In the two weeks of Michigan campaigning before packing up his tent and moving the circus to Ohio and parts South, Mitt Romney warned that the application of his Massachusetts health-care overhaul at the federal level would consume that part of America’s soul the auto bailout hadn't already devoured.
Gov. Rick Snyder didn't offer a full-throated defense of those views -- because he has said quite the opposite. But he did preside over victory, however slim, by the candidate he endorsed.
The narrow ideological parameters that define a presidential nomination contest generally don't constrict the day-to-day running of a state. But contrast what was said on the stump with what's being attempted in Lansing and you can see that Snyder is standing outside a shrinking Republican Party tent. Though a governor of Michigan, unless born in Canada, can be easily assigned a slot on the speculative list of presidential running mates, Snyder probably won't have to wait by the phone this summer.
On the ABC News Sunday morning gabfest two days before the Michigan primary, Snyder said the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that President Obama signed into law could work well inMichigan. He didn't disagree with fellow Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., that the model for it, authored by predecessor Romney, was doing terrific things inMassachusetts.
Given the media platform, Snyder could have criticized federal health care as a costly intrusion into Michigan’s state affairs, endorsed Romney’s vow to repeal it or simply regurgitated the current GOP talking point that its real mission is to tear down organized religion.
Snyder, instead, was enthusiastic about covering more than 1 million uninsured Michiganians through a state-specific exchange that would “create a marketplace with private people coming in, creating more competition, creating better shopping opportunities for people ... (and) be the Michigan variation that we think is really appropriate.”
It would be like Orbitz or Travelocity, he said. Not a big government menace out to trample liberty and deny Grandma her hip replacement, but a friendly little garden gnome of a program, but in a white lab coat.
Michigan House Republicans aren’t sure what the law is -- or what the GOP base would do to them if they were to endorse Senate Bill 693, which sets up the framework for a Michigan insurance exchange. Despite warnings from the administration about delay, they say they won't act until summer. Nor will they appropriate $9.8 million in federal grants to begin planning it.
That particular Sunday, Snyder seemed happier to talk about health care than the Bush-Obama federal checkbook that kept General Motors and Chrysler on life support as they sped through bankruptcy court in 2009. The results are now obvious, as quantified in the quarterly profit statements and monthly sales figures that contradict Romney's doubts that it was worth it.
President Obama plans to retain his electoral hold on the Midwest through the auto accomplishment. The Detroit Three’s journey out of the abyss, providing it’s sustained, also will be the biggest political gift Snyder is likely to receive during his tenure. But assuming Romney’s the nominee and Michigan is in play in the fall presidential election, Snyder will continue to be asked whether the guy he's backing was right to oppose a strategy without which his state would be a smoking ruin.
Snyder’s stock answer during the primary campaign was that he’d rather not dwell on history, but look forward. “The bailout worked, the auto industry is working and I’m not going to armchair quarterback it,” he said.
As for trains, Michigan can look forward to the benefits from more than $600 million in Obama administration high-speed rail funding for swifter Detroit-Chicago Amtrak service, which candidate Romney says he'd pull the plug on. Far from dismissing such investment as waste, Snyder said in May that "reliable, fast train service is attractive to businesses that want to locate or expand near it. This investment in our rail system is critical to Michigan’s recovery.”
Snyder and Romney share the characteristics of private-sector accomplishment, goal-oriented statehouse management and a stilted style that suggests the style transition from business to politics isn’t complete. But Michigan’s primary contest revealed the contortions required to skirt the perceived perils of moderation in the current Republican construct. Snyder acts as though the peril doesn't exist.
Or maybe he doesn't much care.
Either way, he’s probably glad the circus has moved on. But it will be back soon enough.
Peter Luke was a Lansing correspondent for Booth Newspapers for nearly 25 years, writing a weekly column for most of that time with a concentration on budget, tax and economic development policy issues. He is a graduate of Central Michigan University.