GOP gov field has changed

Dennis Lennox

A year ago it looked like the Republican confab on Mackinac Island would be a totally different affair. This was to be the first skirmish in a hotly contested GOP gubernatorial primary between Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

That isn’t the case as the Michigan Republican Party’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference begins today.

Delegates from across the state arrive at the iconic Grand Hotel finding the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder turning into a coronation for 63-year-old Schuette, who hopes to end his long political career by keeping the governor’s mansion in GOP hands.

Schuette, who recently announced his candidacy before a friendly crowd in his hometown of Midland, owes a big thank you to Calley’s annus horribilis.

The boyish-looking 40-year-old from Ionia County, who probably still gets carded, assuming the Baptist deacon likes a stiff drink, was positioned to break the curse that has kept almost every past lieutenant governor from succeeding to the governorship. But then a confluence of events sunk his candidacy before he could even declare.

First, there was the 2016 presidential race, in which Calley aligned himself with John Yob, his longtime political adviser, and the failed campaign of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who to this day is still fighting the Republican primaries and caucuses.

Calley got on board with Trump after he became the party’s standard-bearer, only to jump ship in the final weeks of the campaign.

Schuette, ever the establishmentarian, backed Jeb Bush, the ex-Florida governor and son and brother of presidents, in the super-crowded field of candidates seeking the GOP nomination. But unlike Calley, Schuette stayed on the Trump Train — loyalty that was rewarded when the president tweeted his endorsement of Schuette’s gubernatorial candidacy.

With Yob’s guidance Calley tried reinventing himself, launching a statewide ballot question campaign to make the Legislature part-time — effectively neutering the people’s voice while empowering the executive and judicial branches of state government — at the beginning of summer.

Calley hoped his effort, which appealed to the populist-inclined voters that propelled Trump to the Republican nomination and ultimately the White House, would be enough to make the base of the state GOP forget his repudiation of Trump did nothing but help Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

Had the rollout of Calley’s campaign gone well it might have worked. But it didn’t.

Calley’s ballot question campaign has been an epic failure, marred in legal difficulties and hemorrhaging money to consultants like Yob.

While Calley is still talking like a potential candidate — he’s supposed to embark upon a statewide listening tour — it’s probably too late for him to stop the inevitable nomination of Schuette, despite the very real fact that many Michigan Republicans don’t like the attorney general. Some Snyder confidants even tell me they will vote Democrat for the first time ever to avoid casting a ballot for Schuette. Though to be fair, much of their dislike derives from jealously, if only because Schuette has managed to survive and thrive since his first election in 1984, when he defeated an incumbent Democrat congressman.

With Schuette’s nomination a forgone conclusion all eyes on Mackinac now shift to lower profile contests, like the Republican nomination for secretary of state and the unexpected race to replace retiring Congressman Dave Trott in Oakland and Wayne counties, in which Republican voters in the GOP-leaning constituency could choose from a field of a half-dozen or more candidates.

Dennis Lennox, a public affairs consultant, writes about politics. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.