2016, 2018, 2020, Donald Trump, Gretchen Whitmer — January 25, 2020 at 11:23 am

What Gretchen Whitmer has in common with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders


And what they can all learn from each other

There’s a pretty obvious reason why our governor Gretchen Whitmer has been chosen to deliver the response to the 2020 State of Union address that will occur if something goes terribly wrong and the Senate doesn’t remove Donald Trump from office: Whitmer was elected Governor of Michigan by 406,659 votes or almost 38 times times the 10,704 votes Trump won the state by in 2016.

Whitmer has touted herself and been touted as example of the virtue of moderation — but I take another lesson from her resounding win.

She ran on and won on one of the clearest promises in recent political history: Fix the damn roads.

This simple deliverable polled four times higher in the weeks before the election than the standard Republican promise of lower taxes.

Whitmer proved the virtues of a realistic populism on the campaign trial. In office, she’s been forced to deal with both a Republican House and Senate who refuse to make the choices necessary to even begin to restore Michigan’s long-cratering roads. So she’s re-calibrating for 2020.

The idea that people want something specific from politicians is perfectly clear to Republicans who quickly use their power to pay off their powerful donors with tax cuts and the shredding of protections while executing draconian policies that savage reproductive rights, civil rights and the advances won by the LGBT community.

And if you need proof the promise of specific rewards also works on the left, look at Bernie Sanders’ astounding popularity with young voters. He won more 18-29 year old voters in the 2016 primaries than Trump and Hillary Clinton combined.

Can this be explained by Sanders’ hip demeanor or his passion for stickball?

Nope, I’d credit his very specific promises to young adults crushed by 40 years of conservative rule and the Great Recession, promises these voters desperately need. These promises include reliable health insurance with no copays, free college, student debt relief… All these policies have been embraced Elizabeth Warren as well. Together they make a coherent argument for reorienting government power to the people. Bernie might call it democratic socialism and Warren might say it’s just accountable New Deal capitalism.

But to most voters, they’re just promises.

The standard rebuttal here is — at least for Warren — how will you pay for this nonsense! Why not promise free chocolate milk and sex toys for everyone?

But what everyone needs to understand (besides the fact that no health care system on earth is more unaffordable than our current one) is passing Medicare for All will be a massive challenge. But trust Gretchen Whitmer, so is fixing Michigan’s roads — something voters overwhelmingly want.

And none of these things are possible without solid Democratic majorities (because Republicans never do what Democrats often do, join in to help the opposing party achieve key goals).

While Whitmer’s roads promise may seem centrist and reasonable to you, free college, debt relief, child care may not. But they all poll pretty similarly.

And to the average voter who pays very little attention to politics, especially policies, they all feel similar. Medicare for All may poll just below 50 percent now — but it would likely pop back up to its heights near 60 percent if entire Democratic party rallied behind it. Why? Because almost anyone who has gotten sick knows that our health care system can suck as badly as our roads.

You may say that Trump makes everything different: the choice here is a choice for decency or not. But I’d suggest that picking Whitmer is an argument for pragmatism. And pragmatism demands something in exchange for your vote.

Democrats will get every vote of everyone outraged by Trump, a solid majority in blue states. And the Republican Party will give any of its candidates at least 46% of the electorate that they suppress for their pleasure. The real question is how to win over the voters who are easily swayed or rarely show up.

The theory Whitmer tested and confirmed is “Promises work.” Tell me how you’ll make my life better.

And if you think the promise “I’ll take you back to 2016” will work with record low unemployment in 2020 when it didn’t work in 2016, we’ve learned nothing.

[Photo by Anne C. Savage]