Bankole: Can John James convince Detroiters to back him?
Republican rising superstar John James announced a second run for the U.S. Senate last week to unseat incumbent Democrat Gary Peters in 2020, just months after losing to another Democrat, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
His announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise because James has political stardom, and in the eyes of his supporters he represents the future of a Republican Party struggling to define what true multiracial diversity means.
But the irony is that James’ own albatross is Detroit, his family hometown, where he lost massively to Stabenow last year after netting only about 9,000 votes. By contrast, more than 170,000 Detroiters gave their vote to Stabenow.
That election wasn’t even a clear-cut referendum on Stabenow’s legislative record. It was more a decidedly successful campaign against President Donald Trump, who James tried to sell to black voters already repulsed by the president’s policies and standing on race issues. Stabenow’s campaign portrayed James as a stooge for Trump after the GOP nominee himself said he supports the president 2,000 percent, a comment that drew ridicule from former President Barack Obama.
That is why James is going to face another uphill task trying to convince the city’s majority-Democratic black voters that he is a better choice than Peters, who has long been courting Detroit going back to his days as the state’s lottery commissioner. James has a lot of explaining to do in Detroit regarding his lockstep loyalty to Trump and the policies of this era that have been challenging for many communities of color. Also, Peters will have to explain his own record as well and the kinds of issues he’s championed for Detroiters.
Still, a younger General Colin Powell would stand a better chance if he were running than James, because Powell has shown to be a moderate Republican and an independent thinker, who isn’t always taking the party line on issues. Powell has long served as a conscience for the party, willing to point out missteps much like Ohio’s John Kasich, the former Republican governor, has been doing since the dawn of the Trump era. That is why Powell has crossover appeal and is respected on both sides of the political aisle.
James could be the next Colin Powell if he demonstrates that he is his own man and is not beholden to just party loyalty and the president regardless of the issues. So far all he has done is show that he is one of Trump’s champions and has proudly embraced that designation publicly. That is not a winning formula in Detroit, ground zero of the urban crisis, which offers an opportunity to the Republican Party as well to roll out a definitive urban agenda that explains its solutions to extreme inequality.
I don’t know of any particular major issue affecting the nation where James has publicly and staunchly disagreed with his own party like U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, is doing in Congress regarding the outcome of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Whether you agree with Amash or not, he’s sent a clear signal that he is willing to buck the system to affirm the dictates of the rule of law and to uphold principled politics.
John James has a long away to go in swaying Detroiters to rally around him in a presidential election year where many black voters will be trying to give Trump the boot from the White House.
Two weeks after James lost to Stabenow, his campaign dominated the conversation at my favorite barbershop on Detroit’s west side. My barber Chris asked: “What’s up with John James supporting Trump not only 100 percent but 2,000 percent …?” Before I could reply, another barber said, “he will get a nice gig with Trump. They will take care of him.” Then I said, “everything is possible.”
Apparently, James wasn’t taken care of as some were expecting in the barbershop because his name came up for some possible high-profile positions in the Trump administration, but none materialized.
That conversation was instructive because it reminded me that the barbershops, the heartbeat of the black community, took notice of James campaign and were listening to what he has been saying on national television. And when they think about him, they think about Trump.
It only confirms the delicate dance and perhaps the moonwalking that awaits James' 2020 senatorial run.