Snyder’s silence on Trump angers some activists

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Grand Rapids — Michigan Republican Party leaders and activists gathered here Saturday to nominate their candidates for statewide positions at the bottom of the November ballot whose electoral fortunes depend heavily on Donald Trump’s success at the top of the ticket.

Gov. Rick Snyder speaks to reporters Saturday at the Michigan Republican Party's state convention at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, state GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and other leaders stressed the importance of electing Trump as president in order to prevail down ballot in races for the Michigan Supreme Court, the State Board of Education and the governing boards of the state’s three largest universities.

“If we don’t elect him, we don’t elect anybody on this ticket,” said Bill Runco, a longtime Republican leader from Dearborn who lost a bid for the State Board of Education.

Noticeably silent on the need for a Trump victory on Nov. 8 was Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who has steadfastly declined to offer his support for Trump or even criticize Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The two-term governor made no mention of Trump during his five-minute speech to the 3,000 delegates, alternates and guests who attended the convention and sidestepped a question about whether Michigan would benefit from having a Republican in the White House next year.

“I’m staying out of the presidential race,” Snyder told reporters after his speech. “My focus is the state House races, the Supreme Court, staying focused on Michigan.”

Snyder’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump was not lost on Republican Party activists who attended the state convention at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids as delegates and alternates.

“He didn’t say anything about him,” said Anthony Berger, a delegate from Harrison Township. “I think all of the Republicans should be endorsing Trump, unless we want Hillary. I think the governor should be with the Republican Party.”

Pauline Montie, a delegate from Trenton, said she’s “disappointed” that Snyder isn’t vocally supporting Trump given that he’s seen as the de facto leader of the Republican Party in Michigan.

“I think (Snyder) should be with the Republican Party,” Montie said. “He needs to get on board the Trump train whether he likes it or not.”

McDaniel, the state party chairwoman, said Saturday that she’s been actively trying to get Snyder to support Trump.

“Not everybody’s there. We’re going to keep working on him. I’m going to keep working on him,” McDaniel told reporters. “But, of course, we want everyone behind our nominee and we think Donald Trump’s best suited to be in the White House and we don’t want Hillary Clinton.”

Snyder has attempted to appear neutral throughout this presidential election, starting with the hard-fought Republican primaries.

But on rare occasions, Snyder has criticized Trump and even attempted to correct the New York businessman on Michigan issues.

Snyder denounced Trump’s proposed temporary ban on all Muslims from immigrating into the country in December before the primaries began. Snyder, who has fashioned himself as a pro-immigration governor, said at the time that Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Muslim immigration was “absolutely inappropriate.”

On Friday, Snyder said Trump was “not accurate” when he claimed during a speech in suburban Lansing last week that Michigan’s manufacturing sector “is a disaster.”

The governor was asked Saturday about how Trump has painted Detroit in dark terms that Michigan’s largest city is overrun by crime and high unemployment under the management of Democrats.

“That’s history,” Snyder said. “The Detroit of today is an exciting place, particularly downtown, midtown. There’s still a lot of challenges to neighborhoods and we’re working hard on those. But I think if you look at it, Detroit would be viewed as one of the comeback cities in our country and should be.”

Some Republican Party regulars downplayed the significance of Snyder not endorsing Trump.

“That (Trump) doesn’t have his endorsement I don’t think it makes a big difference,” said Wes Nakagiri, a conservative activist from Hartland and past critic of Snyder.

GOP consultant Stu Sandler noted Snyder was not a partisan Republican when he ran for office in 2010 on his experience as a businessman and entrepreneur.

“I think it’s just a factor Trump’s going to have to deal with,” Sandler said. “The governor was an apolitical candidate when he got in. But he’s a good Republican, he’s got a lot of respect and he can do whatever he wants.”

Despite Snyder’s vow to steer clear of presidential politics, convention delegate Gordon Comfort of Tecumseh thinks the governor will come around before Nov. 8.

“I think in time we’ll hear from him,” Comfort said.

Nominees for university, ed boards

While Republicans control the Legislature and statewide offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state, Democrats dominate the university and state education boards.

State convention delegates on Saturday nominated their party’s candidates to compete for seats on the Michigan Supreme Court, State Board of Education, Michigan State Board of Trustees, University of Michigan Board of Regents and Wayne State University Board of Governors.

The races for Supreme Court and the MSU and UM boards were uncontested.

As expected, Republicans nominated Michigan Supreme Court Justices David Viviano and Joan Larsen. Viviano is vying for a full eight-year term and Larsen is running for a two-year partial term to the high court after being appointed by Snyder to fill a vacancy.

Ann Arbor real estate developer Ron Weiser, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, narrowly lost a race for the UM Board of Regents in 2014 by 4,583 votes with Snyder at the top of the ticket. Republicans renominated Weiser for the post along with Carl Meyers, a senior vice president of investments at Raymond James & Associates in Dearborn.

For the MSU board, the Republican candidates will be Independence Township attorney Dan Kelly and William Deary, owner of Great Lakes Caring Home Health and Hospice.

Only the races for the Wayne State board and the State Board of Education were contested.

For Wayne State University’s two open seats, Republicans nominated Troy plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Busuito and Kim Shmina, a nurser practitioner from Fair Haven and former Wayne State nursing instructor. Busuito lost a 2014 race for the Wayne State board by 4,962 votes..

In a six-way race for two spots on the ballot for the State Board of Education, former state Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills and Whitmore Lake GOP activist Nicolette Snyder prevailed.

In accepting the GOP nomination, McMillin stressed the need for party unity in order for Republicans like himself to prevail.

“We have got to come together,” he said. “We have to go to make sure we have a President Trump.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood