President Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

The polls out of Michigan haven’t looked very good recently for Donald Trump or really any members of the Republican Party. This is a problem for both Mitch McConnell and the president. For McConnell, Michigan is probably his second-best chance to knock off an incumbent Democrat after Alabama, as he tries to protect his party’s slim Senate majority. But Sen. Gary Peters is leading in every survey taken this year, often by double digits. For Trump, it’s a cause for anxiety because he probably needs to carry Michigan if he wants to be reelected, and over the last couple of months he’s been down six to nine points.

To demonstrate what I mean, if we were to spot Trump every swing state but Michigan and Pennsylvania, and give Trump one Electoral college vote from Maine for good measure, he would lose 271-267. If we were to give Trump Pennsylvania but take away Arizona and Wisconsin, he’d lose 272-266. If Trump loses both Michigan and Florida, he could carry Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia and still lose 270-268.

Finding winning scenarios without Michigan is therefore hard for Trump to accomplish. After all, he’s currently behind or basically tied in every state that I just mentioned. Perhaps that’s why Trump decided to visit Michigan on Thursday, but his strategy for winning the state is questionable.

He’s been picking a fight with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, but he’s not getting the better of the brawl. Polling consistently shows that Michiganders like their governor and approve of her approach to handling the virus. In fact, the numbers are so stark that Trump is probably increasing the chances that Whitmer will be selected as Biden’s running mate. It must be tempting to Biden to pick someone who should help him lockdown a critical state.

During his trip, Trump violated state guidelines by refusing to wear a mask while in enclosed public spaces, which has caused a giant row with the state attorney general Dana Nessel who called him “a ridiculous person” and “a petulant child,” while adding that she she is “ashamed to have him be president of the United States of America.”

The symbolism was particularly bad not only because Michiganders support the governor’s policies, but also because he was visiting a Ford factory that has been repurposed to produce ventilators and masks.

Ford did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Friday. But in a statement to reporters after Trump’s visit, the company said that executive chairman Bill Ford had “encouraged” the president to wear a face covering on his tour inside the Detroit-area factory that has been repurposed to produce ventilators and masks.

“He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years,” the company’s statement said. “The President later removed the mask for the remainder of the visit.”

Trump said as much to reporters Thursday after he was questioned about his decision to go without a mask.

“I had one on before,” he said, standing barefaced in front of several men wearing masks and a large sign advertising the facility’s mask-making efforts. “But I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

…When asked to confirm Trump’s comments, Bill Ford only shrugged and responded, “It’s up to him.”

Dana Nessel pointed out that if Trump infected anyone, it could cause the plant to close down, and that’s one reason to be concerned about Trump’s childish behavior. But the main reason is that we want him to model good behavior to American citizens and particularly to his supporters. Apparently, he feels that doing the right thing would give the media satisfaction, and he cannot abide that.

It’s probably safe to say that Trump didn’t help his chances of winning Michigan on Thursday, but that’s not the only self-injurious thing he did this week. He also chose the day that two dams broke and inundated whole communities to threaten to withhold all federal aid from the state.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she told President Trump they need to focus on the “true enemy” of coronavirus during a phone call after catastrophic flooding forced her to declare a state of emergency. Mr. Trump, who will be visiting a Michigan Ford auto plant Thursday, has been encouraging protests against several states’ lockdown orders, including Michigan, and recently threatened to cut funding to the state over mailing out absentee voting ballots.

“To have this kind of distraction is just ridiculous to be honest,” Whitmer said on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “Threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary. And I think something that is unacceptable.”

This would be bad timing in the best of times, but it was based on a faulty premise, too. Michigan isn’t mailing absentee ballots to its citizens, but only applications for ballots, which is something that several Republican-run states are also doing. Coinciding with his Thursday visit, the president eventually approved an emergency declaration for the state, but the damage was done.

It seems that Trump knows he needs to win Michigan, but he doesn’t know how to make that more likely.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at