Mich. GOP lawmakers wary of Donald Trump

Chad Livengood, and Keith Laing

Most of Michigan’s nine congressional Republicans have avoided explicitly supporting their party’s presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump prior to his scheduled Thursday meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who so far has withheld his support.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, the veteran Macomb County Republican who is retiring at year’s end, and Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham have said they back Trump’s candidacy.

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said Wednesday that Trump “was not my first or second choice in this race … but I will get behind the nominee.”

“I don’t have any reservation whatsoever supporting the Republican nominee against the same old, same old,” Bishop told The Detroit News.

National Democrats are targeting Bishop and Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton in the November general election and have been highlighting how both Republican incumbents have been referring to Trump as “the nominee” instead of invoking the New York businessman by name.

“This is linguistic gymnastics and it’s not going to work,” said Sacha Haworth, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “All House Republicans are now running on the Trump ticket, which is going to be not only damaging but also unavoidable for them.”

Bishop did seek to distance himself from Trump’s controversial comments about women and Mexicans, while chalking them up as part of the “rough and tumble” of a grueling presidential primary season.

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, is withholding his support for Trump until the real estate mogul clarifies recent comments about buying back the nation’s debt by printing more money and pushing the constitutional limits of presidential powers.

“I’m not interested in having a president who is going to ignore the constitutional structure that we have,” Huizenga told The News. “I don’t think doubling down on saying, well, we own the printing press, helps. That exacerbates the (debt) problem.”

Huizenga, who originally backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president, said he’s “got some concerns” about Trump’s policy views and thinks Trump should meet with other members of Congress, not just leadership.

Bishop, a first-term congressman, also said he wants to see more defined policy positions from Trump, who has expressed multiple stances on a host of issues ranging from abortion to foreign policy.

“He hasn’t expressed himself in certain circumstances that have really impressed me,” Bishop told The News. “My hope is they’ll take this opportunity, the Trump team, to really sketch out where they stand on these issues and calm the party.”

Democrat and actress Melissa Gilbert is challenging Bishop in the 8th Congressional District, which includes northern Oakland County and all of Ingham and Livingston counties.

“By supporting Donald Trump, Mike Bishop has inseparably attached himself to Trump’s dangerous policies that disregard our Constitution and make our nation less safe,” Gilbert campaign manager James Stretch said in a statement. “Clearly, Mike Bishop has no qualms about supporting a right-wing, billionaire demagogue that even Republicans consider to be a danger to our nation.”

Rep. Justin Amash, the west Michigan maverick who backed Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and then Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has said he doesn’t plan to vote for Trump. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Fred Upton, the delegation's senior Republican from southwest Michigan and the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, is keeping his distance from Trump while promising to work to unify the party.

"While he is the presumptive GOP nominee fair and square, I would note that, at this point, Fred has never had a conversation or even met with Donald Trump," Upton spokesman Tom Wilbur said Thursday.

“Fred looks forward to being a constructive voice in the process of uniting our party – and our country – moving forward. As a leading problem solver in Congress, Fred’s top focus remains on the work right in front of him – of which there is plenty."

The other three members of the Michigan delegation failed to comment on Trump’s candidacy or his meeting with Ryan when asked by The Detroit News since Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the race.

Walberg was unavailable for an interview this week, spokesman Dan Kotman said.

“As he has said all along, he plans to support the party’s nominee,” Kotman said in an email.

Walberg faces a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Gretchen Driskell of Saline in the 7th Congressional District in south-central Michigan.

Political analysts say many GOP incumbents fear that Trump’s candidacy could cost them votes and perhaps their seats.

“This is going on all over the country. Republican elected officials are trying to figure out what to say about Trump,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Sabato said the arms-length distance some GOP leaders are keeping from Trump is reminiscent of how Republicans treated their 1964 presidential nominee, Bary Goldwater, who ultimately lost that election in a landslide to incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“The GOP elected class is on the horns of a dilemma, and there is no perfect answer,” Sabato said.

Miller, who is running for a public works post in Macomb County, has indicated she would campaign with Trump, whose punitive or “free but fair” trade positions are popular in her blue-collar district but don’t mesh with the free trade stance of the House speaker.

“I would like Thursday’s meeting to yield the start of a productive, open dialogue that will help unify our party — a goal, I believe, both Trump and Speaker Ryan ultimately share,” Miller told The Detroit News.


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