MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Donald Trump has long heralded Michigan as the crown jewel of his 2016 victory. But the president’s campaign team is increasingly grim about a repeat performance in the traditionally blue Rust Belt state.
After a midterm election that decimated the ranks of Michigan Republicans, Trump’s campaign is looking to other battlegrounds he lost last time — such as Minnesota and New Hampshire — that they see as more promising.
The assessment illustrates how Trump’s support in the Rust Belt states that propelled him to the presidency has softened, jeopardizing his prospects for a second term. While they say it’s too early to write off Michigan — Trump aides say the campaign still intends to pump resources into the state — a range of public polling has shown Trump in poor shape here.
“It’ll be tough,” said Greg McNeilly, a veteran GOP strategist in Michigan. Though the president overcame tough odds in 2016, winning the state by 10,704 votes, or less than 1 point, McNeilly expects Democratic turnout to be stronger in 2020. “Trump is the underdog,” he said.
With questions mounting about the president’s standing in the state, senior GOP leaders convened this weekend for the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on the picturesque northern Michigan island. The event drew Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, among a range of other GOP officials.
As lawmakers, operatives, and lobbyists traded gossip on the porch of the iconic Grand Hotel, many of them shrugged off concerns about how Trump would fare in Michigan next year. Jamie Roe, a top Republican strategist in the state, rejected the idea that the president would abandon the state as Mitt Romney and John McCain did in previous presidential campaigns.