MDP MEMO | James Craig’s Expected Campaign Reboot Reflects a System-Wide Failure for the Question-Dodging Party Favorite

To: Interested Parties
From: Lavora Barnes, Michigan Democratic Party Chair

“[James Craig] is doing ‘ready, aim…aim…aim…aim.’ He said again, “I’m still doing an exploratory committee.” When are you going to pull the trigger?…You’re either in or out.” — Jim Kiertzner, WXYZ-TV

After endless months of speculation severely undercut by his own July admission that he does indeed intend to eventually wage a full campaign for governor, Republican James Craig is officially past his self-imposed Labor Day deadline to start taking this race seriously.

This soft launch, “off-Broadway” dress rehearsal period has been clunky at best for Craig and the cabal of political insiders propping up his campaign. It’s why with less than a year to go before the primary, he’s already gearing up for a reboot before he’s even begun introducing himself to Michiganders.

This State of the Race memo from MDP will be breaking down the major failures of the Craig candidacy thus far:

1) Just like a typical politician, James Craig is dodging questions and keeping a limited schedule.

Since news of his political ambitions began to spread on May 7th, Craig has almost exclusively avoided scenarios in which he’d have to address the key issues that define this messy and divisive primary. Michigan reporters have grown weary of the home he’s made out of an arbitrary “exploratory” status that doesn’t exist — a weak attempt to navigate the critically splintered Republican party in Michigan. 

The only thing he’s managed to do so far is reinforce his “Hollywood” nickname, gravitating towards national cable shows and publications to echo “scripted, canned talking points” often regarding issues not unique to Michigan. This access has come at the direct expense of the Michigan press corps that has been held at arm’s length — and quite literally glass walled-off at events — through the entirety of his campaign thus far.

Additionally, he promised a statewide listening tour that by all accounts “apparently never materialized” in the slightest.

2) Despite the MIGOP building exclusive opportunities for Craig to introduce himself to Michiganders, he’s not providing enough substance for them to form an opinion.

Craig continues to squander opportunities to introduce himself to the Republican electorate as he leans heavily on the support of special interests like the NRA and corporate lobbyists like former Gov. John Engler.

MIGOP chair Ron Weiser, co-chair Meshawn Maddock, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, and several other electeds have touted their excitement and created exclusive opportunities for Craig to speak, but the limited and tightly controlled engagement has done little to improve his standing with voters.

Even with multiple press conferences scheduled this week, it’s unlikely Craig will come clean on his views of the 2020 general election, the January 6th insurrection, abortion rights, the bipartisan infrastructure plan, and a whole host of issues that Michiganders expect a leader to address.

3) Craig has both wasted crucial time for Michiganders to get to know him and created an opening for an insurgent candidate to upset his coronation.

Craig is in a crowded primary featuring 10 other candidates that have every motivation to out-sprint each other in a race to the bottom to determine who is the most pure extremist. 

Candidates like Garrett Soldano, Tudor Dixon, and Ryan Kelley have all made significant inroads with the grassroots contingency of the party, actively embracing opportunities to interact directly with voters. This key strategic difference is yielding dividends in straw polls at events across Michigan.

Garrett Soldano, who is currently the lead fundraiser, has been commanding sizable crowds for months.  At events he’s held across Michigan, Soldano has stressed he’s a “lifelong” Republican, using his conservative bonafides to appeal to the grassroots and drag the primary rightward with purity tests he thinks Craig won’t pass. 

In fundraising emails, Soldano has gotten even more bold with his characterization of the race so far: “the GOP establishment still believes they can coronate a weak RINO candidate who has never taken a stand.” He’s even skipping out on the much-anticipated Mackinac Policy Conference and holding his own counter-programming event to perpetuate the false notion of election fraud in Antrim county rather than watch as ​​the MIGOP “rig[s] the primary in favor of their hand-picked candidate.”

4) Political insiders’ push for Craig’s candidacy all but guarantees a disjointed base going into a general that is expected to be close.

Gubernatorial candidates aren’t the only ones signaling that Craig’s propped up candidacy will suffer significant headwinds. During his first political speech, a member of the crowd called him a “Trump traitor,” and conservative outlet American Greatness (which Tudor Dixon has contributed op-eds to) published a piece titled “Another Fake Republican Won’t Play in Michigan” that noted Craig was “weak on nearly every other Republican issue.”

Even if Republican party insiders succeed in getting Craig past this messy and divisive primary, they won’t have much time to pivot to a unity campaign that will be mission-critical to winning a close election in battleground Michigan. It’s unlikely that this crop of candidates will resist the urge to cry fraud and instead fall in line behind anyone post-primary, much less Craig who continues to dodge questions on his thoughts on 2020 and a wide range of issues.

The rest of the primary field is so zeroed in on the results of the 2020 elections that they’ve also failed to make their stances on critical issues like abortion rights and infrastructure known. Michiganders expect to know where their leaders stand on issues that affect them every single day. And should political insiders’ fail to successfully put their thumbs on the scale for Craig’s candidacy, Republicans will be faced with an alternate who has also refused to prioritize the issues that matter.

With each passing day Detroit Dodger James Craig refuses to give a clear answer on nearly every issue, the likelihood of his candidacy continuing to flail becomes more of a debilitating reality. No amount of campaign reboots will be able to serve as adequate window dressing to deter that inevitability.

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