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Donald Trump touts ‘fantastic’ Michigan Republicans, returns again to 2020

Republicans heard former President Donald Trump promote top Michigan candidates Saturday evening in Warren. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Trump urged Michigan Republicans to vote in November’s midterm election, while repeating conspiracy theories from 2020 
  • The former president praised Michigan GOP candidates Tudor Dixon, Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo
  • Saturday’s rally comes as absentee ballots begin to reach Michigan voters

WARREN—Former President Donald Trump rallied his Michigan supporters Saturday in Macomb County, attempting to build Republican enthusiasm ahead of the state’s Nov. 8 general election. 

Trump spoke glowingly but relatively briefly about Michigan candidates he invited on stage, including gubernatorial hopeful Tudor Dixon, who he called a “very, very good” woman attempting to unseat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

The former president also praised attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, calling him "one of the toughest lawyers I've ever seen,” and secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo, who he called "fantastic." 

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But Trump used most of his roughly two-hour speech to lambast President Joe Biden, Whitmer and other Democrats over inflation, gas prices, escalating crime, LGBTQ inclusiveness in schools, election security and ongoing federal investigations.

"If you want the decline and fall of America, then vote for the radical left Democrats," he said to a crowd of thousands at Macomb Community College, Sports & Expo Center.

While Trump encouraged his supporters to vote for Republican candidates, he also repeated his own widely debunked claims the 2020 election was rigged and said, “I don’t think we’ll ever have a fair election again.”

It was Trump's second political rally in Michigan this year, but his first since absentee ballots were made available to voters earlier this week.

Both rallies were in Macomb, the state's third-most populous county, and one that has played a key role in previous statewide elections. Trump carried Macomb County in 2016 and 2020, but Whitmer won here by three percentage points in 2018 en route to a 10-point statewide win over GOP nominee Bill Schuette.

Trump’s visit could help motivate “low-propensity” Republicans who may be less likely to vote this fall because he is not on the ballot, said John Sellek, a GOP consultant with Harbor Strategic Public Affairs in Lansing.

Trump has played kingmaker in Michigan GOP politics this cycle. He endorsed Dixon days before her gubernatorial primary win. He also backed DePerno and Karamo in their successful party convention fights for the attorney general and secretary of state nomination, respectively. 

But his handpicked candidates have so far struggled to raise funds in the general election. Whitmer has used a major cash advantage to finance a statewide television advertising blitz and has led many recent polls by double digits. 

While Trump lost Michigan in 2020 and may not appeal to moderate voters, there was little downside for Dixon to appear on stage with him, Sellek said. 

“The Democrats are already going to hang Trump around Tudor Dixon’s neck, or try to, so why shouldn’t she go” and help rally the GOP base, he said. 

“There’s no way at this point in the race that a new, fresh candidate like Tudor Dixon without a lot of money is going to be able to match the kind of excitement turnout level among a deeper group of voters that Trump drew out.”

The former president was joined at the Macomb County rally by several high-profile supporters, including My Pillow Guy CEO Mike Lindell of Minnesota and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who touted her failed effort to try to block Michigan’s electoral college votes in 2020. 

Speaking ahead of Trump, Dixon railed against Whitmer's emergency pandemic orders, arguing the Democratic incumbent set back Michigan's economy further than most states. 

"It's not just who she is now. It's who she was in the crisis," Dixon said, pointing toward the back of the stage at Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, a restaurant owner who was jailed for 4 days last year after refusing to comply with public health orders. 

"Can you be sure she won't do this to you again?"

The boisterous crowd appeared to revel in the criticism of Whitmer, twice breaking out into "lock her up" chants as Dixon spoke. 

Asked about those chants urging the arrest of her political opponent, Dixon told reporters: “I can’t control what people do.”

Trump’s visit is about “getting out the base,” Dixon said ahead of the former president’s speech. “A lot of our Trump Republicans have not historically been midterm voters. We’re really excited to get them out.”

On stage, the Norton Shores Republican urged rally goers to not be "distracted"qby Whitmer's focus on protecting access to legal abortion, which Dixon opposes except in cases where the mother's life is in jeopardy. 

Whitmer this year sued county prosecutors to delay enforcement of a 1931 law that would have otherwise criminalized abortion procedures in Michigan after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June.

But Michigan voters — not the governor — will have an opportunity to decide abortion rights in the state by approving or rejecting ballot Proposal 3 in November, Dixon said, arguing Whitmer is making the issue as a "bright shiny thing" to divert from her record. 

Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, responded to Dixon’s speech by calling her a "schoolyard bully on stage — not a leader." The GOP challenger "hurled insults and rattled off a litany of grievances" to distract from her own "failed agenda,” Barnes said in a statement. 

Karamo, a former poll challenger who gained a political following after alleging fraud in the 2020 presidential election that Trump lost, told Republicans in the crowd Saturday night that her bid to unseat Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is “so important” because it will decide who oversees future elections. 

The Oak Park Republican claimed without evidence that "authoritarians" across the country are funneling money into Benson's re-election campaign as part of a "nefarious plot" to "corrupt battleground election systems" so "they can control America."

DePerno, of Portage, used his opening remarks to attack incumbent Attorney General Dana Nessel over rising crime rates. He also blasted the first-term Democrat for getting drunk at a college football tailgate, which he called an "embarrassment" to the office. 

"We are dealing with radical cultural marxists who want to change your country," DePerno argued. "They want to deplatform you. They want to silence you. If that doesn't work, they want to put you in jail."

DePerno caught Trump’s attention in late 2020 when he sued over the results of the presidential election in Antrim County, where clerk’s office errors initially skewed results to show Biden winning the conservative region, before the office quickly reversed the mistake. A special prosecutor is now investigating DePerno and others linked to an alleged vote tabulator tampering scheme.

Karamo predicted Republicans will sweep the top of the ticket: “We will have a sweeping and decisive victory in November and take those three psychopaths out of Lansing,” she said, referencing Whitmer, Nessel and Benson.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township also spoke on stage at the Trump rally, along with congressional candidates John James of Farmington Hills and Paul Junge of Grand Blanc.

Thousands of Trump loyalists packed the community college sports center, many wearing Trump 2024 merchandise in anticipation the former president will run for the White House again in two years. 

"I love Donald Trump," said Michelle Nard, a Macomb County Commissioner who told Bridge the rally was her first time seeing the former president in person. 

Nard was elected as a Democrat but was wearing a Dixon hat and said she planned to vote for the Republican challenger this fall. She said she was turned off by Whitmer because of a picture the governor posed for with a scantily clad LGBTQ activist during a Pride Month celebration this summer. 

Dixon is "straightforward, down-to-earth and honest," Nard said. "She really wants to help the people, and she wants to keep American values what it is and what it's always been."

It was also the first Trump rally for Kelly Nelson, a pet sitter from Niles who called herself a "patriot” who wants to see Trump run for president again. 

Nelson said she made the roughly three-hour drive from the southwest corner of Michigan to see Trump, but was also interested to learn more about candidates like Dixon, who she acknowledged she did not know much about.

"Gotta vote for her, but she wasn't my first choice," Nelson said, telling Bridge Michigan that she had favored Mattawan chiropractor Garrett Soldano in the August GOP primary. 

“I don't know much about (Dixon),” Nelson added. “She never came to our area, but (Whitmer) has got to go.”

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