Barack Obama

Susan J. Demas: Snyder, Trump Loom Large in 2018 Election


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 Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Why I cried when Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination

When Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday, I cried. I’m not afraid to admit that.

Eight years ago, I cried when Barack Obama did the same thing (yes, by defeating Clinton). It’s nothing short of remarkable that an African-American could be the Democrats’ standard-bearer after this country was founded on slavery, on blacks being legally being three-fifths of a person in the Constitution. And not that many decades have passed since Jim Crow and KKK lynchings.

And it’s pretty damn important that a woman will now be the nominee for a major political party in America. Women haven’t even had the right to vote for 100 years. For centuries, most of us couldn’t own property or go to school. This final barrier must be broken.

I say this as a mother of a teenage girl who couldn’t fathom why there were no presidents who looked like her on her old placemat. I say this as a mother of a tween boy who has never asked if a woman is up to the job of running the free world. He knows we are.

But I realized that I was crying mainly as a soon-to-be 40-year-old woman. I’ve been raped and abused. As a journalist and businesswoman, I’ve been stalked, sexually harassed and constantly belittled (one of my favorites is the legislator who suggested I shouldn’t cover abortion legislation as I was a “Vagina-American.”)

One of the advantages of being middle-aged and self-employed is that you’re far better equipped to deal with crass chauvinism and lame attempts to hurt your bottom line. No one’s gotten me to shut up yet, and I wouldn’t hold my breath, boys.

But I thought back to when I was roughly my daughter’s age during Bill Clinton’s first presidential bid in 1992. I remember being annoyed that Hillary wasn’t running then. Sure, he had the charisma, but she was so damn smart. Why do so many women wait their turn? Why did she have to backtrack from her crack that she could have stayed home and “baked cookies and had teas” instead of being a badass children’s rights lawyer? Why couldn’t she have declared, “That’s me, take it or leave it”?

That’s the kind of woman I wanted to be. That’s the kind of woman my friends wanted to be. We didn’t want to be married to men running the world. We wanted to run it.

Hillary made a political calculation to wait, though. It was probably the right one. She was coming up in a world that frowned upon her keeping her own name, even though she’d accomplished so much as Hillary Rodham. She faced blowback after promising the American people they’d be getting “two for the price of one” in the White House, even though Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan and Edith Wilson all filled that role behind the scenes.

The conventional wisdom was always that the first female president would be a Republican, our own Margaret Thatcher –– tough on national defense, with the uniquely American twist of an unwavering devotion to God to soften her edges in all the right ways.

Clinton decided to become the Iron Lady herself, first in her outward persona in the face of her husband’s infidelity and impeachment and then in her carefully crafted defense hawk stance and moderate U.S. Senate platform. And finally, she rose above petty partisanship when Obama appointed her Secretary of State, giving her a powerful voice on the world stage.

But she almost derailed herself along the way, emotionally lashing out at the media over her marriage. Her failed 2008 presidential campaign was marred by entitlement and fits of race-baiting by surrogates. Clinton had waited so long and was furious that her chance was being thwarted by an upstart. It showed.

It was a turnoff to me and millions of women. Obama was inspiring and stubbornly immune to tawdry controversies which have plagued the Clintons since their days in Arkansas. My anti-Clinton columns in 2008 (I once declared that she failed feminism) still get me dirty looks from some liberal women to this day.

So what changed for me? The first was covering her on the stump for Obama after their bitter primary. Clinton was utterly gracious and never made it about her, however personally devastated she almost certainly still was. Then there was her partnership with the president for four years. His “Team of Rivals” play worked and she was a far better asset in his cabinet than in the Senate.

And a lot has happened to me from ages 31 to 39. I’m now the mother of a boy.  I’ve seen firsthand how insidious sexism can be, from casual remarks about who should do the dishes to rape jokes he hears in school. I worked my way up as a reporter only to hit the glass ceiling and get fired. I run two businesses now and still encounter men trying to put me in my place –– and even allegedly feminist women who still insist I must have a male partner running the show (I don’t).

I have learned that if you are a woman who values herself, who wants to be heard, who wants to change the world, you need to take ownership of something. You can’t settle for being your boss’ work wife –– he’ll almost certainly take you for granted. You’ll be in the office working late so he can enjoy his daughter’s softball game. You’ll think you’re building something together, but in the end, it’s not your company. And you are always disposable.

You need to be the boss. And that’s something Clinton realized, too.

The truth is that it is exhausting being a woman. You are always judged differently, from your tone to your relationships to your shoes. And you can see that all over Hillary Clinton’s face. Few people have taken as many blows as she has. And yet, she’s still here. She’s still fighting.

That’s all any of us can do.

