The Strangest Congressman
Think of his career as being like a rock band that was big in Sweden for a while.

Thaddeus McCotter


Betsy Woodruff

“It’s never quite as chummy and friendly as it seems at press conferences,” Corallo says of House Republican leadership. “Egos are big, people are always vying for the spotlight, rivalries develop, and, unfortunately, it can lead to roadblocks, particularly when you’re the number-five, not the number-one or -two person.”

McCotter didn’t have the aplomb to navigate the personality conflicts and petty rivalries that often have just as much impact on policymaking decisions as do concerns with conservative ideals. To do well in Washington, Corallo contends, you have to be fluent in small talk. McCotter wasn’t; he was at his best snarking at Greg Gutfeld on Fox’s Red Eye, not schmoozing with would-be supporters at cocktail parties and fundraisers. Plus, he had a bit of an ego himself.

“Where Thad always ran into problems was, he was all too willing to remind his colleagues that he was smarter than they were,” Corallo says.

According to one of his longtime friends, McCotter butted heads with other members of House leadership over funding and policymaking strategies, growing increasingly frustrated and detached over the course of his stint as the committee chair. Since he wasn’t able to accomplish his goals there, he decided not to run again for that spot when his term ended in 2011. Plus, he wanted to be president.

He announced his presidential intentions at that year’s Fourth of July festival outside Detroit and headed for the Ames Straw Poll, where he won 35 votes. The rest of his candidacy was predictably lackluster, and it baffled observers. But he had just enough encouragement to soldier on.

“He’d get these goofy ideas, and off he’d go, and people would go along with him,” one of his longtime friends says. “There was always somebody to encourage him along that path, one way or the other.”

Most sources agree that McCotter’s overconfidence in his staff was his Achilles’ heel. He had a weakness for people who appreciated his sense of humor, exchanged barbs with him, and were just as quirky as he was. “He liked people who got him,” says Corallo. And unfortunately for McCotter, those people weren’t always great at their jobs.

McCotter didn’t get invited to any of the GOP primary debates (a fact he often bemoaned) and dropped out of the presidential race before the end of September 2011. He later referred to the race as “the worst fifteen minutes of my life.” But things hadn’t even started to really go downhill yet.

In June of this year, the news broke that McCotter would have to run a write-in campaign in the August 7 GOP primary, since most of the 1,000 petition signatures he had produced to appear on the ballot were fraudulent. That kind of mistake — failing to meet a basic requirement that every other congressional office manages every election — left political observers floored.

“In the amount of time it took to gin up these fake petitions, they probably could have gone out and gotten the signatures legitimately,” Finley says.

In the course of failing to perform an ordinary task, some of his staff members potentially committed a felony. Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, a Republican, began an investigation to see if there was any criminal activity involved in the gathering — or non-gathering — of the signatures. He is currently pressing charges against four of McCotter’s staffers. McCotter cooperated willingly.

But things got weirder still: A script surfaced for a variety show he apparently wanted to host. It would be called “Bumper Sticker: Made in MoTown.” A staffer leaked it to the Detroit News, saying he wrote it “instead of attending to his congressional duties” in the aftermath of ending his presidential campaign. It would feature characters, named after his staffers and his brother, “spewing banter about drinking, sex, race, flatulence, puking and women’s anatomy.” He had S. E. Cupp slated as a guest star, and one of the supporting characters refers to her as “D. Cupp.” So that didn’t help.

And the next day, just over a year after he announced he’d run for president, the Michigander announced his resignation from Congress. He wouldn’t try to pull off a write-in campaign; instead, he’d call it quits and go back to Livonia for good. He quoted Bob Dylan in the statement explaining his decision. He cited the stress his family had faced during the previous month and a half.

That’s it. He’s stopped doing interviews and retreated to his family home in Livonia.

“It’s a tough story to pin down,” says a friend, “but if you can, think about it as a rock ’n’ roll song. That’s kind of the way he would view it too. Or the arc of a rock band that says, ‘Hey, we were big in Sweden.’ That’s where he is. He was big in Livonia, for a while.”

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.