Opinion

Trump’s short-term victories here may have long-term costs to GOP

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U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, southwest Michigan's member of Congress since “Platoon” was a box office smash in early 1987, became the latest political casualty of former President Donald Trump when he faced reality this week. He said this term, his 18th, would be his last.

At age 68, Upton wasn't ready to step away from Congress. One of the founding members of the Problem Solvers Caucus was ready to run in a revamped Kalamazoo-based district again this year.

Had he done so, he would have been beaten, probably badly, in the Republican primary and he knew it.

Upton showed political courage in not only refusing to kiss Trump's ring, but in defiantly voting with nine other congressional Republicans for Trump's impeachment after the then-president arguably incited the Jan. 6 riots that killed five people and caused $1.5 million in damage to the U.S. Capitol.

That defiance came with a political price. Trump made it known he wanted Upton, fellow U.S. Rep. Fred Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, and the eight others taken out in the next GOP primary. 

If Upton's 6th Congressional District had stayed the same this year, he might have survived. But with Michigan losing a congressional seat this year, the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created a southern Michigan border district that left Upton without 35% of his population.

Instead, Upton's new 2nd Congressional District picked up Battle Creek and part of Holland.

The $1.5 million Upton banked following his 2021 fundraising efforts might been enough to fend off some newbie, particularly in a crowded Republican field. 

The Trump-backed candidate back in December — state Rep. Steve Carra — was an unknown. He didn't even live in this new district.

Once it became clear U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga was running in the same district as Upton and he had Trump's endorsement, the writing was on the wall.

Internal polling showed Huizenga beating Upton soundly. Carra bowed out. He said he was running for reelection to the state House as opposed to sticking around in a three-horse race. At that point, Upton's political goose was cooked.

"UPTON QUITS! 4 down and 6 to go. Others losing badly, who's next?" Trump crowed to his email group.

What's next? 

The 3rd Congressional District, where Meijer faces a competitive primary against former Trump administration official John Gibbs, who showed up with Trump at the Macomb County rally last Saturday. Macomb County is nowhere near the Grand Rapids-based MI-3. Trump didn't care.

"He's a brilliant guy," Trump said of Gibbs.

Like every other Republican who isn't lockstep with Trump these days, Meijer is being called a Republican In Name Only, or RINO. The former Tea Party acronym that once referred to moderate Republicans long since hijacked by Trump to mean anyone he doesn't like.

Trump and redistricting effectively cleared the field for Gibbs in Grand Rapids, and the two have their work cut out for them.

Trump might not know how to pronounce "Meijer," but everyone in Michigan does. Anyone who lives in Grand Rapids anyway.

John Gibbs is a different story. Gibbs grew up in the Lansing area. He went to school at Harvard and Stanford. He never lived in 3rd Congressional District up until a few months ago.

He believes widespread systematic fraud cost Trump reelection in 2020. He doesn't have any proof. He just doesn't understand how Trump lost an election in which he received more votes than he did in 2016. It never happened before in American history. How could it happen now?

Democrats are salivating over the prospects of running their candidate, Hillary Scholten, against Gibbs in this new politically competitive, 50/50 district in Grand Rapids. In the short-term,  Trump victories in Grand Rapids and in the attorney general and secretary of state contests at the state convention later this month would move Trump's stranglehold on the Michigan Republican Party in Michigan beyond question. Polling to be released later this week will show, however, a Trump-backed party is more likely to be a minority party. This, too, is beyond question.

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

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