Top Michigan GOP leaders distance selves from Trump

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
  • “I don’t know if he’s capable of reining in his rhetoric,” Rep. Dave Trott said about Donald Trump
  • Asked how he would vote today, businessman John Rakolta quipped: “I would plead the Fifth Amendment”
  • Several of Michigan’s top Republican leaders are starting to distance themselves from Donald Trump

Mackinac Island — Several of Michigan’s top Republican leaders are starting to distance themselves from Donald Trump as the New York businessman continues to verbally attack fellow Republicans after clinching the party’s presidential nomination.

U.S. Rep. Dave Trott shakes his head when asked about Trump’s recent attack on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez — one of the most prominent Latina Republican politicians in the country — while Trump was campaigning in her state.

“I don’t know if he’s capable of reining in his rhetoric,” Trott said in an interview at the Mackinac Policy Conference, where Trump’s rise to the top of American politics was widely discussed last week during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Island confab.

In interviews, Attorney General Bill Schuette and U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester also tried to distance themselves from Trump.

“Trump’s comments about women, minorities, Hispanics, the disabled, that’s not Bill Schuette. This is not how I think,” Schuette told The Detroit News. “It’s not how I act, feel, behave. It’s not how I was raised. Those are deplorable to me.”

But Schuette and others said they’re resigned to supporting Trump’s candidacy because they can’t stomach the thought of Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.

“Well, we have two choices: We’ve got Hillary or we’ve got Trump,” said Trott, a Birmingham Republican who backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the primaries.

Trott joined U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, as the first Michigan delegation members to back the real estate developer. But the freshman congressman expressed confusion about why Trump continues to attack fellow Republicans when he’s supposed to be uniting the GOP ahead of the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

“What I’d like to see from the Donald is more detailed policy discussion,” said Trott, the only Michigan lawmaker on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“He says we’re going to destroy ISIS, we’re going to kill them all and it’s going to be great. Well, let’s talk about how that’s going to happen because even under the best of circumstances that’s a difficult proposition today. So let’s have a realistic conversation about it.”

Bishop, R-Rochester, also has endorsed Trump, but quickly notes he doesn’t condone the sharp tongue of his party’s new standard bearer.

“A lot of folks aren’t comfortable with it, I’m not comfortable with it,” said Bishop, a former Michigan Senate majority leader who also supported Bush in the primaries. “But this is the kind of personality that he has. Interestingly enough, it’s the exact kind of personality that a lot of people like because they’re sick of ... the political correctness in this country, and they want to see something different.”

Schuette, who chaired Bush’s Michigan campaign, also said he has no choice but to support Trump, despite his reservations about the businessman’s disparaging remarks about women and minorities.

“I’m not going to turn the keys to America over to Hillary Clinton,” Schuette said. “... That would be disastrous.”

Gov. Rick Snyder made national news at the Mackinac Island conference last week when he told The Detroit News Editorial Board that he would continue to remain neutral in the presidential race.

“I’ve stayed out of the whole thing, and I’m going to continue to,” Snyder told The News.

The Republican governor’s comments were interpreted by media pundits as tacit opposition to the bombastic billionaire’s candidacy. Snyder also didn’t endorse in Michigan’s March 8 primary, saying he was focused on addressing Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

During a Friday conference panel discussion on national politics, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga said he is continuing to withhold his support of Trump and likened the GOP nominee’s views on presidential powers to those of outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama.

“I’m not willing to trade in a strong executive who’s going around the Legislature in one party for one in my party,” said Huizenga, a Zeeland Republican who co-chaired Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s Michigan campaign.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Flint Township Democrat, chided Republicans for creating a “falsehood of equivalency between the outrageous things that Donald Trump has said” and what he called “potentially valid criticisms of positions taken by Secretary Clinton.” Kildee has endorsed the former secretary of state for president.

Kildee pointed to Trump’s attack in the media on a federal judge presiding over civil fraud lawsuits against his Trump University.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an inherent conflict of interest” because the judge is “of Mexican heritage” and Trump wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

“Do you want a president of the United States choosing judges for the highest courts who will be there for life whose last utterance about a federal judge was ‘I think he’s a Mexican’?” Kildee said.

GOP businessman John Rakolta Jr., who led fundraising efforts for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns, showed distaste for Trump during the panel discussion.

“We really don’t know who Donald Trump is yet because he is a creature created by the media,” said Rakolta, who first backed Bush and then Rubio for the party’s nomination.

When asked how he would vote if the election were held today, Rakolta quipped: “I would plead the Fifth Amendment.”

Twitter: @ChadLivengood