Susan J. Demas: Michigan was the key to Trump’s 2016 victory. Now every House Democrat here backs impeachment hearings.

Trump in Grand Rapids
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Van Andel Arena on March 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids was the final city Trump visited during his 2016 campaign. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

To say that Michigan Democrats were gun shy after Donald Trump’s 2016 upset here is an understatement.

After Trump became the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988, albeit by 10,704 votes, the conventional wisdom was that the GOP would romp here in 2018, keeping the governorship and probably knocking out longtime U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) to boot. Democrats even openly fretted about nominating a woman for governor after Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat.

None of those doomsday scenarios came true last year, however. Michigan elected its second female governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who won by a roughly 10-point margin (far better than Trump’s ’16 showing). Stabenow won reelection and Democratic women flipped two key congressional seats, while also taking the attorney general and secretary of state slots.

There really is no good news for the president in 2020 polling in the state. Politico reports that Team Trump is increasingly pessimistic about Michigan (“the crown jewel of his 2016 victory”) and may instead focus on Minnesota and New Hampshire to put him over the Electoral College hump.

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As I noted a few weeks ago, it’s been a glaring development that Trump hasn’t set foot in Michigan since kicking off his campaign in Grand Rapids back in March.

There’s no doubt that Michigan Republican Party staff begged the White House to dispatch him to their biennial shindig on Mackinac Island last weekend, but maybe the Grand Hotel just doesn’t meet his Trump property decor standards. Most likely, the famously mercurial Tweeter-in-Chief is probably personally offended that ungrateful Michiganders have fallen out of love with him in polling.

It’s not that Republicans have given up on the Mitten State — and no Democrat should delude themselves into thinking that. Vice President Mike Pence is still being dispatched to reassure the donor class here. And a string of D-List Trump celebs is gallivanting across Michigan to whip up the base, as I’ve written, from YouTubers Diamond & Silk to former senior adviser Steve Bannon.

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But given this backdrop, the stunning events of the last 15 hours — with three more Michigan congressional Democrats getting on board with Trump impeachment proceedings — makes a little more sense.

Reps. Elissa Slotkin (left) and Haley Stevens (right) | Andrew Roth photos

All seven Dems in our 14-member U.S. House delegation now have signed on. Two of the most recent additions are freshmen in suburban swing districts, U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) — the latter has an extensive national intelligence background.

Michigan has long been at the center of the impeachment debate, with another freshman, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), declaring after her swearing in, “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), a rising star in House Democratic leadership, backed proceedings early on, and Stabenow, the No. 4 Democrat in the U.S. Senate, does, too.

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And West Michigan U.S. Rep. Justin Amash became the first Republican to sign on after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released. Of course, the Cascade Township attorney has since left the party and declared himself an independent in light of the white-hot rage he faced from his former caucus.

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a Democratic election-night party on November 6, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

But the significance of Slotkin and Stevens now supporting an impeachment inquiry can’t be underestimated. Both will face tough reelection fights next year in GOP-favored seats, even though neither has notable GOP opponents yet (look for a couple ambitious Republicans to jump in soon, vowing that they were inspired to defend the president’s sacred honor).

Michigan Democrats have made it clear they believe the president’s abuses of power must be checked and they aren’t willing to sacrifice principles to play it safe for 2020.

But then again, nominating an almost all-female Democratic slate in 2018 wasn’t the safe bet, either. And that worked out pretty damn well.

Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.


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