’s Muslim ban in a mush-mouthed statement. He also said nothing when ICE agents raided a restaurant (after enjoying breakfast there first) in his hometown of Ann Arbor.

And the governor has failed to lead the fight against deporting Chaldeans, Iraqi Christians who fled their war-torn homeland for metro Detroit. That decision is a humanitarian travesty, but it’s also politically perplexing one, as Chaldeans are a fundraising force in the GOP.

Perhaps Snyder’s biggest success was getting the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare through the hostile GOP-led Legislature. Not only has that made it possible for almost 700,000 more Michiganders to have health insurance, but it’s also generated more than $550 million for the state budget in 2016, according to a University of Michigan study.

Medicaid is under attack from Republicans in Washington desperately trying to repeal Obamacare. So where’s Rick Snyder?

He’s been conspicuously absent from the bipartisan group of 10 governors working on health care solutions. They most recently opposed the Graham-Cassidy bill, while Snyder was still hemming and hawing. Studies show the plan would cost Michigan $8 billion, but that won’t really hit until long after he moves out of the governor’s mansion.

So should we conclude that Snyder has just given up on his legacy?

Actually, I believe it’s quite the opposite. Snyder’s lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, would like nothing more than to succeed him. But most politicos doubt he can win. In the GOP primary, he would face Attorney General Bill Schuette, an ace fundraiser and politician who likely started to practice his inauguration speech during kindergarten recess.

Calley is weighed down by Snyder’s dismal poll numbers and has his own problems with the base, as he unendorsed Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape. The LG is trying desperately to prove his conservative cred with his part-time legislature gambit, but he has a lot of ground to make up.

If Calley can somehow pull it off and become Michigan’s 49th governor in spite of Trump, Flint and a restless electorate, that would be quite the vindication for Rick Snyder.

So no, he’s not going to tangle with Trump. He’s not going to stand up against ICE raids and 700,000 people losing health care. He’s not going to do anything that will hurt Calley.

Snyder has decided that’s the way to salvage his legacy — even if it means sitting back while many of his accomplishments unravel.

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.

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Politicians Should Face the Trump Test in 2018

“Why won’t the president condemn white supremacists?”

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That was the question that dominated cable news and social media after a white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent on Saturday with one of the attendees allegedly mowing down a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured.

President Trump, who’s never been one to shy away from criticizing anyone or anything — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as “Little Marco” for his lack of gravitas; actress Rosie O’Donnell for being “a pig”; and even Nordstrom’s for dropping handbags made by his daughter, Ivanka — issued some vague, underwhelming tweets.

Then in his first public remarks, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Now it’s quite fashionable in D.C. journalism to blame both sides — it’s a well-paying schtick, no doubt — but even some of the top purveyors of that brand of conventional wisdom like David Gergen and Chris Cillizza tore into Trump on a CNN panel for “both-sidesing” Nazism.

On Monday, Trump issued a half-hearted statement finally calling out the KKK and white supremacists, but no one was buying it. So on Tuesday, Trump lost it at his infrastructure-themed press conference and said there were some “very fine people” at the white power rally. And he told us more about what he really thought:

“What about the alt-left? You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”

Nope. Nope. Nope. No Nazis were killed in the protest.

White supremacists showed up in paramilitary garb, waving Nazi and confederate flags. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe described in disturbing detail how the police were outnumbered and outgunned by the white power forces.

And then James Alex Fields, 20, allegedly rammed his car into anti-racist protesters, which Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, says meets the legal definition of terrorism.

There doesn’t seem to be much mystery about what Fields believed or was trying to do. His high school teacher describes him as idolizing Nazis (he “thought they were pretty cool guys.”) While at the Dachau death camp during a post-graduation trip to Europe, Fields allegedly said, “This is where the magic happened,” according to two classmates.

Trump’s disgusting remarks did get rave reviews from the likes of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK and wannabe GOP politician, who tweeted his thanks for the president’s “honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM [Black Lives Matter]/Antifa[cist].”

In other words, we have our answer as to why Trump wouldn’t denounce white supremacists. He didn’t want to. And he’s willing to defend them, even when one of their own allegedly killed a woman in cold blood.

Elected officials, however — Democrats and Republicans alike — have been blasting Trump and the neo-Nazi movement. It’s important to have politicians on the record about this.

I would go further, however. During the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump said dozens of outrageous things — calling Mexicans “rapists”; insulting gold star father Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq; urging people to check out the sex tape of a Miss Universe he had called “Miss Piggy” and more.

