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Do MI Republicans need to worry about Election 2018?

Was last year’s Trump-wave a one-time deal? This past Tuesday’s election results are a hint at what might be in store for Election 2018.

Democrats pretty much ran the table last week in Virginia and New Jersey so Republicans have to face some tough political truths. That President Donald Trump has a very low approval rating. That voters upset with him were motivated to get out and vote. And, that it’s tough in mid-terms to be the party that controls the White House and Congress.

So, the question for Republican candidates going into Election 2018: is it safer to embrace this controversial president, or get some distance?

Some Republicans don’t think they really have a choice.

Donald Trump is a political factor, maybe the major factor in 2018. Case in point, look no further than state Attorney General Bill Schuette. He’s seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

Schuette was all-in last year after Trump won the Republican nomination. And he was rewarded this past September when the president tweeted his support for Schuette’s bid for governor.

We can’t forget that Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan in nearly a quarter of a century. But, it was by a razor-thin margin. That suggests another Trump wave next year in the mid-terms is hardly a given.

There is a group however among whom Trump remains very popular, and that is Republicans.

And Bill Schuette has stuck with the president, even recently calling him “our fearless leader.” Schuette sat right alongside Trump’s former chief strategist, firebrand Steve Bannon, this past week at a dinner in Macomb County.

But it’s not just Schuette who continues to hitch his wagon to Trump’s base. State Senator Patrick Colbeck is another Republican candidate for governor. His campaign is running on financial fumes and he’s been so at odds with his own Republican caucus that he’s been stripped of his committee assignments and office staff at the Capitol. But he’s trying to use that to present himself as the true outsider ready to upset things in Lansing.  

Then there’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley. He’s not officially in the race yet but, it’s appearing more and more likely that he’ll jump in.

Calley is trying to set himself up as the “anti-establishment” candidate without specifically trying himself to the president. That’s after vacillating last year about supporting Trump.

So, between these candidates, Bill Schuette is betting that being Trump’s guy gives him a better shot at winning the Republican nomination. And, hoping, that the Trump brand will still inspire Republican voters to get out and vote next November.

But, he - or whoever the GOP nominee winds up being - is also fighting history. Four of the last six mid-term elections were “change waves” and right now, it’s Republicans playing defense. 

Donald Trump shook the nation when he won Michigan last year. We’ll see if that’s a permanent alteration of political reality here.

But, if past is prologue, Republicans in Michigan might have something to worry about in 2018.

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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