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Michigan Republicans having trouble figuring out how to deal with Trump

There are three weeks to go until Election Day and Republicans are in despair, while Democrats are paranoid because no one is quite sure what the Donald Trump Effect will be on the ballot come November 8th.

It appears the Trump campaign is in a free fall, the statistical analysis website 538 now rates Trump’s chances of winning Michigan at 7.7 percent.

Although the Clinton campaign is taking no chances. Vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine is making a stop in Detroit this week in order to keep the base fired up and to try to pick up some support from persuadable voters.

Trump’s numbers appear to be dropping, but that’s doesn’t mean Clinton’s are on the rise. She – and the rest of the Democratic ticket in Michigan – will need every vote they can get.

Republicans fear their down-ballot candidates won’t so much fall victim to a surge of support for Democrats as much as dampening enthusiasm among their voters. The concern is that GOP voters who don’t like Trump just won’t show up at the polls and that, in turn, will hurt Republican candidates for Congress, the state House, county commissions, etc.

That’s what Democrats are hoping for, including the state Party Chair Brandon Dillon. “You know when the top of the ticket starts to implode, we’ve seen almost in every election that that has unintended and severe consequences sometimes for candidates on the rest of the ballot that you might not have expected might be in jeopardy,” he told It’s Just Politics.

Republicans are getting hit where it hurts and we know there’s a problem for the R’s among college-educated Republican-leaning female voters. And, a possible double whammy, now that Trump has declared war on the GOP establishment. Will Trump voters be enthusiastic about supporting the rest of the ticket when they go to vote?

Republican candidates, especially incumbents and those with future ambitions (which is most of them) are attempting a cost-benefit analysis vis a vis sticking with the top of the ticket, or dropping their Trump endorsements.

In Michigan, we have three case studies. Attorney General Bill Schuette has condemned what we’ve heard from Donald Trump but says Trump still has his vote come November.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says he will write in the Republican vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence.  But that’s really just a throwaway vote because Pence has not filed an affidavit with the state that would allow that vote to be counted.

Congressman Fred Upton, meantime, has refused to endorse Trump and won’t say how he’ll vote in November. All this just shows Republicans are grappling with some tough strategic choices.

If these trends hold, look for Democrats to double down on Republicans regarding their loyalty to the top of the ticket, while Republicans facing a down-ballot catastrophe will make the argument for ticket-splitting -- voters can choose Hillary Clinton for president, and then vote for Republicans lower on the ballot as a check on her presidential power.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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