When people discuss potential Republican presidential contenders, they either focus on those already enjoying high profiles, such as former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie, 2012’s nominee Mitt Romney, or a handful of well-known newcomers such as Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Some discussions take account of two-term governors with well-known presidential aspirations such as Bobby Jindal, 2012 runner-up Rick Perry, and Scott Walker, among others. Until now, though, one two-term governor has flown under the radar — and Michigan’s Rick Snyder wants to change that, apparently:
As of Thursday, 16 months after the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit will again control its finances and its destiny. The majority black city of 700,000 has shed billions in debt, and the emergency manager appointed by Snyder is stepping down.
The Motor City’s emergence from bankruptcy is a huge political win not just for the 56-year-old Snyder but also for his brand of technocratic Republicanism.
After a celebratory press conference Wednesday, Snyder told POLITICO that he plans a more aggressive travel schedule next year to “explain the Michigan story to the rest of the country.”
“As we solve these problems, one of the things you find is the perception of an area tends to lag five or 10 years behind the reality of it,” he said. “As we’ve shown the vast improvement over the last few years, now it’s time to start talking about the success in Michigan.”
Although officially the trips are aimed at promoting the local economy, they will also help boost Snyder’s national profile at a time when the emerging 2016 GOP field is anything but settled.
Of course it’s “anything but settled” — it hasn’t even begun yet. In principle, that’s true of the Democratic field too. Hillary Clinton may dominate in polling at the moment, but that’s a function of name recognition rather than actual political might, enhanced in part because Democrats don’t have many other realistic options other than a governor whose constituents just rejected his hand-picked successor (Martin O’Malley) and Vice President Joe Biden, who comes across as an affable goof.
It’s more true of the Republican field, though, in large part because the GOP has a lot more talent ready to make the move to the top. Snyder hasn’t drawn a lot of attention because of the sorry state of Detroit, and also because the state’s Republican Party couldn’t manage to do more than get him re-elected; they got badly beaten in a Senate race that looked like it might have been competitive earlier in the cycle. As James Hohmann notes, the rescue of Detroit was a huge gamble for Snyder in terms of his political future, although Snyder probably had little choice than to commit to it for his immediate future in Michigan. His opponent in the election last month credits the rescue for getting Snyder re-elected, and he’s almost certainly right.
Hohmann thinks Snyder may be aiming for a running-mate selection. Perhaps, although Michigan Live notes a CNN interview with the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin, who says Snyder has been overlooked as a top-of-the-ticket contender. However, Martin’s description of Snyder may make it clear why Snyder has kept his profile low:
New York Times political reporter Jonathan Martin, in a recent segment for CNN, noted that Snyder has not publicly discussed interest in a run. But he highlighted Snyder as a potential candidate who has not gotten as much attention as some other Republican governors.
“He is sort of a Jeb Bush-style Republican. Pro-Common Core. Very, very supportive of immigration reform,” said Martin. “But keep an eye on Rick Snyder of Michigan, one tough nerd, who won re-election in a state that is very Democratic leaning.”
That’ll cool any enthusiasm among the grassroots, but it might complicate matters for big-ticket moderate donors who are already trying to decide between Bush, Christie, and Romney for 2016. Snyder fought the unions to make Michigan a right-to-work state, a major reform that thrilled conservatives. The rest of this … not so much. The problem for Snyder will be that other Republican governors have achieved similar kinds of reform without embracing the other positions Martin mentions, including Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal. Perry has four terms as an effective and popular governor overseeing regulatory reform for economic expansion, for that matter, and Mike Pence has gone as far as Snyder has in reform for Indiana too, although Pence’s move on Medicaid expansion has dimmed the ardor for his candidacy on the Right.
The potential for a Snyder candidacy is worth watching, as will be his attempts to square his positions with the rank-and-file voters and activists in the GOP. Michigan would be a key pickup for Republicans in presidential elections, and the man who rescued Detroit might be able to deliver. However, it might bear watching as to whether Detroit has actually turned around, or is simply stringing out its issues for a later reckoning, especially now that local politicians have once again taken control of the city’s finances. By this time next year, that narrative may not be as attractive.