Reporters asked many Republican officeholders and candidates about these statements and often got pushback that it was unfair and “biased” to even ask. Now that Trump is president, he’s still tweeting attacks and blasting enemies at his rallies.

But reporters don’t ask Republican officials much about this anymore. Unhinged rants by the leader of the free world are just the new normal. And besides, he won the election (even if 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton), so that means the American people have endorsed this, right?

Well, with all due respect to my colleagues, that’s crap. But here’s something I think is far more important to ask Democrats and Republicans running for Congress, statewide office and leadership positions in 2018: Where do you stand on Trump’s policies, which will certainly impact Michigan?

Given where Trump stands on white supremacists, his proposal to drastically limit legal immigration, build a wall with Mexico, call for police to be “rough” with suspects and his Muslim ban have to be viewed through that lens. Those who want to hold key offices in Michigan deserve to be questioned about these policies and more.

And if these candidates whine that the “fake news” media are being mean, well, then they’re probably not up to the job.

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.

Pick a Side: There Is No Neutrality When it Comes to Nazis

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.” — President Donald Trump on Saturday after a white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., left three dead.

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During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” offered a Muslim ban, backed a wall with Mexico, disparaged the father of a slain Muslim soldier, declared a female journalist had “blood coming out of her wherever,” said a Mexican-American judge couldn’t be fair in a case against him, encouraged violence at his rallies, bragged about sexual assault on tape; and called his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a “nasty woman” at a nationally televised debate. This is not a complete list; it’s just off the top of my head at 5 a.m.

Long story short, it’s not difficult to see why Trump was endorsed by the KKK. So when beltway pundits and some on the left moaned about having to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” some of us with an understanding of history and who have encountered extremism in our own lives were frustrated. The choice was between someone you may not have particularly liked for whatever reason — her voice, her husband’s record on crime, her neoliberalism (whatever that is) — and a dude endorsed by the KKK. Pick a side.

After Trump narrowly won the election, pundits kept waiting for the pivot to presidential behavior. Instead, to put a fine point on his campaign courting of white supremacists, he put three well-known figures in the White House: Steve Bannon who bragged about his publication, Breitbart, being a platform for the “alt-right”; Stephen Miller, known for his anti-immigrant screeds; and Seb Gorka, who has ties to Nazi-allied groups in Hungary.

White supremacists are emboldened. This weekend, they marched in Charlottesville, Va., a flashpoint because a confederate statue is slated to be removed. On Saturday, James Alex Fields, 20, allegedly plowed his car through anti-fascist protesters, killing one and leaving 19 injured. Two police officers were also killed in a helicopter crash.

The president went on TV after the tragedy and pundits expected him to condemn white supremacist violence. He didn’t. Instead, he blamed bigotry and violence “on many sides,” and weirdly brought up former President Obama. Needless to say, the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, was elated and announced Trump was on their side (“He loves us all.”)

If Trump had done the bare minimum and briefly condemned white supremacists for the tragic violence, he would have enjoyed media accolades for days, perhaps weeks. His team knows this. There is no benefit of the doubt here. This was a calculated move and a chilling one.

I am so sick of beltway pundits fetishizing a warped concept of objectivity when this is where we’re at today. Desmond Tutu perhaps put it best: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

My grandfather put off having a family and enlisted at age 32 to fight Nazis. He got his back shot up and lived with incredible pain until he passed away at 97. My daughter’s Jewish family was murdered by Nazis in Europe. And now Nazis are emboldened right here, prepping for a race war they believe has the blessing of the president of the United States. “Many sides,” my ass.

Pick a side.

Susan J. Demas: I’ve Been Covering Politics for 16 Years. I’ve Never Seen Anything Like Trumpcare’s Collapse Last Night.

I’ve been covering politics for 16 years and obsessively tracking current events since my high school goth phase. And I’ve never seen anything like I did last night when the U.S. Senate’s version of Trumpcare spectacularly went down.

You couldn’t script a more dramatic scenario, with U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who survived five years in the Hanoi Hilton only to recently be diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, came back from his hospital bed to cast the deciding vote against the so-called “skinny repeal” (which would have left 16 million without health insurance by next year).

Before midnight, it looked like Trumpcare was a done deal. When I watched McCain brush off Republican pressure on the floor and hug U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) I refused to believe my own eyes. It was going to pass. It was just a matter of time. That was where the smart money was.

