This coming week, many professional political observers expect to see former Detroit Police Chief, James Craig, enter the Republican primary for governor of Michigan. Some within the state’s GOP establishment are celebrating the news. They shouldn’t because the math actually shows that a Craig nomination would ensure four more years of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Let’s start with the good news: Governor Whitmer is losing to the generic Republican. The bad news? James Craig underperforms the generic Republican. And that’s before voters learn that he is weak on the Second Amendment; was the enforcer-in-chief of Whitmer’s draconian, unconstitutional lockdowns; and is celebrated by Democrats for his sanctuary city policies.
A public poll released in June shows incumbent Whitmer’s image and job approval declining among Michigan voters, driving an 11-point deficit to a “generic Republican.” The Michigan GOP released a poll through Charlie Leduff within the same week (June 8, 2021) showing James Craig underperforming the generic Republican.
This past Saturday on Leduff’s radio program, Jason Roe, the former executive director of the Michigan GOP, weighed in on the gubernatorial race. Roe detailed the party’s meetings with Craig, and shared that they had conducted internal polling showing Craig drawing anywhere from 15-25 percent of the vote in the city of Detroit.
As Roe points out, Michigan’s 2020 certified election results show Donald Trump getting 5 percent of the vote in Detroit—nearly doubling 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette’s performance in the city.
Upon being asked if he thinks Craig is viable in Detroit, Roe claimed that Craig could earn 15 percent or better in Detroit. He concludes if that’s the case, there “is no vote math the Democrats can get to win” the state.
Except that’s not really true.
If you believe Detroit’s 2020 statewide certified results, President Trump would have lost the state by 103,084 votes even if he had earned 15 percent of the vote in Detroit. If Trump had earned 25 percent of the vote, he would have still lost Michigan to Biden by 51,781 votes (For perspective, Trump lost the state by roughly 154,000 votes in 2020).
It’s a bold claim from an established party insider, but it falls apart under scrutiny.
Based on Michigan’s certified election results and using Roe’s own math, Craig would need to outperform Trump by 3-5 times and Schuette in 2018 by 4-6 times in Detroit, and even then, he would still lose to Whitmer statewide by a little more than 50,000 votes.
The chances of Craig outperforming Trump anywhere are slim to none, so it begs the question, why are some Republicans in Michigan trying so hard to chart a political course for James Craig? Do they just not understand who James Craig is?
The reality is that James Craig is more likely to grossly underperform Trump given his record on core Republican issues—a scenario that would be devastating for down-ticket Republicans who are relying on the MAGA base to fuel the 2022 midterms.
Craig is already coming under fire from conservatives for his public support of the Biden/Whitmer-style gun control positions including a reinstatement of the “assault weapons” ban, a ban on all online gun sales, and a ban on magazines that can hold more than ten rounds, among other gun control policies.
Craig’s official policy as Detroit Police Chief not to enforce federal immigration law will come back to haunt him. He was lauded by liberal Democrats at a 2017 Detroit City Council meeting when he said “our focus is never immigration status” and then proceeded to outline the official non-enforcement policy for the council, despite then-President Trump’s anti-sanctuary city stance.
Pro-life evangelicals, a major slice of the Republican electorate, could take issue with Craig’s department repeatedly being charged with harassment and being sued at least once by pro-life groups after run-ins with Craig’s DPD during public demonstrations in 2019 and 2020.
Overarching all of these vulnerabilities is the fact that Craig is known in Republican circles as Gretchen Whitmer’s chief enforcement officer, due to his department’s zealous enforcement of Whitmer’s unconstitutional COVID lockdown violation penalties.
Even if you believe James Craig has been tough on crime—which is truly questionable given Detroit’s status as the most dangerous city in America—he’s weak on nearly every other Republican issue. His weak Republican appeal would cause catastrophic turnout problems for the GOP as it continues to grapple with mistrust of voting procedures and election administration in Michigan.
Craig also denied being a Republican in 2020. Yet two weeks ago, in a much publicized speech Craig gave alongside the Michigan GOP chair and the party’s communications director Ted Goodman, Craig said he’d been one for 10 years. Goodman has since left the party and signed on as a political consultant for Craig.
Should the forces recruiting Craig really want to beat Whitmer, they should cease their recruitment efforts. Their faulty voting math won’t cut it. Craig’s depression of the Republican base as the hypothetical top GOP candidate on the ticket in 2022 would likely be an anchor on all down-ballot Michigan Republican candidates in their races as well. So to all Republicans in Michigan: beware.