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Commentary: Tale of two parties

There was an epic battle last week to see who would become the next chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. In the end, longtime apparatchik Mark Brewer threw in the towel before the state convention vote, and conceded victory to Lon Johnson, a newcomer with ties to the White House.

What was most surprising is that Brewer waited so long. Every member of the party’s Congressional delegation was calling for him to go, as was the leadership of the United Auto Workers and Teamsters’ unions. It’s hard to understand how he could have hoped to function as chair with all those arrayed against him, but the job had become his life. He hung in there till it was clear to him that he didn’t have the votes to succeed.

Democrats, are, however, a fractious group used to fighting among themselves. This battle is unlikely to do them any harm, especially if Lon Johnson can revitalize the state party.

But something considerably different happened at the Republican state convention the same day. Incumbent state chair Bobby Schostak was running for reelection to a second two-year term, and should have won easily. He had the strong support of the governor and other top GOP officials.

He did have a challenger: Little-known Tea Party activist Todd Courser, a lawyer from Lapeer who lost a race for state board of education last fall. But to a lot of people’s shock, Courser very nearly won.

In the end, Schostak barely squeaked by with 52 percent of the delegates to the state convention. When the results were announced, many of the Courser supporters simply walked out.

Todd Courser then delivered a bizarre prayer which seemed to be more a personal dialogue with God. His campaign literature made it clear that his candidacy was all about restoring “conservative Christian principles.” On his website, he posted this before the convention: “Please pray that God moves in our state this coming weekend.”

After he lost, Courser stood before the convention and emotionally addressed God, saying, “I don’t know why You called me five weeks ago, to run,” and then added, “Save not just our party, save our country. Help us, help us to save the country. I beg your mercy on our country.”

Some of his fellow convention delegates were uneasy with all of that. For one thing, we aren’t exactly used to thinking God gets heavily involved in local internal political squabbles. Personally, I’d rather He spent His time keeping asteroids away from the earth.

But there is clear evidence the GOP’s increasing focus on religion and social issues is costing them votes. For many years, the Libertarians have run presidential candidates who get 300,000 or 400,000 votes nationwide. Last fall, however, the Libertarians tripled that, getting 1.3 million.

These are almost all people who like Republican economic ideas, but have no use for their stand on social issues. They didn’t cost the GOP victory in that election. But if their vote totals keep increasing, they eventually will be a factor.

Republicans may soon be in a position where in order to please their base, they have to do things which guarantee they can’t possibly win nationwide or even statewide elections. And that will make Democrats very happy.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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