But I have never been so happy to be wrong. Why? It’s pretty simple. Trumpcare’s failure means 20,000 fewer deaths and a lot less suffering. This is not an exaggeration. That’s what the research shows.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had hung tough against various versions of Trumpcare and also voted “no.” No, it’s not fair that McCain has overshadowed their repeated principled stands, but the sheer drama of the staunch conservative riding back into D.C. to fight for people — which seemed unbelievably ripped out of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — was always going to be the main storyline.

Likewise, many stories don’t mention that every single Democrat in the House and Senate, from the most liberal single-payer advocate like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to vulnerable 2018 red state conservative Dems like Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), never wavered and voted against Trumpcare. Not bad for #DemsinDisarray.

And, as always, the tireless work of everyday people who called, wrote and protested about their health care being snatched away often gets short shrift. But that’s how social change really happens. And it did make a huge difference.

I was trying to think of a comparable scenario to the early-morning drama in the U.S. Senate. I guess it would be like if four more GOP state senators had stood up on Dec. 6, 2012, and shockingly voted against Right to Work in Michigan. But as much of a might-makes-right spectacle as that was, it was not a matter of life or death like Trumpcare is for thousands of Americans.

The last time I was this shell-shocked was starting at 9 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2016, when I saw where the returns were heading in Wisconsin and Michigan for the presidential race. This feeling is much better, so if you’ll excuse me, I am going to savor it for just a little longer.

Susan J. Demas: Republicans Win Rumbles in Michigan, but Stumble in D.C.

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With the Hindenburg-like implosion of the GOP health care legislation this week, it’s become fashionable in Washington to say that Republicans just don’t know how to govern anymore.

While President Obama was in office, Republicans proved to be a ruthlessly capable opposition party, holding hostage the once-routine debt ceiling negotiations, forcing a partial government shutdown in 2013, and undermining Obamacare, even though repeal was impossible. That was largely due to the dogged determination of then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Now the GOP now holds the White House, as well as majorities in Congress and even on the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet the party has been fecklessly unable to win its longstanding agenda, including killing Obamacare, enacting sweeping tax cuts for the rich, and chopping entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. President Trump’s dark populist priorities of a “big, beautiful” wall with Mexico and a border tax are also rotting on the vine.

The lore of McConnell being the “dark lord” of the Senate has definitely taken a hit. So has Trump’s reputation as the consummate dealmaker, as his business experience hasn’t translated at all to the world of D.C. By all accounts, the president has been supremely bored by the health care process and left negotiations up to congressional leaders, with his only goal to sign something — anything — so as to declare victory and stick it to Obama.

Most conservative triumphs this year have come in the form of Trump’s executive orders rolling back environmental protections and fiscal regulations (i.e. the sort of imperial presidency actions for which Republicans eviscerated Obama).

We’re only six months into Trump’s term, so there’s still time to rack up wins. But we’re also less than six months away from 2018, and congressional leaders are typically loath to ram unpopular bills through during election years when voters pay more attention.

And there’s another bright red roadblock. The ever-widening Russia scandal that’s engulfing Trump, his family and top campaign aides is threatening to derail what conservatives believed was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shrink the size and scope of government and rewrite the tax code.

While Republican voters may be incensed by FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and insist it’s a “nothingburger,” smarter politicians and strategists are dissolving into night terrors with each new revelation.

This is all “very bad” and “Sad!” as our president might tweet. But I’m not sure that the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party only excels as an obstructionist force is correct.

It’s easy to imagine a more competent and less tainted GOP president — say, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or even prickly Ted Cruz — cajoling members of Congress with far more success. It would still be difficult to pass a complete repeal of Obamacare, but a less ambitious conservative health bill — marshalled by a Republican president not subject to social media war whims or Vladimir Putin’s charms — likely could glide through Capitol Hill.

While this is a hypothetical scenario, we do have some real-world examples of Republican success at the state level. Many states have enjoyed complete GOP control this decade, including Wisconsin, Ohio and, of course, Michigan. And Republicans have been able to achieve some stunning conservative victories.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was no true-blue conservative’s first choice. He’s occasionally bucked his party on major issues, like championing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and several minor ones, like vetoing the Right to Life license plate (which the savvy lobbying group will just turn into a fundraising opportunity and an ‘18 candidate litmus test).

But Snyder has presided over a right-wing agenda that probably makes former Gov. John Engler pickle with envy. From Right to Work to huge business tax cuts to cuts to welfare and teacher pensions, Michigan has taken a hard right-hand turn — which won’t be undone, even if Democrats recapture the governor’s mansion next year.

