On Wednesday, April 15, thousands of protesters gathered in Lansing to express their disapproval of Whitmer’s handling of the crisis. (The ones with Confederate flags should be deported to Alabama or, worse, Ohio.) In the national media the protests were either dismissed as farcical or else held up as examples of this state’s deep-seated misogyny (no one has ever protested male politicians, apparently). Whitmer’s initial response was to suggest that people who “don’t like to be in this stay-at-home order” might “have just created a need to lengthen it,” which made her sound like a cartoon villain. Almost immediately after Trump signaled his support for the protests on Twitter, Whitmer suddenly announced that she planned to begin re-opening parts of the state on May 1. This is a stark reversal of course, not only from the heavy-handedness of her recent executive order but from her earlier attempt to extend her emergency powers through early June. What has changed in the space of a few days that justifies such a radical departure: the science or Whitmer’s resolve in the face of disapproval that clearly extends far beyond Tea Partiers (who are not very numerous in the Wolverine State)? If, as many of us fully expect, a May re-opening does not lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders, her previous suggestion of immiserating the state until the middle of the following month will seem at best ill-considered, at worst callous. This is not strong leadership under pressure. It is desperation.
Only a week ago, 71 percent of Michiganders supported Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic. By Monday this had dropped to 57 percent. This is what free fall looks like. Her recent about-face may prevent her numbers from declining more steeply. But it is unlikely to prevent the presidential election in Michigan from becoming a referendum on Whitmer. It is still too early to say whether this will be a good thing for her party. Somehow, though, I doubt we will be seeing her on the national Democratic ticket.