Republican strategists vow to keep Democrat Williamson in debates

Payne Lubbers
The Detroit News

Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, whose New Age style of speaking earned notice in the Miami debates in June, has attracted a surprising contingent of supporters — conservative Republicans. 

Williamson, a self-help guru and best-selling author, has used a spiritual tone in her campaign, arguing that she would "harness love for political purposes" to beat President Donald Trump. In her closing statement during the June 27 Miami debate, she called New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden "girlfriend" as she pledged to make America the best place in the world to raise children.

Democratic presidential candidate author Marianne Williamson speaks  as former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper listens.

The performance prompted Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who ran the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to ask his 16,000 Twitter followers and fellow Republicans "to donate $1 to keep this vibrant democrat on the debate stage. One debate performance is not enough."

Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, took note.

"I thought it was clever and strategically smart, so I gave my $1 to the effort and shared it with others, hoping they'd do the same," said Anuzis, who worked on the Cruz campaign in 2016 and was one of 17 Cruz Michigan delegates to the Republican National Convention. 

He said he donated to Williamson's campaign to ensure she would be on stage in upcoming debates, including next week's forum at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. The following round of debates are Sept. 12 and 13 in Houston.

Anuzis said he hopes the public will realize that Williamson's policy prescriptions — which include support of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal — are not unique to her, but emblematic of the Democratic Party. 

"She's brutally honest with regards to her views and, unlike some of the other candidates who try to sugarcoat what I think is a loony leftist perspective, she lays it out there," Anuzis said.

Saul Anuzis

"I think it's not only good for Republicans, but also good for mainstream Democrats to realize how far left the Democratic Party has gone."

Williamson said Tuesday that while she doesn't know the political leanings of her donors, she is not phased by those who may not contribute money in good faith. 

"I think people are saying something like that to throw you off path, because what they're really saying underneath is how scared they are that I might be the nominee," she said. "That's what they really think."

The 66-year-old former leader of a Metro Detroit church received 127 donations from Michigan supporters in the April-June quarter for a total of over $14,000. This was the seventh highest amount in the field, ahead of more well-known Democrats such as U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as well as ex-U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas.

So far, the campaign has raised over $3 million dollars since Williamson announced her candidacy in November, according to the Federal Election Commission. 

Anuzis said Williamson's policies are not representative of what most Americans are looking for. 

"I think her support of open borders and basically unlimited support for illegal immigration is an issue," Anuzis said. "I think her support for socialism and kind of socialist approach to the economy is important to understand what that means."

Republicans are willing to criticize any candidate on the debate stage regardless of their views, said TJ Bucholz, president and CEO of Vanguard Public Affairs in Lansing. 

"It's all smoke screen. If there were three candidates up there, Republicans would call them socialists," said Bucholz, a Democratic consultant. 

While Bucholz does not consider Williamson is a particularly viable candidate, citing a lack of a substantial voting base and poor debate performance, he said Republicans are going to attack anyone they perceive as a threat. 

"I think at the end of the day, Republicans are terrified that a Democrat can topple Trump here. So they're gonna do whatever they can to slow down the Democratic nomination process," Bucholz said.

Traverse City resident Paul Sutherland is a self-described independent who had never donated to a political campaign before giving to Williamson in April. Sutherland said he supports Williamson because she's straightforward about her perspective. 

"I don't see much difference between most Republicans and Democrats. If you look at Biden, I don't think he's a lot different than some of the Republican candidates we've had," Sutherland said. "I think you have to vote for a person, not a party."

Republicans are scared of Williamson because she can inspire voters and create a movement, he said. 

"You have people that have this mindset that anything that doesn't fit in their box they're going to try and vilify. ...They get to people's hearts and minds and say 'she's a fringe this and she's a fringe that,'" he said. "But I bet none of them have read her website, none of them have read her books."