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Fred Upton retires. Another Trump critic finds no home in today’s GOP

fred upton
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, blamed redistricting for his resignation. Upton had been targeted by Republican former President Donald Trump for voting for impeachment. (Courtesy of Congressman Fred Upton’s office)

Toward the end of his speech, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton choked up. His voice cracked. His eyes turned red.

The St. Joseph Republican — the longest-serving member of the Michigan congressional delegation — had just announced on the U.S. House floor Tuesday he will not seek re-election in November, ending a 36-year career.

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“Even the best of stories has a last chapter,” he said. “This is it for me.”

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Upton is the latest moderate Republican and critic of former President Donald Trump to opt against re-election. He was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach the Republican Trump and among four to recently announce their departures, following Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, of Ohio, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and John Katko of New York.

“UPTON QUITS! 4 down and 6 to go,” the Trump campaign said in a Tuesday statement shortly after Upton’s announcement. “Others losing badly, who's next?”

The only other Michigan GOP congressman to support Trump’s impeachment, Grand Rapids Republican Peter Meijer, is still running for re-election.

Like Meijer, Upton faced a primary challenger endorsed by Trump: Fellow Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga. The two were placed together in new districts following the 2020 Census, and Upton told reporters that redistricting —  not Trump or impeachment — influenced his decision, Politico reported

John Sellek, a former staffer for former Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, told Bridge Michigan that while Trump’s attacks on Upton may have played a role in his retirement, it wasn’t the deciding factor.

“It had a big impact for sure, but there’s so many other things that were out of Upton’s control,” said Sellek, who owns a public relations firm. “Having been around for a long time, and … (being) redistricted into a seat with someone else that is in the prime of his career and isn’t planning to go anywhere.”

Another Michigan member of Congress, Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat, retired earlier this year after redistricting virtually eliminated her seat. Due to a stagnant population, Michigan’s congressional district is shrinking next year to 13 seats from 14.

Upton is the latest Michigan Republican critic of Trump to leave Congress, following decisions not to run for re-election by David Trott in 2017 and Paul Mitchell in 2020. 

Mitchell went so far as to quit the Republican Party over leaders’ failure to condemn Trump’s  efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He died last year.

What’s lost with Upton’s departure are his institutional knowledge and his willingness to work with Democrats, Dave Dulio, professor of political science at Oakland University, told Bridge Michigan. 

“A number of members today … are gravitating toward base politics, which is not how Fred Upton operates,” he said. “He was one to … reach across the aisle and find common ground and buck his party from time to time. That is rare today.”

During his tenure, Upton worked with Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, for years on passing and now reforming the 21st Century Cures Act, which accelerated the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and expedited other medical treatments and research.

“Hailed as the most important piece of legislation passed in that Congress, it laid the foundation for Operation Warp Speed and faster drug approvals including the first vaccine Pfizer produced in Kalamazoo,” Upton said in his retirement remarks. 

Following Upton’s speech, Michigan U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, called Upton a “dear friend” and “one of the greatest Michiganders to serve our country.”

Trump boosts primary challengers

Upton was one of the Michigan politicians Trump supporters booed at on Saturday as digital ads flashing across the venue screens during a rally in Washington Township.

“Save America from RINOs,” one of the ads read.  

Trump has slammed Upton for voting to impeach him. Less than a month before Upton’s retirement announcement, Trump endorsed Huizenga in the new 4th Congressional District in west Michigan. 

Trump had originally endorsed state Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, for the seat, before the redistricting maps were finalized. Trump then backed Huizenga in March, days before Carra announced his “complete” support for Huizenga and dropped out.

“Upton has not done the job that our country needs, for years has talked about leaving office and not running again, and he voted for Impeachment of the President of the United States on rigged up charges,” Trump said in his endorsement statement for Carra. “He doesn’t deserve to keep his seat.”

Upton’s vote last year also drew censure from Republican parties in three of the six counties he represents. Allegan County GOP’s resolution called Upton’s impeachment vote “a betrayal of his oath of office and the core values of the Republican Party.”

The GOP is swinging further right, Sellek said.

“Incumbent members in general have moved toward the MAGA camp to at least dot their Is and cross their Ts to make sure they are not drawing an automatic challenge,” Sellek said. “The makeup of the GOP has been moved to the right for the foreseeable future.”

Similar to Upton, Meijer also faced censure following his vote to impeach the former president. Trump has endorsed John Gibbs, a former official under the Trump administration, to challenge Meijer in the primary.

At the Saturday rally, Trump boosted Gibbs’ campaign and teased Meijer by intentionally mispronouncing his name as “major.” “How the hell do you get ‘Meyer’ out of it?” Trump asked.

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Additionally, Upton and Meijer have both urged Trump to accept the 2020 election results. Trump, along with his loyalists, have insisted the presidential election was “stolen,” although more than 250 local audits and a Republican-led Michigan State Senate Oversight Committee investigation found no evidence of widespread election fraud.

Dulio said the moderate Meijer is likely Republicans’ best hope to hold onto the 3rd Congressional District, which leans Democratic after redistricting.

“If Peter Meijer is to win the primary, he wins the district at least in part because he doesn’t have the Trump endorsement, and at least in part because he voted to impeach the president,” Dulio said.

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