Former U.S. Senate candidate John James of Michigan is being hotly recruited by Republicans to run for the Senate or the House next year after a stronger-than-expected showing against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in 2018. But it appears that James has had an eye on his future since the moment he lost that race.
James’s campaign took down hundreds of video posts from across his social media channels almost immediately after the 2018 elections.
James’s aides removed all 100 videos posted to its Facebook page from his campaign’s “100 days” video series within weeks of the early November election. They also took down 99 of his 100 YouTube videos. Almost two-thirds of the videos were taken down from twitter in one fell swoop on Nov. 21, 2018. His 2018 campaign manager, Tori Sachs, deleted 45 of her own tweets on the same day.
The military veteran and businessman is a top GOP recruiting target. He has an impressive background, is a strong presence on the trail, comes across well on camera (he’s a regular on Fox News), posted strong fundraising numbers with little national help and over-performed expectations in his surprisingly close 6.5-point loss to Stabenow.
It seems like the work to clean up his online presence after that loss was a bit rushed. His campaign failed to delete six reposts of the Facebook videos, like this speech. One was left on his YouTube channel.
The social media tracking site socialblade.com captured the deletions:
James adviser Stu Sandler downplayed the import of the mass deletions.
“We took a few down to make it a little more user friendly,” he told TPM, while refusing to discuss whether James pulled them down with an eye on a future run. “There was no reason for [the videos’] content.”
The deletions do appear to be mostly prophylactic rather than because he and his aides were specifically worried about any particular comments he made coming back to haunt James in the future.
But a few of his more hardline comments could be used in the future, including his harsh criticism of the “monstrosity” of Obamacare and vociferous praise for President Trump in a state the president barely won in 2016.
“Our failure to repeal and replace Obamacare is the surest sign that we need new conservative leadership in Washington, someone who will go and work their tail off to remove this monstrosity that hurts businesses and hurts the middle class. We need new market-based, fair, and patient-centered solutions that will not infringe upon religious liberties and will makes sure that we have the best solutions for everyday people,” he said in one since-deleted video.
In another, he promises to support “our president’s agenda 2000%. That video was taken down from Facebook and YouTube, but as of the time of publishing hadn’t been taken off Twitter:
Day40: We MUST & WILL rein in a Washington bureaucracy that's out of control. I can't do this alone: https://t.co/eF8LV54o1c #MISen #LetsFly pic.twitter.com/mhA9fhsFjk
— John James (@JohnJamesMI) October 30, 2017
Michigan Republicans have been trying for months to convince James to run again in 2020, either against Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) or against one of Michigan’s two first-term congresswomen, Reps. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), with Stevens looking more likely if he opts for a House bid.
“Everyone’s talking to John about running,” said Saul Anuzis, a top Michigan GOP strategist. “He did a great job last time, built a tremendous amount of goodwill and name I.D. and built an organization. … He’s got to make a political choice whether it’s more useful for him to run statewide or in one of the local [congressional districts].”
Local Republicans have been joined in those recruiting efforts in recent months by national Republicans. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee have tried to woo him to run, sources tell TPM. According to Politico, President Trump himself met with James on Tuesday.
While Michigan Republicans talked up James’s future prospects immediately after Election Day, it’s unclear if this move was made specifically because of his 2020 aspirations. He was also short-listed by the White House as a potential ambassador to the United Nations, though he was passed over in February.
It’s unclear whether James will take on Peters or run for the House.
Michigan Democrats admit he could be formidable — “He’d be a serious candidate for sure,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) told TPM, even as he argued his allies would start with “a pretty clear advantage.”
But Kildee wondered why the campaign’s scrub job was necessary.
“You can delete it, but you can’t erase it from memory,” he said.