Opinion

Why Craig excites Republicans … and why maybe he shouldn’t

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Detroit Police Chief James Craig is retiring and Michigan Republican Party’s top brass appears to have successfully recruited the conservative cop to run for governor in 2022.

He’s not talking about it, yet, but the behind-the-scenes information is that Chairman Ron Weiser and MRP Executive Director Jason Roe met with him. Craig is in. This is their guy to knock off Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 18 months, as long as something screwy doesn’t happen.

The appearance of an A-level candidate into the field is being met with support and relief among Republicans who were becoming increasing nervous as other big names like Candice Miller, Mike Shirkey, Ronna McDaniel and Lee Chatfield have taken hard passes on running against Whitmer.

Up to now, the Republican gubernatorial field has consisted of lightly known political neophytes whose impetus for jumping into the ring was spurred by the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lifelong cop’s presumed entrance would bring many positives if you’re a Republican. For starters, he defines an issue that won’t mold with age: police protection. Over time, the agitation over Whitmer’s handling of the state during COVID-19 could dull.

A year from now, independents may grow more empathetic about Whitmer’s get-tough approach in the face of various political pressures. Her likely message of “doing the best she could to save lives” may penetrate as time makes the heart grow fonder.

Regurgitating the “Defund the police” battle cry? Unlike COVID-19, crime can’t be vaccinated away. And who stood up to crime in the Motor City while Portland burned? 

The Fox News-commentating Republican police chief.

Also, Craig’s support for the Second Amendment will earn him instant credibility in various rural communities as they get to know him. With Republicans picking up new supporters among blue collar, union retirees, Craig could bring instant cachet.

Republicans also hope to continue chipping away at the Democrats’ mass appeal among African-American voters, which has been a slow and steady process, to be generous. Trump did a little better with this population than recent GOP candidates, garnering 12% and 16%, according to a Target Insyght survey on Election Night 2020.

The GOP has a case to make that they are doing better than Democrats in recruiting Black candidates for major offices — John James in 2018 and 2020, Bill Lucas in 1986, Keith Butler in 2006.

Also, they’re banking on more Black voters not buying the Black Lives Matter political agenda in their neighborhood. These folks would rather see more police presence, not less. The Christian influence and social conservative streak that runs through the Black population is there. 

Overcoming the historical and societal reputation that Republicans fought against civil rights and routinely turn a blind eye toward racism is the problem.

If Republicans think that the Black police chief from Detroit, his home city, is going to marginally erode Democrats’ support in the Motor City, Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo said they’re mistaken. Mongo is projecting Craig won’t capture 15% of the vote in Detroit.

Craig will need to “bow down to the God of the Republican Party, Donald Trump,” and that isn’t going to play too well in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw, Benton Harbor and most of Oakland County, he said.

Craig is a Detroit native, but he was brought back to Detroit by former emergency manager Kevyn Orr and former Gov. Rick Snyder from Cincinnati. He’s a Rick Snyder Republican, which hasn’t been in style in GOP circles for several years now.

“If he’s running with the Trump ticket, he’ll need to denounce Black Lives Mater, Antifa, say the election was stolen and agree with these new election laws in the South,” Mongo said. “Look what is happening to Liz Cheney. If he can’t get the finances together, he might as well just become a pundit on Fox News. I don’t think he’s ready for the big time.”

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

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