Was Geoffrey Fieger Michigan’s Donald Trump in 1998?

Joan Isabella

Neal Rubin

In this year’s presidential election we’ve seen a political outsider willing to slight his own party’s leaders attracting a large bloc of loyal voters who are drawn to his off-kilter style. This is a unique political moment for the country as a whole in modern history.

But we here in Michigan have already seen something similar to this Trump effect, according to Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin

In 1998, attorney Geoffrey Fieger won the Democratic nomination for governor, much to the chagrin of state Democratic party leaders. He went on to lose badly to incumbent Gov. John Engler.

Rubin writes in his column:

Like Trump, who will speak today at the Detroit Economic Club, Fieger had never run for office before he blew past all the predictable candidates and won the nomination.

Like Trump, he was a recognizable figure with a core of devoted followers, but an unfavorability rating measured at more than 60 percent.

Like Trump, he blithely insulted his opponents and the party insiders he needed as allies — though unlike Trump, he did it in complete, articulate sentences.

It’s the nature of the campaigns,” Rubin tells Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson. ”We’ve seen almost nobody on a national level like Donald Trump, whose campaign seems to be based on insulting lots of other people. And Geoff Fieger teed off on John Engler like nothing we’ve seen in politics around here.”

In his column, he says Fieger called Engler, “a slobbering, pork-driven man with his head down in the suet.”

There are some notable differences between the two bombastic figures, Rubin points out.

(Fieger) really has made a career out of standing up for the little guy,” he says. “You would not see Geoffrey Fieger attacking immigrants, for instance… Geoffrey would not want to build a wall, let’s put it that way. He’d be more sensible than that, more realistic than that, and just more sympathetic than that.” 

For all the bombast,” Rubin continues, ”he has a much greater grasp of nuance than Donald Trump seems to as a candidate.”

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio player above.

Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

This post is a part of 2016 Elections: Issues & Candidates.

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