Jeff Timmer: All things must pass: Shirkey shows nearly 4 decades of capable GOP Senate leadership is at an end

February 12, 2021 11:59 am

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey | Laina Stebbins photo/Advance graphic

The Republicans wrested majority control of the Michigan Senate following two January 31, 1984, special elections — and they’ve held it ever since. 

Eight men (sorry, women) have led the majority caucus since that chilly winter night 37 years ago in the Great Lakes State. I’ve known them all and been an adviser to most. They’ve had different capabilities, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. The political climate and landscape have varied over that span. Most can claim a long list of accomplishments. They created or were the stewards of a mainstream conservative governing policy legacy.

Eight majority leaders since 1984. Now, it turns out one of them appears to be friggin’ nuts. Unfortunately for Michigan, he’s the current occupant, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). Let’s just say his Constitution is a few states shy of ratification.

Shirkey is one of four Republican Senate chiefs who’ve served opposite a Democratic governor (John Engler, Ken Sikkema and Mike Bishop are the others). That changed the political dynamic considerably for those leaders vs. the ones who partnered with a GOP governor. Being a political foe of the chief executive, though, doesn’t allow for the altering of reality. Leading the opposition doesn’t entitle one to fits of fantasy, lies and deliberate subversion.

Shirkey’s first two years at the helm have been marred by missteps, misogyny, masklessness and militias – mostly the garden-variety buffoonery and thuggery commonplace among Republicans during the Trump era.

The only thing he has led his caucus to is the unflattering glare of the national and world spotlight several times during his short tenure. The national controversies created by his seven predecessors amount to precisely zero. Shirkey has made up for lost time.

He has been boorish toward Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in ways former Gov. Jennifer Granholm didn’t have to endure (at least openly). He’s bragged about acting as a pro bono public relations counselor for domestic terrorist groups. He’s been reckless and cavalier about public health during a deadly plague. He’s coddled both casual and angry racism.

All that has been bad enough, but since Trump’s defeat on Nov. 3, Shirkey has really crossed the Rubicon. He may have conspired to overturn a presidential election – or was at least willing to be seen very publicly entertaining the notion of joining the conspiracy – with Donald Trump at the White House in a late November meeting.

To his credit, he didn’t follow through, though I wonder if that would have changed had Republican officials succumbed to Trump’s sway and enticements and joined his seditious plot? He let the Senate become a sideshow forum for the fevered MAGA delusions with official hearings about the myths of fraud and a stolen election. He’s capitalized on the lies and disinformation he’s fueled to raise money into the Senate campaign coffers. “Lawyers, Guns and Money” is a great song and also are a key component of Shirkey’s legacy.

Many purely opportunistic actors were cynically using the after-election turmoil to bolster their standing with their political base. Most of them have moved on from the performative ruse of a rigged election and the bizarre misinformation the Jan. 6 Capitol Coup were committed by George Soros’s army of cannibal Antifa droids cleverly disguised with red MAGA hats and Trump flags. The only ones clinging to these types of delusions are the truly unhinged and insane. 

I had thought Shirkey to be one of the cynical manipulator crowd, not one of the nuts. Yet Shirkey was caught on video just days ago earnestly spouting the kookiest Trumpist conspiracy theories. It seems pretty clear that he has strapped on his tinfoil helmet and jumped feet-first down that rabbit hole of insanity to join the likes of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.); U.S. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.); U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.); ‘Kraken’ lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood; and the MyPillow crackpot Mike Lindell.

Shirkey’s descent into madness and extremism taints his leadership and it stains the entire Senate. It isolates him from those who effectively and honorably led before him. Shirkey possesses the title and trappings but none of the authority that comes from character, deeds, respect or ability.

Shirkey should resign his leadership position. He should move on from the Senate altogether. He almost assuredly won’t, because a majority of his caucus have joined him on his journey through the looking glass. However, so long as he remains leader, any person, company or organization that donates a single dollar to Shirkey or any committee controlled by the Republicans is indicating outright support of his lies, sedition and kookery – or at least that those things are not deal breakers for them. 

Some will continue to give. Many won’t. I can assure you praise will be showered on those who cease giving campaign dollars and an incandescent spotlight will be aimed at those who continue to fund his lies and delusions.

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Jeff Timmer
Jeff Timmer

Jeff Timmer is a political consultant, strategist, and Warren Zevon fan. He was Executive Director of the Michigan Republican Party and served as a Republican on the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. He is a Senior Advisor to the Lincoln Project and Co-Founder of Republicans and Independents for Biden.