Can Whitmer deliver on SOTU?
Gov. Rick Snyder started it and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continued it … until last Friday.
Both of them adopted, much to the chagrin of the state Capitol press corps, a policy of steadfastly not commenting on any of the events unfolding in the nation’s capital involving the president of the United States.
During one interview, Mr. Snyder was asked about a private one-on-one meeting with President Barack Obama on the right-to-work issue. It was a juicy topic, to say the least, but he gave no ground on what was said by whom to whom.
He ended that discussion with, “It is not my job to help you make news.”
The theory behind not commenting for both of them was based on the understandable notion that, if a governor gets dragged into a continual back-and-forth on all the stuff going on in Washington, it would soon distract from the mission they were elected to do: Run the state of Michigan.
Gov. Whitmer did the same calculus and rebuffed reporters’ attempts to make news by taking on President Donald Trump.
She put it this way: “I don’t weigh in on Donald Trump very often. I just don’t. I can’t control what’s happening in Washington, D.C.” And then she asserts her job is to “make sure I’m building relationships with the administration that’s in the White House.”
But, last Friday, she was asked to present the Democratic response to the president’s State of the Union address, and that could be counter to that “relationship” goal, given the president’s propensity to blast those who criticize him.
No other Michigan governor has given the reply to the State of the Union.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity,” she stated the obvious in a news release.
But some have asked, “Why her?”
The invitation from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer underscores that Michigan is pivotal to taking back the White House, given Mr. Trump’s 11,000-vote win here in 2016.
They and others saw Gov. Whitmer deliver a stand up performance on stage at the Fox Theatre Detroit when all the Democratic candidates for president were there to debate. Her welcoming remarks, as she moved with ease across the stage, drew these sort of comments from those politicos behind the scenes.
“Who the heck was that?”
“Hey, she was pretty good.”
One reporter immediately dubbed her as a Democratic “rising star.”
Adding to her resume, she had just defeated a Trump-anointed candidate, Bill Schuette, by a whopping 10 points.
And, to add a little flavor to the sauce, while Whitmer was attending a White House conference, President Trump picked her to sit next to him at lunch.
Now, she will have the last word on his speech, and Democrats hope she will serve him up for dessert with her remarks.
This is a tremendous political opportunity for the second-year governor seen as a rising star in the party. If she hits a home run, it’s a huge plus. But it is also a potentially perilous gig in front of millions of viewers that could send her star unceremoniously plummeting to Earth.
Ask former Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal about that. His response to a President Obama SOTU message was a disaster.
He suffered bipartisan ridicule as some called it a flop. In his autobiography, even he admitted the party had faith in him, but “turns out they were wrong. I blew it.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio drew the response assignment years ago and was so flustered that, on live TV, he groped for a drink of water in the middle of his remarks, leaving the distinct impression that this guy was not ready for prime time.
No one is predicting the polished Ms. Whitmer will follow in their footsteps, but who knows?
It is known that, if she hits it out of the park, her name will immediately become part of the chatter about a spot on the ticket as vice president, or certainly for some cabinet post, if the Democrats win.
That, of course, would be the very distraction that she was concerned about when she adopted Mr. Snyder’s no-comment strategy.
After all, what GOP lawmaker would help her fix the roads if they thought it would help her beat Donald Trump in November?
None of them.