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Michigan voters tell the political elites where to go

Mar 9, 2016

Michigan voters sent the political and media elites a message of defiance last night. The elites told the people how to vote, and the people told them where to go.

On the Republican side, every establishment figure on two legs made scathing attacks on Donald Trump. Mitt Romney, who lost his home state by a landslide four years ago, was somehow felt to be the right messenger to tell the rank and file not to vote for Trump.

The state’s major newspapers thundered against Trump, and Republicans were told to vote for Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Ohio Governor John Kasich instead.

Guess what. Trump won by another landslide. Kasich, whose major claim to fame has been finishing second in Vermont, couldn’t even finish second here.

Rubio, whose popularity seems to be illustrating the law of gravity, didn’t even get a tenth of the vote or a single delegate. Trump got way more votes than Kasich and Rubio together.

So much for the theory that the Donald is losing momentum. Rubio and Kasich’s campaigns seem to be based on the theory that all they have to do is win their home states.

Well, next week we’ll find out, when Ohio and Florida vote in what are for the first time this year winner-take-all primaries. My guess is that Trump will win those places too, and a week from now the Republican race will be essentially over. Actually, if I were Rubio or Kasich, I would announce a sudden desire to collect stamps from the Austro-Hungarian Empire instead, and end my campaign before that final humiliation.

What happened on the Democratic side was even more mind-blowing, and might help restore our faith in democracy. Hillary Clinton was supposed to win Michigan by a landslide. Mitchell Research, an outfit famous for getting it wrong, told us she was 37 points ahead. The newspapers all endorsed the former Secretary of State. We were told by all the smart columnists that young people wouldn’t show up to vote for Bernie.

Virtually every member of the Democratic establishment urged us to vote for Clinton, and for a time it seemed as if her husband and her daughter had moved to Michigan.

But instead, she lost. The turnout was far higher than expected. Bernie Sanders, that cranky old socialist from insignificant Vermont, a guy most of this state’s voters had never heard of six months ago, won 73 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

I can’t recall a bigger upset in state political history, except for John Engler’s surprise win for governor in 1990. In the end, Clinton’s support seems to have been strongest among establishment politicians who may be hoping she will give them jobs.

Why she lost isn’t clear, but I do know labor was unhappy with her false claim that Sanders opposed saving the auto industry. Refusing to release the speeches she was paid to give to Wall Street groups didn’t look good either. But it’s clear she has a problem.

Clinton is still the heavy favorite to win the nomination, and thanks to the so-called “superdelegates” may even come out on top in the Michigan delegation.

But she isn’t generating the kind of enthusiasm Sanders and Trump do, every day. You have to wonder if anyone worries about what that may mean in November.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's 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.