Editorial: GOP must focus on Michigan first
Republicans arrive on Mackinac Island Friday to begin planning for what promises to be their toughest battle in decades: reclaiming the ground they lost in last year's election, preserving their influence in Lansing and helping President Donald Trump repeat his unexpected 2016 win in Michigan.
Even the ablest GOP spinner can't sugarcoat what happened here in 2018. Republicans got thrashed up and down the ballot. They lost the governor's office, as well as both the secretary of state and attorney general's office.
Their majority on the state Supreme Court shrank, as it did in the state House and Senate. They surrendered to Democrats two congressional districts that were drawn with distinct Republican advantages. GOP trustees all but disappeared from university boards.
This weekend, helped by some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, including Vice President Mike Pence, they will try to rally party members to put that epic defeat behind them and reclaim the mojo that allowed them to dominate state government for most of the past decade.
It's a big challenge.
The first focus for state Republicans should not be Trump's reelection, though the president will surely need Michigan if he hopes to remain in the White House. The state party must prioritize solidifying its influence in Michigan.
That starts with not just holding the state House, but broadening its majority, which slipped to 58-52 thanks to losses of previous Republican districts in 2018. If the GOP loses the House, its power in Lansing would rest only with the Senate, which isn't up for election this time.
Holding just the Senate would limit the GOP's leverage in stand-offs with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and force it to play a back-up defense, much as it did during the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It would have little ability to advance an agenda.
Republicans would also be poorly positioned for the 2022 election,which will be the first with districts redrawn after the 2020 Census. Those new maps are bound to be less generous to the GOP than are the current versions, which debuted in 2012 when Republicans controlled the process.
The Supreme Court is often overlooked, but it is important in determining the direction of the state. Two seats will be up, and no incumbent GOP-affiliated justices are on the ballot due to the retirement of Steve Markman. Incumbent Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, nominated by Democrats, is standing for reelection.
If Democrats claim both seats, justices they nominated will hold the majority of the court for the first time in a decade.
After the state House and Supreme Court, Republican priorities should turn toward the congressional seats. They'll need sterling candidates to broom Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, in the 8th district and Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, in the 11th. But those are still on paper solidly GOP districts.
Perhaps more important is not letting the 10th District, where Republican Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden is retiring, slip from their hands.
National and state party leaders are also closely eyeing the race for U.S. Senate, and they believe candidate John James has a better chance of ousting incumbent Democrat Gary Peters than he did Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018.
Republicans on Mackinac Island are bound to get caught up in the hoopla and hype that comes with any political convention.
But once the balloons pop, they need to get serious about the long, uphill fight they face in Michigan heading into the 2020 balloting.