That’s not to say that Snyder and more conservative legislative leaders have always had the same priorities or styles. The governor has privately and publicly chafed with many of them.

One of the primary issues is that Snyder, a former CEO, would like legislators to function more as his employees than a co-equal branch of government. But in the era of term limit-fueled inexperience and hyperpartisanship, there have been few big flare-ups.

You would expect this dynamic with Trump and Congress, but the president has curiously ceded most of his agenda to McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

So far, however, there’s one clear parallel between Michigan and Washington. Each legislative branch has been willing to give the executive branch a pass — and even play interference — during a major scandal.

Snyder and his team escaped long, ruinous legislative hearings over the Flint water crisis, as Republicans had no appetite for flagellating one of their own. And thus far, Trump has benefited from lax congressional oversight of his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, and Ryan and McConnell have refused to engage much with the media on the firestorm.

For now, Republicans at both the state and national level seem resigned to the fact that they’re all playing on the same team, whether they like it or not. Hope for enacting their right-wing agenda springs eternal.

We’ll see if it lasts.

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.

 

Susan J. Demas: The Quiet Rise of Pro-Trump Media

President Trump is back to tweeting incendiary attacks on the media, from accusing MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski of “bleeding badly from a face-lift” to posting a fake video of him giving CNN a wrestling beatdown.

Savaging the media is a surefire way to rile up the Republican base. But in reality, they’re the ones who are out of touch, as 50 percent of Americans trust CNN more than Trump, with only 43 percent in his corner. And independents decisively split 55-40 percent in favor of CNN.

Of course, the convenient way to dismiss facts you don’t like nowadays is to scream out “#Fake News!” at the top of your lungs like a toddler. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Critical thinking is, indeed, a burden.

But this debate is actually far less interesting than new developments in the media marketplace that haven’t garnered much attention. And this is all taking place as Trump enjoys what Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan calls “state media” level coverage from Fox News. The echo chamber extends to other right-wing outlets like Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and Newsmax (now on the DirectTV lineup), not to mention conspiracy theory wonderland Infowars, which is run by Trump confidante Alex Jones.

Partisan media is nothing new in America — just ask the Founding Fathers. There’s no shortage of liberal and conservative outlets. But now we’re seeing the emergence of media that explicitly are cheerleading a single politician, not an ideology or political party. This is a new weapon at President Trump’s disposal and it’s startling how few people seem aware of it.

Let’s start with local media. Sinclair Broadcast Group has bought the Tribune Media Co. for $3.7 billion, creating a “TV goliath,” per Bloomberg. (This was made possible by more lax Federal Communication Commission rules under a new GOP majority).

Sinclair already owns 173 stations in 81 markets — local NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates — which reaches 24 percent of U.S. TV homes, Bloomberg reports. Tribune Co. owns 42 stations, reaching 26 percent of homes.

In Michigan, Sinclair owns eight stations in the greater Kalamazoo, Flint and Traverse City areas. It would acquire another Kalamazoo-area station with the Tribune merger.

This isn’t just a typical media conglomeration story, however. The (not-so) surprise twist is that Sinclair now has “must-run” editorials by Boris Epshteyn, which often come off as North Korea-style “Dear Leader” paeans to Trump.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. Epshteyn is a former Trump campaign aide who briefly served in the White House press office. Now he’s being questioned as part of the congressional Russia probe, which is always a good sign.

And yet the conservative crowd that shrieks about “biased” media at every turn seems remarkably unfazed about Sinclair’s blatant bias, since it’s the correct kind.

It’s true that a lot of people don’t pay attention to local news. Many don’t particularly follow politics. That’s why it’s significant to watch what’s happening to entertainment news and tabloids.

You don’t think of TMZ when you think politics. It’s the guilty pleasure you tune into to discover who had a nip slip or who Kylie Jenner is dating now. But the celeb gossip site and TV show slips in some aggressively pro-Trump propaganda, thanks to creator Harvey Levin, a pal of the president who’s been entertained in the Oval Office.

TMZ, which boasts a much younger and more diverse audience than Fox News, routinely airs puff pieces on all the Trumps and White House staff like Kellyanne Conway. And TMZ also blasts Trump’s foes, like women who accused him of sexual harassment, and creates new ones, like a Jetblue passenger who was allegedly rude to Ivanka Trump.

