Susan J. Demas: Cox calls Whitmer ‘crazy,’ because it’s Trump’s GOP now

February 26, 2019 12:05 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer giving her first State of the State speech, Feb. 12, 2019 | Casey Hull

Former Gov. Rick Snyder wasn’t at the Michigan Republican Party state convention last weekend — and neither was his brand of civility politics.

New party Chair Laura Cox rode to her position on the strength of endorsements from heavy-hitters in President Trump’s orbit, like 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale. So she appeared to be doing her best Trump imitation when she talked about the next election.

“If we lose the state House, then we have no way to hold the feet to the fire of that crazy governor, Gov. [Gretchen] Whitmer, right?” Cox said on the MIRS podcast.

Party chairs are often bomb-throwers. But Cox calling the second female governor in Michigan history “crazy” — and in such a casual way, as though she were describing the weather — tells you a lot about how ugly the 2020 election is going to get. With so many women and people of color running for president on the Democratic side, you can expect more coded language from Republicans.

Laura Cox

After all, it starts at the top. Trump has a penchant for dismissing women he doesn’t like as “pigs” and “dogs” and calling prominent African-Americans “stupid” and “unqualified.”

Even in her formal speech on Saturday to delegates at the Lansing Center, Cox ditched any sense of decorum and referred to Whitmer by her first name.

“Gretchen has made a promise she’s going to fix the dang roads, right?” Cox said before asking Republicans to take pothole photos to blame her for infrastructure problems (an idea ripped off from the Michigan Democratic Party last year, by the way).

Jim Murray, a longtime Republican staffer-turned-Never Trumper, had this deadpan response on Twitter:

“Her first name is Governor.”

There’s a huge contrast between Cox and Whitmer, who was extremely gracious to Republican legislative leaders in her first State of the State speech.

Although the governor drew sharp policy differences with Republicans, she took time to laud Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) for leaving Lansing at night because “he likes to hightail it home to Jackson to have dinner with his wife, Sue.” And Whitmer noted that House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has five kids under 8 and “he, like I used to, lives next to his parents and he is guided by his faith.”

That’s the kind of basic humanity we’ve been used to in Michigan politics. During the last election, then-Gov. Snyder implored candidates to treat each other respectfully and even sign a civility pledge.

Over the years, Snyder (who, fun fact, defeated Cox’s husband, Mike, in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary) has been a frequent critic of Trump’s disparaging rhetoric and refused to endorse him in 2016.

But Snyder wasn’t at the convention. Neither was former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who lost the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary to Trump-endorsed Attorney General Bill Schuette and ruefully told the Advance in December before leaving office, “It’s definitely President Trump’s party.”

After winning two elections and ushering in eight years of conservative victories — from business tax cuts to abortion restrictions to Right to Work — it’s striking how much of a non-factor Snyder was at the convention.

You’d think he had lost re-election instead of hitting term limits in ‘18, based on how Republicans seem eager to forget his name. Apparently, not even signing a host of GOP Lame Duck legislation cutting environmental regulations and restricting citizen ballot initiatives was enough to endear Snyder to the party faithful.

No, the convention was all about Trump, whose track record is far skimpier — and includes trade and tariff policies that are decimating Michigan and the Midwest, spelling danger for 2020.

That’s par for the course for today’s Michigan GOP, whose Twitter account has devolved into an odd mix of mindless Trump cheerleading (“Trump stays tough on socialism”) and retweets of right-wingers who push conspiracy theories like Don Bongino.

Dayna Polehanki

Cox, a former federal law enforcement official, seems much too sharp for these kind of ham-handed tactics.

But last year, she lost her state Senate bid in a GOP-gerrymandered western Wayne County district to now-Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia). Unfortunately, Cox doesn’t appear to have absorbed any lessons of her defeat. Independent and Republican female voters fled the GOP in droves, thanks to Trump’s contempt for women and his far-right, nationalist agenda.

Cox seems content to double down in her new role, however, cheering on the president at every turn.

“You know, the president has a great track record,” Cox declared. “We’re really proud of all the things he’s accomplished and I think when we talk about that to voters, they’re gonna talk with their friends, their family and something’s gonna resonate with all the successes he’s had.”

Gretchen Whitmer at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Voters in 2018 thought otherwise. And in that election, Gretchen Whitmer was the top vote-getter in Michigan.

That’s another difference between Cox and Whitmer — the latter has never lost an election, and she’s been on the primary and general election ballot a dozen times. Now Whitmer is in position to play kingmaker in the Democratic presidential primary, since Michigan is such a critical state.

And let’s face it. All that really drives Republicans crazy.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.