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Snyder endorses Biden, aims to win over Michigan GOP 'moderates'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday he planned to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the November presidential election and believed he could help to persuade some Michigan Republican moderates. 

Snyder announced his support for Biden in a USA Today commentary on Thursday, the same day a group called Republicans and Independents for Biden launched with the former governor playing a leading role. 

Snyder, who failed to endorse Republican Donald Trump in 2016, told The Detroit News he "had issues with both candidates" four years ago, but "was open-minded to some extent."

Trump's inaugural address and his actions since have only divided the nation further, inflamed tensions and failed to respond adequately to the coronavirus pandemic, the former two-term governor said.

"I believe in civility," Snyder told The News. "I believe in treating people with respect and trying to solve problems together, and we need to get back on that path.”​​​​​​

"We need to heal our country, and I don’t see Donald Trump doing that, and I see Joe Biden wanting to do that," he said.

Snyder declined to comment on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's response to the pandemic or the fractious relationship that's developed between the Democratic governor and president in recent months.

Rick Snyder

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox dismissed Snyder's endorsement in a Thursday tweet that referred to Snyder as "Mr. Irrelevant."

She later said in a statement that Snyder had again been "hoodwinked" by the Democratic agenda and compared his Biden endorsement to his advocacy for an "Obamacare expansion," a reference to Snyder's 2013 support of Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Republican-controlled Legislature narrowly voted to approve the expansion.

"Thankfully, just as he did in 2016, President Trump will win Michigan without Rick Snyder’s help," said Cox, who served as a state representative during Snyder's time in office.

Snyder defeated Cox's husband, former Attorney General Mike Cox, in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Trump's campaign arm in Michigan maintained the president continued to receive "unprecedented support" from state voters. 

"Michiganders look forward to four more years of Promises Made, Promises Kept," said Chris Gustafson, a spokesman for Trump Victory.

The Republicans and Independents for Biden group, launched Thursday, seeks to sway "persuadable Republican and right-leaning Independent voters in key battleground states," a demographic that Snyder said he may be able to reach in Michigan.

"Most elections are decided by people in the middle," Snyder said. "I believe those are a core group of constituents that got me elected governor twice.”

The Michigan Republicans listed as part of the group include former Congressman Joe Schwarz, former Congressman Dave Trott, former Michigan Chamber of Commerce legal counsel Bob LaBrant, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor and former state Reps. Doug Hart, Mikey Knight and David Maturen, according to the group's website.

The group is affiliated with and paid for by The Lincoln Project, an effort backed by prominent Republicans to oust Trump from the White House. Though Republicans and Independents for Biden have the same goal, it is a separate initiative of The Lincoln Project, said Mark Ranneberger, a spokesman for the group. 

Snyder, who championed a "Relentless Positive Action" motto while in office, distanced himself Thursday from The Lincoln Project. 

"I don’t really support The Lincoln Project," he said. "They have a negative approach to things largely, and I’m a positive person.”

In his commentary, Snyder called Trump's tax reform a failure that lacked long-term value and gave more money to large corporations. 

"While we have had a strong economy during his term, it reminds me of the old expression that it is better to be lucky than smart," he said.

Biden, on the other hand, has shown a "strong moral character and empathy" and could help heal the divisions with in the U.S., Snyder said. The former governor had positive interactions with Biden while he was vice president that convinced Snyder that Biden could work across the aisle. 

"We're Americans first before we’re party members," Snyder said.

As recently as March, Biden while campaigning in Michigan criticized the fallout from the Flint Water Crisis, which occurred while Snyder was governor.

Biden said Flint “has become shorthand for the incredible division that still exists in this country, based on zip code."

"We aren’t looking for a revolution, but what we want to be able to do is trust the water comes out of the pipe,” he said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com