But the real game-changer for me was this revelation. When I was a teenager in 1992, the political climate was better for women than it is for my daughter today.

It was far easier to obtain an abortion than it is now with an explosion of anti-choice laws across the states. Equal pay was a bipartisan issue, with many Republicans as the (no-brainer) issue’s biggest champions. Even birth control –– something 90 percent of Americans support –– is under attack from Congress.

What the hell? The promise of America is progress. And women today are being left behind.

Electing a woman president isn’t a panacea. We have a record 20 women in the U.S. Senate right now and women’s rights are still being rolled back.

But it’s a strong message –– the strongest one possible –– that our rights matter and we deserve a seat at the table. What better way to convey that than having a woman –– and an immensely tough and qualified one at that –– behind the desk in the Oval Office?

It’s about damned 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 Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: What Rick Snyder Could Learn from Obama on Flint

This column appeared in Dome Magazine.

Gov. Snyder has lost the people of Flint, and there’s no getting them back.

He’s pointedly avoided public events in the city since acknowledging the water crisis roughly eight months ago, choosing instead to hold tightly controlled news conferences.

If Snyder was hoping Flint residents’ anger would dissipate with time, he was proved dead wrong last week during President Obama’s visit.

The governor did what he should have done back in September 2015. He apologized to the people of Flint –– in Flint.

“You didn’t create this problem ––” Snyder started to tell the crowd of 1,000 at Northwestern High School.

But students cut him off, shouting, “You did!”

No one in the gym heard the second part of Snyder’s sentence: “Government failed you.”

It was all too little, too late. Snyder didn’t bother speaking much longer. No one was listening.

When Obama took the stage to cheers and applause, he acknowledged the governor, as he should have. But the crowd booed again and the president threw him a lifeline, asking people not to.

Obama then announced Democratic officials in attendance: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and U.S. Reps. Sandy Levin (D-Royal Oak), John Conyers (D-Detroit), Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield). None of them were jeered.

And there you have it –– the credibility gap on the Flint water crisis in action.

Republicans, led by Michigan GOP Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, have valiantly tried to pin the issue on the Environmental Protection Agency, and thus Obama.

Of course, the facts say otherwise. The EPA failed, for sure, but the Flint water crisis was a state-created problem. Even the governor’s special task force found in its 116-page report that state-appointed emergency managers made the crucial decision to switch to the corrosive Flint River. The move was made to save money, which led to lead and legionella poisoning.

While Snyder and Republicans have been spinning and obfuscating about what they knew, Democrats like Kildee and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) have kept their doors open to Flint residents. And they’ve pushed for answers and aid.

Even Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came to Flint, which prompted a round of “Democrats are politicizing the crisis” stories fed by Republicans.

But while that criticism had cachet with a cynical press corps, few people in Flint cared. They just wanted help. They just wanted people to listen. And if politicians had their own agenda, well, that’s what politicians do.

It beat the response from the governor, who’s still blaming “career bureaucrats” and hasn’t met with Flint families clamoring for his attention.

It’s not hard to see why Obama is more trusted, even though he certainly could have come to Flint sooner. From the early days of his presidency, he was mercilessly mocked by conservatives for stressing the value of empathy and its role in public service.

But people in that gym believed that the president cares. They clearly don’t think that of our CPA governor, who’s chosen balance sheets over people, time and time again.

Snyder’s allies fervently believe he’s gotten a raw deal and is being scapegoated. And partisans will always think that.

But consider how Snyder handled the president’s visit. It was a public relations disaster for the governor, from start to finish. And he’s had eight months to come up with a decent strategy. Although Snyder has cycled through key staff and high-priced PR firms, he’s still blowing it.

Last month, Snyder pledged to drink Flint water for 30 days to prove it was safe. A few days into the stunt, he announced he was heading to Europe on a trade mission and suspending his water pledge. What a fantastic PR move: The governor ditches Flint water for Perrier.

Then Obama announced he would be coming to Flint, crediting a heartfelt letter from 8-year-old Mari Copley, known as “Little Miss Flint” (because that’s how you do a PR stunt right).

Snyder was overseas and was like, “Oh, man, I’m really busy right now. Don’t think I can make it.”

When that went over like a lead balloon, the governor arrogantly demanded a meeting with the president in Flint –– as if the protocol is that governors get to call the shots with presidents. And Snyder went even further, challenging Obama to drink Flint water to deflect from his failures.

Of course, Obama has had seven years of dealing with petulant Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouting, “You lie!” in the middle of his first State of the Union. So the president indulged Snyder on both counts and the governor said he’d come to the public event.

Perhaps Snyder’s media consultants were high-fiving one another over their apparent PR coup.

But when Snyder walked on stage, nothing could save him from the raw anger of the people of Flint. The president showed an incredible amount of empathy that he would even try after Snyder’s crass one-upmanship.

