A Natural at the Game

Feb 28, 2011

Governor Rick Snyder is not a “politician.” He would tell you that himself. I first heard he wasn’t a politician from a bunch of  political reporters more than a year ago, who felt he was wasting his money on what they felt was a catchy, but ultimately silly commercial.

This was, of course, the famous “tough nerd” commercial that first aired during last year’s Superbowl. Tim Skubick, the dean of, Lansing political reporters, thought it was likely to backfire.

This is a tough, blue-collar state, he said. Not a place where people voted for guys who called themselves “nerds.”

I didn’t know what to make of all this myself, till I saw Snyder skillfully and with scalpel-like precision, separate himself from the rest of the pack during the primary campaign. Like a veteran racehorse he ran third much of the way, then shot ahead in the final stretch, winning by nine lengths and a hundred thousand votes.

The general election wasn’t even a contest. But there was a lot of skepticism as to how the new governor would actually do with the hurly-burly of governing.

Jennifer Granholm had been a crashing failure, something she herself attributed to having never served in the legislature. But she had at least been attorney general, and one of many cogs in Wayne County boss Ed McNamara’s political machine.

Snyder was a venture capitalist and former computer executive without a day‘s worth of practical politics in his past. When he revealed during the campaign that he had no idea who was the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, some sneered.

But I felt otherwise. Being a political analyst is one of the few jobs for which age is an advantage. I remembered the scorn and disdain the experts felt when a washed-up movie actor ran for governor of California. Turned out he did a pretty fair job.

Republicans in places like Michigan, however, felt that their party would be committing suicide if they ever nominated him for president. “He’d be another Goldwater,” one told me in the late 1970s. Too right-wing, too extreme, too generally ignorant of the world. When the man did run, I myself asked him a question that revealed he had no idea on which side of Pakistan Afghanistan was located.

Yet he won forty-four states the first time he ran, and all but one the next. The man people feared might start World War III wound up ending the Cold War.  I’ve been talking about  Ronald Reagan, of course, and today, some people talk about adding him to Mount Rushmore.

Now I am well aware Governor Snyder has yet to even get his first budget through the legislature, or prove he can compromise if need be. But this non-politician got a President of another party to agree to count Canadian dollars as our matching highway funds.

And this governor has wisely avoided plunging this state into  turmoil by starting an ideological war, as his counterpart in Wisconsin has in trying to abolish collective bargaining.

We’ve got a way to go before we know how successful a governor Rick Snyder will be. But up to now, he’s defied the experts -- and for a non-politician, has had one heck of a non-political year.