Trump in Michigan: 'The collusion delusion is over'

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
President Donald Trump addresses a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Grand Rapids — President Donald Trump on Thursday accused Democrats of “defrauding the public with ridiculous bull—” and challenged opponents to work with his administration after a nearly two-year federal investigation into his 2016 campaign.

The New York Republican used his re-election rally in Michigan to celebrate a summary report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence of collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russian operatives.

“After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead,” Trump told fans packed into the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids. “The collusion delusion is over.”

Tailoring his message to Michigan voters, Trump also announced he is backing off plans to slash funding for a popular Great Lakes cleanup program and touted his administration’s efforts to boost the domestic auto industry.

“Democrats took the people of Michigan for granted,” Trump said, noting his surprise win here in 2016, “but with us, you will never, ever be forgotten again. I am fighting for you and your jobs and your community with everything I have.”

MoreTrump backs off budget slash, backs full $300M for Great Lakes cleanup

The president repeatedly returned to the Mueller investigation, a topic Donald Trump Jr. also hammered on in introductory remarks for his dad.

 “This week’s vindication of my father, of me, of my family, is not just our vindication,” Trump Jr. said. “It’s your vindication.”

Both Trumps blasted U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and wants to press ahead on a Russian interference inquiry.

The president called him a “pencil neck,” while Trump Jr. argued the call for continued probes is “banana republican stuff.”

“Now that we have this ‘bull Schiff’ behind us, how about the Democrats maybe do something and maybe get with Donald Trump to keep fighting for America,” the president’s son said to applause.

Trump supporters line up outside the Van Andel Arena in downtown Detroit.

Great Lakes aid restored

Trump was met at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids by Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, John Moolenaar of Midland and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, state Rep. Matt Hall and former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

After a discussion with the congressional Republicans en route to the rally, Trump announced he would abandon a budget proposal to slash funding 90 percent for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a plan criticized by Michigan Republicans and Democrats alike. The initiative will be fully financed at $300 million, he said, as it has in recent budgets after Congress restored the funding.

“I support the Great Lakes,” Trump said. “They’re beautiful. They’re big, very deep. Record deepness, right?”

Trump also noted initial federal funding for the Soo Locks modernization project in the Upper Peninsula, a pledge he made during his last trip to Michigan in April 2018 when he backed more than $900 million in aid.

“Don’t let your new Democratic governor … take credit for it,” Trump said, referencing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Thousands of Trump supporters clad in stars, stripes and Make American Great Again hats crowded the Van Andel Arena after waiting hours in lines that wrapped around the building and lined several side streets in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Michigan Democratic Party held its own "rise above rally" nearby at the Rose Parks Circle to protest Trump's campaign stop.

“The 2020 election will be about who is standing up for families across our state, and President Trump’s record clearly shows he’s no friend to Michigan,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement.

“If Trump got his way, critical funding would be eliminated for the Great Lakes which is essential to our way of life and economy, millions of Michiganders would pay more for health care, and those with pre-existing medical conditions could be denied coverage by insurance companies."

Health care and autos

Trump noted his administration’s recent shift in an ongoing lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act, telling supporters “we have a chance of killing Obamacare” in court. He vowed that “the Republican Party will become the party of great health care” but did not provide details of any alternative plan.

“We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” Trump said, referencing one of the most popular aspects of the federal health care law he has worked to repeal.

The president also positioned himself as a savior for an automotive industry he claimed was “decimated and going down” before he took office, touting attempts to renegotiate trade deals and his administration’s decision to freeze fuel economy standards developed under former President Barack Obama.

“We took dramatic action to save the auto industry and to defend auto workers right here in Michigan,” he said, suggesting the moves helped create jobs and “prevented thousands more from being shipped overseas.”

The industry began growing again after the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009 and continued under Trump. 

Trump's repeated pledges to boost the auto industry and return jobs from overseas have been partially undermined by General Motor Co.’s plans to lay off thousands of employees and idle four plants, including Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Warren Transmission in Metro Detroit.

Separately, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is seeking state and local incentives for plans to invest $4.5 billion in five Michigan plants and create 6,500 jobs in Metro Detroit.

The president assailed GM last week in Ohio, demanding the automaker keep open its assembly plant in Lordstown that has stopped operations. Trump continued his pressure on GM and the United Auto Workers, again demanding they speed up negotiations.

Amid Trump's barrage of criticism, GM last week confirmed it will invest $300 million in its Orion Assembly Plant to build a new electric Chevrolet that was originally slated for production overseas.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said earlier Thursday that Trump's visit would be "overshadowed by his many broken promises to hard-working families."

"As a candidate, Trump came to Michigan and promised not one auto plant would close," Kildee said. "But two years later, multiple car plants have been shuttered across the Midwest and thousands of auto workers have been laid off."

Trump did not begin speaking until after 7 p.m., but die-hard fans Ron Smith and Todd Nordberg had stood in line since 3:30 a.m. after driving to Grand Rapids from Flint in the middle of the night.

“He gets us,” Nordberg, 54, said of Trump as he waited outside the arena. 

MoreReinvigorated Trump returns to Michigan for re-election rally

Enthusiastic pro-Trump crowds stretched across several city blocks lined with vendors selling re-election shirts and the ubiquitous red hats that have become the uniform of the president's faithful followers. The scene hearkened back to three years earlier, when Trump capped his 2016 campaign with a late-night rally in the West Michigan city.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes three years ago, making him the first Republican to take the state since 1988. His Thursday night rally was among the among the first of his campaign stops since the 2018 mid-term that saw Democrats fare well here and other Midwest states.

Michigan remains a focus

National campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called it “significant” that Trump is making an early stop in Michigan and shows how important the state is to him.

“Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were won by an aggregate 77,000 votes,” McEnany told The Detroit News. “So those are states we need to hold down, we need to protect.”

Trump plans to focus on jobs and the economy as he seeks to reclaim Michigan, McEnany said, and based on his history of campaign stops here in the last cycle, “I think it’s safe to say he’ll be back.”

Democratic presidential candidates have already visited Michigan, including stops last week by former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Early polls suggest Trump is starting his re-election bid in a difficult spot. In a late-January poll of 600 likely Michigan voters conducted by the Glengariff Group Inc., 31 percent said they wanted to re-elect Trump, 53 percent said they would choose someone new and 15 percent said their decision would depend on who the Democratic nominee is.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who led the Michigan GOP in the 2016 cycle, said the state is “of prime importance” to Trump, who has a personal connection here.

He focused more on Michigan than GOP candidates had in past cycles, “and it means something to him that Michigan showed up for him too.” McDaniel said.

While Democrats dominated Michigan elections in 2018, particularly in suburban areas like Oakland County in Metro Detroit, McDaniel said she thinks presidential candidates who are “leaning toward socialism” will drive voters back to Trump.

“I think these suburban women are recognizing that there may be a binary choice here, and Democrats are proposing a radical shift and a fundamental change to the way our country works,” she said. “I think they’re recognizing that’s not something they want, so I think we’re winning some of those voters back already.”

Dozens of protesters also lined up across the street from the Van Andel Arena, some carrying "socialist alternative" flags and chanting, "No Trump, no KKK,no fascists, USA."

Grand Rapids officials closed down several streets and parking ramps surrounding the arena on Thursday afternoon for Trump's rally, predicting between 10,000 and 12,000 attendees while warning of heavy traffic and possible delays.