As the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference gets underway this afternoon, the outlook on the island for the weekend calls for lots of partying and politicking, but not much policy discussion.
One new rule for the 2017 GOP conference seems to be: avoid discussions about the divisive Donald Trump. No sense getting people worked up – that usually happens in any event during late-night drinking sessions at the Mackinac bars (more on that later).
This will be a rare GOP confab where no Washington political figures or elected officials of national prominence will appear. The disconnect from D.C. means that the featured speakers are former governor John Engler, whose allure is certainly not what it once was, and two current, obscure governors, Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.
Also on stage will be ex-congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who abruptly quit his House seat in the spring, just a few months into his term, so he could take a job as a Fox News contributor. And two familiar faces to all Michigan Republicans, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, will be on hand.
But most of the gathering will focus on glad-handing and back-slapping as those with their eye on governor, attorney general or secretary of state in 2018 make the rounds at the numerous parties and receptions backed with fellow politicos and lobbyists.
The governor’s race would normally receive the bulk of the attention but it’s looking increasingly likely that Attorney General Bill Schuette will breeze to the GOP nomination.
As political consultant Dennis Lennox said in a column today for The Detroit News: “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.”
The only real news to come out of this event is that Congressman Fred Upton from southwest Michigan is expected to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Upton’s congressional staff is apparently using their official House email accounts to advertise the political gathering on Saturday afternoon that is dubbed, “Upton For All Of Us.”
Other than that, the usual Mackinac debauchery will likely ensue.
In 2015, political consultant John Yob infamously got into a fight, which was more of a slapfest than a barroom brawl, with another GOP strategist, Rich Beeson, at Horn’s Bar.
In 2003, at the annual Detroit Chamber of Commerce conference on Mackinac, Congressman Mike Bishop of Rochester (then a state senator) got into an argument with another reveler outside a bar and was promptly pummeled in the ensuing fistfight.
In 2009, a Central Michigan college student spilled the beans about that year’s GOP conference when she described how college Republicans were lured to the island with free hotel rooms, free food and free drinks – including those served generously to underage students.
“Let me tell you, rich politicians know how to throw a pretty damn good party,” she wrote on social media at the time.
A Democratic Party official, in a snarky reaction to the descriptions of the wild weekend soiree, called it “Animal House on the Island.”
One subtle piece of news coming from Mackinac is that Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s hopes of succeeding Snyder seem to be fading fast. On the weekend itinerary, Calley is left for last.
He will host a brunch on Sunday morning. Given the number of conference attendees who will be sufficiently hung over by then, I expect the turnout for the LG to be pretty slim.