Michigan Radio analyst Jack Lessenberry moderated the discussion, along with four panelists:
- TJ Bucholz, President & CEO of Vanguard Public Affairs
- Scott Hagerstrom, state director for President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign
- Cheyna Roth, capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network
- Gleaves Whitney, presidential historian and Director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University
The subject of the discussion was "President Trump: A Michigan Report Card." The idea was to talk about how the first few months of the Trump presidency has affected Michigan. It started out approximately on subject, but once audience questions started I didn't think there was a whole lot specific to Michigan. There was some discussion of Great Lakes water protection, but otherwise the subjects were the same you hear at the national level: health care, overcoming partisanship, education, etc.
There was no doubt that this was a left-leaning crowd. No one raised their hand when asked if anyone present had voted for Trump, and the audience response was pretty hostile to much of what Scott had to say. Not too surprising for an event put on by NPR, though I noticed much the same thing in other political events recently (such as town halls for Republican congressman Justin Amash).
I thought Jack did well as moderator, stopping the discussion several times when it got heated and keeping the panel more or less on topic. He called out the panelists a few times when they dodged questions or tried to deliver incorrect information. Honestly, I'd have rather had him as one of the panelists, as I like the daily commentary he provides on Michigan Radio and I think he'd have had some good opinions to share. But he did a fine job as moderator, too.
Nothing that was said surprised me all that much. Scott supported much of what President Trump has been doing (when not battling scandals) and repeated many of the points he campaigned on. TJ provided a response from the Democratic party point of view. Neither said anything that would be out of place on one of the cable news channels. The other two panelists did provide some interesting takes on some questions, particularly some of the historical perspective from Gleaves, but they didn't get the majority of the speaking time.
All in all, an interesting evening. I'll certainly consider going to another Issues and Ale event in the future, though preferably one on a less contentious subject.