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Gov. Whitmer shuts down 2024 presidential talk but doesn’t hide her ambitions in timely book launch

Posted at 1:56 PM, Jul 08, 2024

(AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is releasing a new memoir at a particularly fraught moment, both for herself and for the Democratic Party.

Set for release Tuesday amid the frenzy over President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, “True Gretch” won’t do much to dispel questions about her national ambitions. But in a pre-launch interview with The Associated Press, Whitmer did what she could to shut down such speculation. When asked if she would consider becoming a candidate this year if Biden were to step down, she responded with a definitive, “No.”

“It’s a distraction more than anything,” said Whitmer. “I don’t like seeing my name in articles like that because I’m totally focused on governing and campaigning for the ticket.”

In the book, Whitmer recounts events that unfolded on the national stage throughout her career, including a clash with Donald Trump and a kidnapping plot targeting her and her family.

Her swift ascent over two decades — from law school graduate to Michigan’s governor — has established her as a prominent figure within the Democratic Party.

Her status was solidified in 2022 with a decisive reelection and her party’s success in flipping both chambers of the state legislature, granting Democrats full control for the first time in nearly four decades.

“I’ve spent the first quarter of this century watching as the arc of our politics has bent uncomfortably toward incivility and strife,” Whitmer says in the first pages of her book. Then she adds, “That’s why I decided to write this book: to put a little light out there in a damn dark time.”

Whitmer first caught national attention as the Michigan Senate minority leader in 2013. Before a floor vote on an anti-abortion bill, Whitmer abandoned her prepared remarks and shared that she had been raped while in college.

“It was terrifying to think of opening myself up, of telling this room full of mostly men about being assaulted as a young woman,” she says in the book.

More than 10 years after that bill passed, Whitmer signed a law as governor to repeal it, the same year Michigan voters enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution.

Whitmer has been pushing the topic of abortion access in her role as co-chair of the Biden campaign, saying he is on the “right side” of the abortion fight despite his lackluster performance in the recent debate on the question of reproductive rights.

“I think everyone has acknowledged it was not his finest 90 minutes,” she said in an interview. “That said, this is a man I’ve known for a long time and has decades of public service receipts that he’s delivered to people.”

Whitmer has said at campaign events that Trump could roll back reproductive rights if elected to the Oval Office. She famously sparred with the then-president over the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in her first term as governor. Trump's reference to Whitmer during a White House news briefing took off as “that woman from Michigan.”

Whitmer blames the former president for fueling the political hatred that motivated a plot to kidnap and kill her that unfolded in 2020. In the book, Whitmer is critical of reports that refer to the scheme as a “kidnapping plot,” saying it was clear the plan was to assassinate her.

Whitmer says her daughters have not returned to the private residence that the conspirators staked out and her husband closed his dental practice following threats.

“Nearly three years down the road, there’s no doubt that the apparent kidnapping and murder plot changed me,” she writes.

Whitmer says in the book she wants to meet with a handful of those who pleaded guilty to the charges in the name of understanding, “to ask the questions and really hear the answers.” There were five acquittals among 14 people charged in state or federal court

One of 12 female state governors and arguably the most well-known, Whitmer writes frankly about how gender-based violence, threats and rhetoric have affected her career and personal life. She shares heavy moments in which she told her two daughters about the sexual assault and, years later, the conspiracy to kill her.

Whitmer said at times it was difficult to return to those events in writing the book.

“I think my way to deal with it is to actually talk about it,” she said.

She writes about how she used to be a partier (she once threw up on her high school principal after drinking) before law school and her relationship with her own body. People from voters to reporters have discussed her appearance and what she wears above her policies, she says in the book.

She is unapologetic throughout, except when she expresses regret for going out to dinner at a dive bar with friends despite pandemic restrictions. Whitmer points out that another Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom of California, was also criticized, for going to a Michelin three-star restaurant during the pandemic.

Newsom’s name has been circulated alongside Whitmer’s this past week as a possible replacement nominee for Biden.

Politico Magazine reported July 1 that “someone close to a potential 2028 Whitmer rival for the Democratic presidential nomination” said Whitmer had said Michigan was no longer winnable for Biden after the debate.

Whitmer denied the report.

“I think it’s frustrating that there are news outlets that will publish something that a potential future opponent’s staff person would say,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer ends her memoir with 26th President Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” quote, with a colorful reference to her own affinity for wearing pink.

“The ‘man’ may be a woman. And she may just be wearing fuchsia,” Whitmer concludes.

Whitmer said in the interview that she shares the quote with her staff and it’s about “doing the hard, right thing.”

“But it’s a little outdated,” she said with a laugh.