Love or hate him, Geoffrey Fieger is an absolutely brilliant trial lawyer. I watched him through all the Kevorkian trials in the 90s, when he ran rings around the opposition.
Then, 20 years ago, he told me he was thinking of running for governor, and asked me what I thought. I told him, with tongue firmly in cheek, that he should take what he was planning to spend on that race and give it to me instead, and we’d both be better off.
Not that I would have taken his money, but for once, I was absolutely right. Fieger lost by almost 25 points. Unlike the courtroom, he was fighting in an arena he didn’t understand.
Yesterday, I do believe I saw what you might call déjà vu all over again, when former State Supreme Court Justice Robert Young announced he was running for the U.S. Senate next year, against three-term incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a judge,” Young said, adding “When I get to Washington, I’m going to lay down the law – no more big government.”
Well, sorry, your former honor, but that isn’t true. You just became a politician. And if you really believe any freshman senator can march into Washington and “lay down the law” and disband big government, you are either hopelessly naïve or have a Caesar complex.
To be fair, Bob Young is a very smart man.
He is a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School. He has a sharp and acerbic wit, which may or may not be an asset. Yesterday, he defined himself as a “black, conservative Republican.” He didn’t say compassionate conservative.
Nobody else would, either. He also doesn’t suffer fools cheerfully, which is something you have to do in politics.
Here’s my prediction: The best day of Young’s campaign will have been the day he announced. Now, he has to face the lions in not one, but two arenas.
First of all, there’s no sign the nomination will be a piece of cake. Lena Epstein, a 35-year-old businesswoman, also wants the job. No one ever heard of her before she co-chaired Donald Trump’s successful Michigan campaign last year.
She’s already hinted that she’ll attack Young as just another establishment politician, cut from pretty much the same cloth as Stabenow. If she can mobilize Trump supporters, Young may have a big problem. But that’s not his biggest worry. That would be Debbie Stabenow, who since 1974 has beaten every Republican she has ever faced.
Eleven years ago, she was reelected to the Senate by more than half a million votes. Five years ago, Republicans told me the Stabenow era was coming to an end. They’d recruited Congressman Pete Hoekstra to run against her.
He lost by nearly one million votes. Even now, Democrats are feverishly combing through court decisions, looking for cases where Young took unpopular positions.
Politicians sometimes can transition into great judges. Earl Warren comes to mind. But the opposite is seldom true, as Arthur Goldberg found when he left the U.S. Supreme Court to run for governor of New York.
Naturally, in politics, you never say never.
But I’d bet that in the end, the former chief justice may rule that this was something he never should have done.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.