MILFORD, Mich. -- Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., is running for president of the United States, and he wants voters to ignore the man and focus on the message.
"This is not a celebrity contest," McCotter told National Journal during a wide-ranging interview near his district office. "I don't play the personality game. We've already seen candidates who think money and media coverage is going to get them ahead, and it's just not what the country wants."
A fifth-term Republican representing the populous suburbs of metro Detroit, McCotter's unlikely candidacy for the nation's highest office seems driven less by his own political ambitions than by his visceral dissatisfaction with the Republican field. When discussing his unexpected entry into the presidential campaign, McCotter repeatedly alludes to the fact that "the public says they're not happy with the field and they're open to other messages from other people."
That's not to say McCotter doesn't have a platform. He's intent on restoring the "American dream" and preventing a "lost decade" like Japan endured during the 1990s. But when asked what makes him uniquely qualified to lead on such important issues, he reverts to criticizing the current crop of candidates for ignoring his issues. "They're not even talking about them, are they?" McCotter said, disdain dripping from his voice.
While many of this year's GOP candidates have proven reluctant to launch direct verbal attacks on their opponents -- often citing "Reagan's 11th commandment" -- McCotter was on the attack before entering the race. Last month he skewered the GOP front-runner, fellow Michigan native Mitt Romney, saying the former Massachusetts governor's policies are uncomfortably akin to President Obama's. "They are less rivals than they are running mates," McCotter said at the time.
McCotter takes issue with such statements being characterized as "attacks," arguing that intra-party contests were designed for drawing contrasts. "I think you have to show issue differentiation, and show which issues you think are important," he said. "I wouldn't say it's an attack; we're just pointing out where the differences are."
And with all due respect to The Gipper, McCotter seems to think 10 commandments are more than enough. "I know Ronald Reagan certainly wasn't talking about the 11th commandment in 1976," said McCotter, a wry grin emerging, "when he ran against an incumbent republican president from just down the road in Grand Rapids, Michigan" -- a sly reference to President Ford, whom Reagan challenged for the GOP presidential nomination that year.
McCotter is among Congress's more mercurial members, a no-nonsense policy wonk by day and a guitar-jamming guest on Fox News Channel's Red Eye by night. It's not surprising, then, that his politics take assume a similar temperament. McCotter supported the auto bailouts -- which likely saved the jobs of thousands of his manufacturing-sector constituents -- and is a rare pro-labor Republican, seizing every opportunity to rail against free trade agreements with "the Peoples Republic of Communist China." McCotter is undoubtedly hoping that such unique positions, which have successfully endeared him to a considerable remnant of Reagan Democrats in his industrial-heavy district, could appeal to an uncommitted segment of the electorate.
But McCotter envisions for himself a higher ceiling, and talks of boasting a wider appeal than his GOP rivals. "I'll take the support of anybody who marches beneath or besides the Republican banner," he says. "I'm not going to segment what could be a winning coalition for the Republican Party against President Obama, and I think that's a mistake a lot of people have made. It doesn't matter to me whether you're a tea party person, a Reagan Democrat or a rank-and-file Republican; why narrow down the potential audience? I'm targeting the American people."
But every message needs an effective messenger and that's where McCotter could encounter difficulty. It's easy to understand why he would prefer the election not be a beauty contest; the 45-year-old is long, lean and balding, with a reticent smirk and a speaking style built on short, articulate bursts that are heavy on policy but light on personality. Last week McCotter's hometown newspaper, the Oakland Press, labeled him "cold, arrogant and egotistical."
But McCotter doesn't seem terribly concerned. "I don't worry about me; I'm not casting myself as anything here," McCotter said. "I want voters to think about the message we're putting out. If people like it they like it; they'll unite behind it. If they don't, then it could be a very short trip."