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The Grand Ol' Party Divided

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

Governor Rick Snyder’s been the de facto head of Michigan’s Republicans for eight years, but he won’t be at the GOP convention this weekend.

His people say it’s a scheduling conflict. I say that’s baloney. He’s making a statement. And it’s aimed squarely at Attorney General Bill Schuette: “You’re on your own.”

The AG and his folks are preparing for the snub. Schuette would be the first Republican since John Engler in 1990 to seek the governor’s job without the blessing of his party’s predecessor.

Team Schuette figures that’s a small price to pay for doing his job investigating Snyder’s Flint Water Crisisand prosecuting the governor’s Health and Human Services director.

And for being, “rock solid” for President Donald Trump. Plus, the president’s endorsement of Schuette might have limited value to the independents and suburban women Republicans need to build winning center-right coalitions in Michigan.

That's a big reason behind Schuette’s choice for running mate. Former state lawmaker Lisa Posthumus Lyons is a product of a prominent political family and daughter of the governor's chief of staff. Schuette needs to bolster support in west Michigan.

He needs to bolster support among suburban women. And he needs to persuade traditional Republicans that he's not Trumpier than Trump.

That’s not all. Schuette's continuing Flint investigation is now climbing into the upper reaches of the Snyder administration — and he may be potentially eyeing Snyder himself. Barring persuasive evidence, the mere prospect of criminal charges against the pro-business Snyder won’t engender anything more than tepid support for Schuette among business leaders.

After eight years of comparatively non-ideological governance, the race for governor is shaping up to be a clear, partisan choice. There’s Schuette, a traditional mid-Michigan conservative-turned-Trumper. And there’s a middle-of-the-road Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, struggling to energize both her party's leadership and its progressive base.

Whoever wins, one likely result would be the revival of ideology and partisan politicking in state governance. That’s exactly what the state — in better economic shape than in nearly a generation — doesn't need. That would be a sharp break from the Snyder years of tax reform bipartisan cooperation in the Detroit bankruptcy and a pro-business approach to policy-making.

Michigan needs more of the same from its next crop of leaders. What it doesn’t need is a return to "Lost Decade" leadership turbo-charged with partisan confrontation from the right or the left. Yet the chances of ending up with one version of those caricatures loom.


Republican primary voters rejected Snyder’s hand-picked successor Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley. They rejected the pragmatic, just-get-things-done style he practiced with Snyder … so boring in the Trump era of confrontation, drama and social media posturing.

Calley says he’ll support the ticket and unity with graciousness. But don’t count on tolerance for dissent under the GOP’s big tent because disagreement equals betrayal and betrayal must be punished.

That’s not the kind of graciousness Calley and his boss practiced most of the past eight years. And when it’s gone replaced again by professional politicians more than a few people will miss it.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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