Republicans are awash in optimism that they can take a Senate seat away from Democrats in Michigan during 2020, as vulnerable incumbent Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) faces a stiff contest against John James. The 38-year-old challenger is black and a war veteran, two things the GOP yearns for in its candidates, but the jury is still out on whether he will come out as a Trump-backer or not. To be re-elected, Trump would have to win Rust Belt states like Michigan again in 2020, and to advance his agenda in Congress afterward he would need allies. James is perfectly poised to fit this bill, if he so chooses.
Image Isn’t Enough Anymore
Following a tired playbook, the Republican establishment continues to anoint “war heroes” or “black conservatives” as automatic rising stars irrespective of the actual support these candidates’ stated policy positions attract. Thus we see a proponent of neoconservative foreign policy like former Navy SEAL Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) hailed as the next John McCain or Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) being trotted out as the GOP version of a racial referee. Scott can be regularly relied on to scold Trump over “inappropriate” tweets, and he twice scuttled qualified conservative judicial nominees in 2018 out of deference to Democrat “concerns” over alleged past instances of racial insensitivity. After the second of those controversial moves, Scott proceeded to lecture the party on the need to avoid nominating judges with “questionable track records on race.”
These brands of GOP politician are out of date among a party base that is strongly in tune with the president’s America First agenda. Enter John James. He has come out in support of Trump’s stances on trade and tariffs, as well as efforts to secure the border. As the national Democrat ranks lurch ever more leftward, it is probable that James will do his utmost to tie Peters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the motley collection of progressive 2020 Dem White House hopefuls, all of whom vociferously despise Trump. As a source “close to the James campaign” told The Hill, “In this one [election], the presidential Democrat field is pretty extreme: They’re talking about open borders, they’re talking about ‘Medicare for All,’ they’re talking about the Green New Deal, all things that don’t resonate well in Michigan. And it’s not one of them, it’s all of them.”
Two polls conducted in October through early November show the incumbent Peters with only a single-digit percentage lead. James has shown early fundraising strength, as well. The ground is set for a hotly contested election, and Democrats seem to have their strategy already in mind. Anticipating another run for office from James, who narrowly lost his 2018 attempt to defeat incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dems have been trying to associate him with Trump for months. They apparently see the president as a liability in the blue-collar state he famously carried in 2016.
“[W]here does candidate-in-waiting John James stand on these destructive tariffs?” asked a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee press release back in May. “John James has made his priorities clear: he wants to climb the political ladder by serving as a rubber stamp for President Trump’s destructive agenda, even if it hurts middle-class families,” said DCCC spokesperson Michael Gwin.
Tottering Trump in Rust Belt?
Democrats are parroting the dominant media narrative that the president’s trade policies have hurt him in the Rust Belt. The evidence is scant. Macomb County, a district crucial to Trump in 2016, had the highest spike in manufacturing employment in the nation from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2018, adding over 9,000 new jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in February. Wayne County came in at number 20 on the list with an increase in over 2,300 jobs, and Oakland County was ranked number 28 with over 2,100 new jobs.
“At the moment, there are more than 1,100 job postings in this sector in Macomb County,” Vicky Rad, interim director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, said of the news. “Our manufacturers are looking to hire in all positions.”
Daniel Allott of the Washington Examiner visited the area in May and could not find a single Trump voter from 2016 who was wavering in support. Allott even quoted a local Democrat as saying she expected Trump to take Macomb County once again in 2020. “A lot of people will look you in the eye and say, ‘I voted Dem all my life until Trump came along. And I’m not voting Dem ever again,'” Shelby Nicole, a member of Macomb County Young Democrats, told Allott. “Or they’d say, ‘I stopped voting a long time ago, then voted for Trump and am not going back.'” When asked whether she thought Trump would win the county next year Nicole replied, “No doubt in my mind.”
Trump claimed the White House in 2016 mainly because he tapped into a deep strain of populist and blue-collar anger over an economic and governing system that was widely perceived to be leaving American workers behind. There is no reason to surmise that ire has slackened. Winning Michigan again and sweeping an avowed advocate of his policies into the U.S. Senate in the process would be the best of all possible worlds for the president next year. It also may be John James’ most sure path to victory.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.