Meanwhile, the grandaddy of all tabloids, the National Enquirer, is basically a Trump house organ (“Exclusive Report! President Trump: His Secret Plan for World Peace” is a recent fave headline). In his feud with Brzezinski, the president bragged that he had the power to get stories killed at the supermarket tabloid.

Another longtime Trump buddy, David Pecker, just happens to own the Enquirer and he has a brutal assessment of his audience: “These are people that live their life failing, so they want to read negative things about people who have gone up and then come down.”

Other Enquirer publications include OK, The Globe, Star, Radar Online and Us Weekly (which abruptly stopped running critical Trump stories). Pecker is also interested in buying Time Magazine, which has been an odd obsession of Trump, who was just caught hanging fake Time covers of himself at various properties. The Mercers, the hedge-fund billionaires who dumped millions into Trump’s campaign, are also interested in acquiring Time.

It would certainly be jarring for one of America’s most venerable news magazines — a symbol of the sometimes stodgy conventional wisdom journalism of old — to metamorphose into a loud, pro-Trump mouthpiece.

What the president and his right-wing allies are counting on is that you aren’t paying attention to stories about the burgeoning pro-Trump media industry (or that you’ve bought into the outrage over the “librul media” so you don’t care).

But when enough media are weaponized in the service of a single politician, that can create hazards for anyone who crosses him — and not just liberals. Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will find themselves on the receiving end of more Brzezinski-style attacks. Eventually, those who don’t agree with Trump on everything (even when he inexplicably changes his positions) will be excoriated for not being true patriots.

That’s how cults of personality work. Any conservative who believes this fight is about ideas, not ego, is about to get a rude awakening.

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.

Susan J. Demas: Snyder Doesn’t Really Seem Like the Most ‘Pro-Immigration’ Governor Anymore

In 2011, Rick Snyder proudly declared that he was “probably the most aggressive, pro-immigration governor in the country.” His main argument was that it can create jobs, pointing to immigrant-founded companies like Dow and Meijer that built Michigan.

Championing immigration was a position that put Snyder at odds with his own Republican Party, even back then, as it was a hot-button issue in the 2012 presidential primary. It seems almost quaint now, but eventual nominee Mitt Romney ran to the right, calling for “self-deportation.”

It’s a whole new ballgame now under President Donald Trump, who ran on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform and called Mexicans “rapists” on the campaign trail. There’s always been speculation that that’s one reason why Snyder never endorsed him, unlike most Republicans.

As president, Trump has repeatedly fired off incendiary texts about terrorist attacks well before all the facts are in. He tried and failed repeatedly to defend his Muslim ban in court.

So did Snyder stand up against it? Not really. He already called for a “pause” on Syrian refugees in 2015. In a mushy statement that first extolled Michigan’s tradition of immigrant entrepreneurship, the governor then said: “The President’s 120-day reassessment period is leading to a much-needed national dialogue on immigration policy, and I plan to be part of that discussion.”

That was strike one. Strike two came last month when ICE agents enjoyed a lovely breakfast at a restaurant in Snyder’s home town of Ann Arbor and then proceeded to detain three workers there. The brazenness of ICE agents — who have been stepping up raids since Trump was sworn in — made national news. But Snyder, who recently bought a $2 million loft downtown (the pics are gorg, as the Kardashians say), once again stayed silent.

Then this month, ICE arrested dozens of Iraqi Christian immigrants in metro Detroit. They risked everything to flee persecution. Now they face a “death sentence” if they’re sent back to Iraq. And still, Snyder hasn’t lifted a finger.

This is all disturbing from a moral standpoint. What is it that Rick Snyder really stands for if “the most pro-immigration governor in the nation” can’t weigh in on unjust acts against immigrants?

It seems that, once again, the governor is being cowed by the far-right of his party, like when he demonstrated no discernible backbone on LGBT rights or Right to Work.

But Snyder’s fumble on the safety of Iraqi Christians is particularly curious from a political standpoint.

The Chaldean community is a vibrant, entrepreneurial and generally conservative one in southeast Michigan. They’re very politically active, from generous political donations to filing suit against a new mosque in Sterling Heights. Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp.), who’s Chaldean, is mulling a 2018 bid for attorney general.

So you’d think that Snyder would condemn the attack on Iraqi Christians just because it’s politically savvy to do so in Michigan, even if he’s not overly concerned that it’s the right thing to do.

If Chaldeans continue to feel abandoned by Republicans, that could have an impact on 2018, especially in some key metro Detroit state House districts.

Perhaps the governor will reverse course and reassert his “pro-immigration” stance. But for now, his silence is deafening.

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.