Trump messes with the wrong ‘woman from Michigan’

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I’m not sure President Donald Trump meant to create a viral hashtag when he referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as the “woman from Michigan,” but he did. (#thatwomanfromMichigan).

And now he may have a bigger issue than simply elevating the national profile of a first-term governor from a state that’s politically relevant to his reelection.

Panning any governor at a time when citizens are rallying around political leaders who are exhibiting leadership and advocating for their residents during these historically unnerving times of coronavirus isn’t advisable.

Minimalizing a female governor, in particular, is politically like grabbing a downed powerline with your bare hands to see if it’s live. It’s stupid and unnecessarily risky.

Trump tried Friday night to snidely belittle Whitmer with his “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer” tweet. Instead he threw a log on the rekindled fire of that pro-woman pink wave that swept a number of (particularly female) Democratic candidates into office in 2018.

This isn’t a social media phenomenon, although the stream of pro-Whitmer traffic is notable.

Whitmer’s response to the “woman from Michigan,” comment (“Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that Governor is me …) had 229,330 likes as of Tuesday. That’s 100,000 more than Trump’s “half-wit” jab tweet.

Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom lit up Trump with a front-page column that stayed on the top of the newspaper’s home page all day Sunday.

A Farmington Hills entrepreneur told the Free Press that since she rolled out her “I stand with that woman from Michigan” t-shirt, “I have almost doubled my revenue.”

For at least a weekend, the dark horse governor whose claim to fame nationally up to this point was giving a fine State of the Union response was the go-to guest on the national talk shows.

Between last Friday and Monday she was a guest on at least the “PBS News Hour,” Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN, “Pod Save America,” “Meet the Press,” “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper and CNN’s morning show.

Commenters across the country are suggesting Michigan’s 49th governor should be Joe Biden’s running mate.

Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty joined the chorus Sunday with a piece titled with the blunt headline “Why Joe Biden should pick ‘that governor’ to be his running mate.”

New Jersey political columnist Alan Steinberg kicked off his Monday column this way: “Due to intervening events, the case for Gretchen Whitmer as Joe Biden’s running mate has become compelling, almost incontestable.”

Even the number gurus at fivethirtyeight.com has Whitmer in the mix for potential candidate.

But whether Whitmer gets the No. 2 slot is secondary to Trump igniting passion against her when folks are already on edge. They’re bottled up in the homes.

Folks are starving for news right now. We’ve never been through something like this before. We want to know what’s going. We’re reading the news sites, catching up on their social media pages.

We’re soaking this stuff up and not through the same filter we read the news when life was normal. Life is far from normal. We’re debating trips to the grocery stores because we don’t want to come home with COVID-19.

As I said last week, political back-biting right now is a big turnoff.

Whitmer made her point about the federal government’s perceived “porous” coronavirus response and a need for more federal leadership. It’s an observation other governors probably have made, but they weren’t interested in sparking a tussle with Trump over it.

Whitmer has never been intimidated about calling out someone out or making a point, so she did.

She smartly backed off this line of attack by Friday night and by Monday said to CNN, “The enemy is COVID-19. We are not one another’s enemy and we’re working really hard to build relationships with the federal government spending quite a bit of time on the phone with the vice president, as well as the administrator at FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers.”

By Tuesday she was writing a joint letter with Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in The Washington Post about what the states need from the federal government. It, too, focused on a need to work together.

Who knows? This could be another flash in the pan. A splash in a large body of water.

But polling today shows Whitmer, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other governors are earning themselves the respect of a supermajority of residents, many of whom are paying attention.

Trump being Trump worked when times are normal. It’s hard to see how it’s going to work as long as times are far from normal.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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