And therein lies the difference between the two men.

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

Susan J. Demas: Trump's success shows Republicans are choosing anger over conservative ideas

For years, we've been told that being a Republican is about believing in big ideas.

Republicans hate taxes. They support traditional marriage. They want smaller government, which means cutting social programs. They believe in a muscular foreign policy from the Reagan-Bush(es) era. They want to end entitlements, i.e. Social Security and Medicare.

But Donald Trump's meteoric rise and stubborn refusal to fall has shattered this misconception.

Trump isn't really about ideas. He has them, sure, and many seem ripped out of "The Man in the High Castle." We all know he wants to build a big, beautiful wall with Mexico and ban Muslims from entering the country. 

Susan J. Demas: The whole world is watching Flint

When national and international attention becomes fixated on Michigan, it's rarely a good thing.

Starting in the '80s, our huge auto job losses caused media to periodically flock to ogle ruin porn in Detroit. Jack Kevorkian's attention-grabbing antics made Michigan the assisted-suicide capital in the '90s (and probably set the cause back decades).

Three years ago, it was Gov. Rick Snyder's decision to sign Right to Work in the birthplace of the UAW (which began to tarnish some of his moderate sheen).

Today, it's Flint — the once-bustling auto mecca that was home to the 1936-37 sit-down strikes at GM.

Susan J. Demas: Big government saved the auto industry –– and Michigan

As people from around the globe descend on Detroit for the annual auto show, signs of the 2009 auto bailout's success are everywhere.

That's why President Barack Obama is scheduled to drop by for a victory lap.

In 2015, U.S. auto sales hit a record 17.5 million, with General Motors sales up 8 percent, prompting the once-collapsing company to revise its '16 earnings forecast upward.

Chrysler, whose new Pacifica has been dubbed the unlikely "star of the auto show," saw sales rise 7 percent last year.

Read more.


Susan J. Demas: Why is the Drudge Report weirdly obsessed with Clinton's health?

We need to talk about Drudge.

That's Matt Drudge, the king of conservative media, whose old-school site has 2 million daily unique visitors and roughly 700 million monthly page views.

When I first became a reporter (waaay back in the early aughts), I was shocked how many newsrooms — whose editors worshiped at the altar of objectivity — relied on the Drudge Report for story ideas.

To the site's credit, there was no equivalent at that time on the left. There were plenty of liberal publications like Mother Jones and The Nation, but they offered long, nuanced takes on important matters like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — not quick links to irresistible (and often fun) stories of the day.

And after years of conservatives whining about "liberal bias," Drudge offered an easy "correction" to that for newsrooms.

Read more.

Susan J. Demas: U-M Professor Susan Douglas becomes the latest 'Age of Outrage' target

Here's a rule of thumb I use whenever something is deemed offensive: Would you feel that way if the roles were reversed?

It's not a perfect system, but it does inspire reflection and consideration, qualities usually in short supply in cultural and political debates.

The latest outrage is conservatives bewailing that University of Michigan Professor Susan Douglas wrote a column declaring, "I hate Republicans."

Would they be similarly incensed if a conservative prof penned an "I hate Democrats" column? Please.

Read more.

Susan J. Demas: Why such anger over migrant children coming to Michigan?

The children haven't even arrived in the slumberous town of Vassar, Mich., but protestors already have broken out the AR-15s to welcome them.

"We don't have no say. (President Barack) Obama's gotta go," was the explanation given by Scott Freeman, a Vassar pizza parlor owner.

At another protest, Tom Ratcliffe donned a surgical mask to ward off germs from the children (who, once again, had not arrived).

"I'm allergic to bullshit," Ratcliffe declared to MLive.

Read more.

Susan J. Demas: The truth about liberals and media bias

Politicians and their consultants appeal to our id. Passion is where the money and votes are.


Many Democrats probably viscerally agreed with Geoffrey Fieger's over-the-top ad accusing those against Obama of being deeply afraid of a black man in the White House. Many Republicans probably instinctively cheered when Sarah Palin declared that she is "just so fearful" because Obama "is not a man who sees America like you and I see America," which is to say that he's not a real American.

But the point of political commentary and discourse is to move beyond our basest impulses and get to the superego, employing logic and facts when analyzing political figures and dissecting complex social problems.

That's my job as a columnist. I call 'em as I see 'em. And right now Republicans run everything in Michigan, so I'm going to be looking harder at them. Jennifer Granholm and the Democrats got the same treatment from me in the four years prior.

So those on the fringe right can continue to howl that I am liberal, with their comments serving as a fascinating Rorschach test for their own biases and beliefs. I will continue to report the facts, analyze them and have a bit of fun along the way.

Read more.