In March 2021, Ron Weiser, co-chair of the Michigan GOP, addressed the Republican Club of Oakland County, not far from where I live.
It’s hard to overstate the lunacy of Michigan Republicans at that point, many of whom were up to their eyeballs in election denial, some of whom were suspects in election-related crimes, and sixteen of whom are now under federal investigation as fake electors.
But in his speech, Weiser — who had himself narrowly escaped being charged with campaign finance violations — decided to bring some snark:
“… Our job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure that when we have good candidates to run against them, that they are ready for the burning at the stake.”
The “three witches” he was referring to, of course, were the three Democrats who had steered Michigan through the pandemic:
Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Attorney General Dana Nessel. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
All women. All with national spotlights. All smarter than anyone in that clubhouse. Surely Weiser agonized over the first letter of ‘witches.’
There was plenty of rueful laughter at the time, and all three of the so-called witches trolled right back, in witty and biting fashion. They even posed together in witch hats.
But it wasn’t that funny. Mostly because Weiser’s clumsy metaphor, “burning at the stake,” seemed somehow less metaphorical in the wake of a militia plot to kidnap and assassinate Whitmer. In today’s GOP, this is what passes for a hoot.
When we moved to Michigan in 2017, the state was effectively red. Trump was president. Republican Rick Snyder was governor. The GOP controlled both houses of the state legislature, as they had since 1984.
But the presidential election of 2016 proved to be a wake-up call for Michigan Democrats, thousands of whom were mortified that their state had so infamously gone for Trump. Too many had either stayed home that year, or foolishly voted for a third party, and were still embarrassed about it.
So by the 2018 midterms, Democratic voters were ready to get feisty. Repulsed by all things Trump, they turned out in big numbers. It didn’t turn the state blue, but all three of our witches-to-be were by then well-positioned to ride that amazing blue wave — on broomsticks, perhaps? — and all three won convincingly.
But there was something else on the ballot in 2018, a statewide referendum that gained scant national attention at the time, but which passed by an overwhelming margin, and whose game-changing significance is only now becoming clear.
It was an anti-gerrymandering measure, a possible model for other states. It created a nonpartisan redistricting commission, with both the resources and the power to redraw the electoral maps to better reflect something other than Republican power grabs. In the midterms two weeks ago, those new maps mattered.
But 2018 was the year Michigan voters dipped their toe into Democratic waters, and found they sort of liked it. Whitmer, Benson, and Nessel were all super-competent, media-friendly, and allergic to bullshit.
They were already a hit by the time Covid struck in 2020. And how lucky we were to have Whitmer — as opposed to some dimwit Republican — in charge of our public health. Even so, the GOP attacked her early and often for having the nerve to save their lives.
It was a great deal for them. Whitmer got to make the tough decisions, while they got to trash her. She got to take common-sense, science-driven steps to protect our communities, while they got to whine about personal freedom.
As usual, they excused themselves from governing, and took responsibility for nothing. Widespread death never seemed to concern them.
But hey, that was then.
Cut to two weeks ago, when Michigan gleefully flipped both houses of the legislature for the first time in forty years. Plus, we enshrined both abortion rights and voting rights in our state constitution. Plus, we prevented election deniers from gaining any kind of power in the state.
But what we did most of all was re-elect the Three Witches, all of whom are now rising stars in the Democratic Party. Whitmer is already regarded as presidential material. Nessel could someday get Merrick Garland’s job. Benson could be a governor, senator, congresswoman, or cabinet member.
Then there’s Mallory McMorrow, my state senator, who went mega-viral last summer when she took a rhetorical blowtorch to a fellow senator who had, in effect, accused her of pedophilia. This gave her both a national profile and a fund-raising platform that put millions into the war chests of other candidates for the legislature.
Add her to the Three Witches, and it’s clear that Michigan is now turning out some of the most talented and capable political figures of this new generation.
They crushed every one of Weiser’s “good candidates,” who were, it must be said, three of the worst election-denying, Roe-bashing, book-banning, Trump-addled nutjobs you could find anywhere in the country.
But let’s also acknowledge — admiringly, but cautiously — that this was also the year Democrats happily indulged in some skulduggery of their own. Being Democrats, they did it out in the open, but even so, pundits nationwide clutched their pearls at the thought of Democratic “meddling” in the Michigan GOP primary last summer.
The goal was to get Republican primary voters to dump the incumbent congressman from Grand Rapids — Peter Meijer, one of the few Republicans who had voted to impeach Trump — and get them to vote instead for the Trump-backed tool, John Gibbs. The thinking — correct, as it turned out — was that Gibbs would have zero chance in the general.
So the Democrats ran ads that simply showed Gibbs for the nutjob he was, loudly proclaiming him “too extreme for Michigan.” It was just the kind of ad Meijer himself might have run against Gibbs, if he didn’t know exactly what the Democrats had figured out — that Republican voters would see “too extreme” as an asset, not a liability. Gibbs could’ve used it as a slogan, and Meijer never had a chance.
Sure enough, Gibbs won the primary, then got demolished in the general by the Democrat, Hillary Scholten. Which is how the congressional seat from Grand Rapids — no hotbed of liberalism — was flipped blue.
So it’s safe to say that in a midterm that was generally good for Democrats, Michigan in particular kicked ass.
Whitmer, Nessel, Benson, and McMorrow are now rock stars. The legislature is in rational hands for the first time in forever. Abortion and voting rights are secure, at least for now. And all the election deniers have — counterintuitively — conceded defeat.
The how and why of these results are still being analyzed exhaustively, but for me, there’s only one logical explanation: witchcraft.