Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Here’s the big thing we didn’t learn at the Mackinac GOP confab

September 28, 2021 5:00 am

A Stop The Steal is posted inside of the Capitol Building after a pro-Trump mob broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows in the deadly insurrection attempt aimed at stopping Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s win in the November election. | Jon Cherry | Getty Images

Updated, 6:47 a.m. 9/28/21

Real news is rarely made at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, an ostentatious Michigan schmoozefest where politicians beg lobbyists and multi-millionaires for cash and thirsty lesser-known candidates sometimes ditch their contempt for the media and do interviews in hopes they’ll break out of single-digits in polling.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not always boring. Sometimes political operatives get punched there.

Future GOP presidential candidates have been known to test the waters at the biennial event — although this weekend’s selection was decidedly C-List with former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley bowing out. That left attendees with the rhetorical stylings of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who reportedly announced, “I never thought I would go to Michigan and live to tell about it.”

The Michigan Advance didn’t cover the confab  — we were again denied credentials  — which is part of an unfortunate pattern of elected officials and politicians ducking tough questions, which has only accelerated during the pandemic. 

However, if you turned to the Advance this weekend for political and policy coverage, I don’t think you left disappointed, as we strive to cover things other outlets don’t. We talked to Black business leaders about the Detroit Chamber of Commerce’s focus on inclusion and diversity at its annual conference (also on Mackinac Island) and what more needs to be done. We had an eye-opening look at the pandemic’s toll on children, with thousands sickened and more than 1 million orphaned.

And we ran commentary from longtime Georgia political columnist Jay Bookman on the blueprint for former President Donald Trump’s coup attempt, known as the Eastman memo (as it was written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman) — and why democracy is in more danger than ever even though it failed.

“In that memo, Eastman lays out a step-by-step scheme by which Vice President Mike Pence could single-handedly overturn the results of the presidential election and ensure that Trump stayed in office, despite having lost the election,” Bookman writes. “Trump embraced the strategy wholeheartedly, as subsequent events have proved.”

We only have two major political parties in the country. If one of them is being led by people who believe that democracy and the Constitution are impediments to maintaining power, what does that mean for America’s future? What does that mean for a free and independent press?

– Susan J. Demas

Had the Advance been at the MIGOP affair, you can bet we would have asked leaders about if they supported or condemned the Eastman memo and future attempts to overturn elections. I can’t really think of a more pressing issue than whether or not donors, party leaders and elected officials believe that our democratic electoral process can be swept aside if a Republican doesn’t win.

That’s really the ballgame, isn’t it? 

We only have two major political parties in the country. If one of them is being led by people who believe that democracy and the Constitution are impediments to maintaining power, what does that mean for America’s future? What does that mean for a free and independent press? 

The conference featured a “voter integrity” panel in which GOP officials concluded that their big mistake in 2020 was not trying to create legal chaos early enough — not Trump failing to win enough votes or Republicans filing bogus cases lying about election fraud and causing an astroturf scene at Detroit’s TCF Center to stop absentee ballot counting. 

We would have followed up and asked about the national GOP effort to restrict voting rights in almost every state, including the “Secure MI Vote” voter suppression ballot measure. We would have asked, for instance, why is it even necessary, when the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate Oversight Committee concluded in an extensive report that there was no voter fraud in 2020 and blasted hucksters for making bank off election conspiracies? 

But then again, those are probably the kind of hard-hitting questions the GOP party brass wanted to avoid. 

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on 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, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. 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 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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