Trump split grows in Michigan GOP delegation

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton says he is not planning to endorse Donald Trump for president, deepening the divide in Michigan’s GOP congressional delegation about supporting the party’s presumptive nominee.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Upton, who has the most seniority among the state’s nine GOP delegation members, suggested the campaign of the New York businessman has gone “off the track.”

“I’m going to stay in my lane,” Upton, R-St. Joseph, told Holland radio station WHTC-AM on Tuesday while discussing the likely general election match-up between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“There’s a lot of things that folks are not happy about with either of these two candidates. We’re running our own race, and don’t look for me to endorse anyone in this race probably the rest of the year.”

On Thursday, Upton spokesman Tom Wilbur wouldn’t comment on the non-endorsement of Trump, only pointing to the congressman’s radio interview.

Upton, who has served in Congress since 1987, became the fourth Michigan Republican congressman to avoid a Trump endorsement. He joins Michigan GOP U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township in explicitly stating he will not endorse Trump.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland has been withholding his support of Trump, while U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland has been vague about his backing.

The state’s five other GOP members of Congress are supporting the New York real estate developer.

The Trump campaign has become frustrated with the lack of Republican Party unity behind his campaign. The New York billionaire went so far as to tell an Atlanta campaign crowd Wednesday that he is ready to wage his presidential campaign alone.

“We have to have our Republicans either stick together, or let me just do it by myself. I’ll do very well,” Trump said.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined Thursday to comment. But former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson, a LeRoy Republican and state Trump convention delegate, blasted Trump’s critics as being out of touch with working-class voters.

“I’m a street guy, and the everyday working person is supporting Trump, from teachers to farmers to the guy that works at the factory,” Johnson said Thursday. “These politicians better get the hell out of their offices and get on the street.

“These politicians out there, they might as well pack it in. They don’t want the system to change. I do, and Donald Trump does, too.”

Trump endorsers

Trump has been endorsed by Michigan Republican U.S. Reps. Candice Miller of Harrison Township, Mike Bishop of Rochester, Dave Trott of Birmingham, Tim Walberg of Tipton and Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls in the Upper Peninsula.

Both Miller and Benishek are retiring from Congress at the end of this year. A Benishek spokesman confirmed Thursday the three-term congressman’s support for Trump.

But Bishop and Trott began this month to distance themselves from the presumptive nominee’s rhetoric.

“A lot of folks aren’t comfortable with it, I’m not comfortable with it,” Bishop told The Detroit News this month at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

Huizenga has withheld his endorsement until the real estate mogul clarifies 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 in May, a view he reiterated in June at a Mackinac conference panel discussion.

Moolenaar has been more vague, avoiding public comment for almost two months.

“I plan to support our nominee coming out of Cleveland,” Moolenaar told The News on April 22, when the GOP nomination was still in doubt. “Whoever my nominee is, I’m hoping it is someone who has a broad appeal throughout our country and can represent all Americans.”

Hopeful in Michigan

Scott Hagerstrom, the head of Trump’s campaign in Michigan, said Monday the New York businessman has a legitimate shot at winning Michigan, citing a May poll released to The News and WDIV-TV showing Clinton leading Trump by just over 4 percentage points — the survey’s margin of error.

Upton, who is running for re-election and likely will face his unsuccessful 2014 Democratic challenger Paul Clements, agreed that Trump has a chance to take Michigan, something a Republican presidential candidate has not done since 1988.

“We’ve got a long ways to go, but it seems to a lot of us that the train is off the track,” Upton told WHTC-AM. “We’ll see if he’s able to put it back on the track, I don’t know, but not a lot of happy campers in terms of how this race is proceeding so far.”

His comments echoed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who did not endorse a presidential candidate in the Michigan primary and told The News this month he will not endorse in the general election because he wants to stay focused on his own work in Michigan. Attorney General Bill Schuette has disavowed Trump’s rhetoric but said he will vote for the party nominee.

Trump this week renewed his call to ban Muslim immigrants from the United States in the wake of the weekend mass shooting in Orlando. Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people and injured others, is a New York native and son of Afghan immigrants.

“The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America, in the first place, was because we allowed his family to come here,” Trump said Monday.

Upton previously criticized Trump’s Muslim immigration ban plan, calling it “a crazy proposal” that is incompatible with the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The New York businessman also has faced criticism in recent weeks for suggesting federal Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel is unfit to preside over a lawsuit against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. Curiel is a U.S. citizen who was born in Indiana, but Trump said he may be biased because of Trump’s proposal to build a wall at the Mexican border.

State Rep. Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw, said last week that Trump’s comments are disrespectful to Mexican-Americans like her who were born in the United States.

“It’s embarrassing,” Guerra said. “This is a man that’s running to be the president of the United States, and he clearly doesn’t understand anything about judiciary ethics or the judicial branch in general.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.