As President Trump’s re-election army worries about a “Rustbelt slide” in Michigan and other key Midwestern states for 2020, political observers see John James, the state GOP candidate for U.S. Senate last year, in a bind as some on Team Trump are reportedly encouraging him not to make another Senate run.
According to Politico, the concern is that James, who lost to Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018, would generate just enough additional enthusiasm in a follow-up race against Michigan’s other Democratic senator, Gary Peters, to boost Democratic activism and voter turnout and sink the president’s chances of narrowly winning Michigan again as he did in 2016. Without Michigan, Trump’s chances for re-election diminish significantly.
James, a businessman and Iraq War veteran, was considered a top GOP prospect when he emerged in 2016, and he proved to be a hard-charger and successful campaign fundraiser. He ran a close race in 2018 against Stabenow despite a bad year for the GOP in Michigan. Earlier this year, he was mentioned as a possible Trump choice for UN ambassador. And Peters, one of just two Senate Democrats running in states Trump carried in 2016, has spent the past six years as one of the most low-key members of the upper chamber in Congress.
But some on Team Trump appear to want him to make a sacrifice, a step back, and run against Rep. Haley Stevens for a House district that flipped to the Democrats last November. As a first-time candidate in 2018, James clearly rejected that option when he was an unknown, at a time when running for an open seat for House on his home turf in Oakland County seemed the obvious choice.
“A run for a House seat, some contend, would be safer for the president’s prospects in the state, which he carried by less than a quarter of a percentage point in 2016,” Politico reported today.
Based on numerous media polls and internal Trump campaign surveys, the president trails some of the Democratic presidential candidates, particularly former vice president Joe Biden, in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as blue-collar workers are not feeling the effects of the 50-year low in the U.S. unemployment rate.
What’s more, Trump’s aggressive tariffs are hurting the heartland — farmers and manufacturing workers — after the president had convinced his loyal following that his brand of a trade war would easily pay big dividends.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Republican Party has become a narrowly focused, Trump-centric organization obsessed with recreating the president’s unexpected win here in 2016.
Most recently, Trump’s promises of transforming the domestic auto industry in the Midwest has become another potential liability for 2020.
While the president has promised that auto-related jobs are “really pouring in” from overseas and Mexico, General Motors has announced plant closings and Ford Motor Co. today announced that it is cutting 7,000 jobs, many of them based in Michigan.
One wonders how all of this impacts James’ plans for the future.
Democrats are hoping that James is slipping into no man’s land for 2020 as the Republican looked like he was on the verge of announcing another Senate run last week, something that also drew speculation in February just before the state GOP convention.
The potential 2020 candidate remains in close contact with Trump’s key advisers and Senate Republican strategists but his reaction to the loss to Stabenow remains a lingering, mysterious question mark. James made the highly unusual decision to take down nearly all of his online campaign material just days after the November 2018 election. He quickly eliminated hundreds of Facebook and YouTube campaign videos, including one where he told a crowd that he was “2,000 percent” behind Trump. A similar purge occurred on Twitter.
The campaign staff desperately tried to downplay the significance of deleting “a few” materials for a man who clearly has a future in politics. But political observers have to wonder if James is still feeling the love for Trump, now that the president is failing in the polls in Michigan and in other key states.
After all, from the standpoint of the president, the feeling may be mutual.