Cruz, McDaniel slam Whitmer during opening speeches at Mackinac GOP conference

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in his keynote address to Michigan Republicans Friday, comparing the Democratic governor's words to horse droppings.

The senator's address followed a speech from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who spent much of her time on stage slamming the governor. Their words came as GOP leaders try to get their party to unite behind the idea of unseating the Democrats who hold the state's top offices in 2022.

"When I arrived this afternoon I was immediately met by a horse-drawn carriage," Cruz said. "My first thought was, 'Oh crap, they’ve actually implemented the Green New Deal.'

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Friday, Sept. 24 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

"And then almost as if on command, the horse deposited something on the road in front of me and I was immediately reminded of listening to your governor," he said. 

The majority of Cruz's address focused on an "America in crisis" under the Biden administration and the "revival" needed to diminish Democratic leadership at the state and federal levels. He slammed President Joe Biden on immigration policy and the Afghanistan withdrawal, noting the importance of change at the state and federal levels. 

"Politics has always had a pendulum aspect to it," Cruz said. "Throughout American history, when one party gets in power, they go too far in one direction and the American people have a great tendency to say, ‘Hold on.'"

That change starts in places like Macomb County, the birthplace of the Reagan Democrat, Cruz said, and with Michigan-based leaders such as McDaniel and former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

"Michigan plays a critical role in helping this revival," said Cruz. 

Former President Donald Trump's four years in office refocused Republican priorities on the working people like steelworkers, wait staff and truck drivers, Cruz said. 

"Today the Republican Party is and should be going forward the party of working men and women, the party of jobs," Cruz said. 

The Michigan Democratic Party on Friday criticized the convention and said there was little that could mask an "already brewing bitter primary" for the Republican Party. 

"It’s not the makings of an environment that can be expected to coalesce around whoever emerges from this primary and put up a united front against Gov. Whitmer’s strong leadership next November," said Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party.  

McDaniel acknowledged during her address — one of the first of the conference — that she had thought about running against Whitmer in 2022. McDaniel said there are some bad Democratic governors in the country, but Whitmer is “the worst.”

“She is the absolute worst governor in the whole country,” McDaniel told the crowd.

A spokesperson for Whitmer could not be immediately reached Friday for comment. 

McDaniel, the former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, criticized Whitmer for not doing enough to keep kids in in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and labeled her a “hypocrite.”

She encouraged the GOP candidates running for the party’s gubernatorial nomination not to take the race negative.

“Do not beat each other up so much up that our negatives are so high that we can’t go win a general election,” McDaniel said. “Remember who we’re trying to beat.”

McDaniel closed by calling for unity.

“I know we have differences of opinion in this room,” she said. “We do. That’s OK. We’re not the Democrats. We don’t tell people how to think."

Michigan Republicans have faced severe divisions this year about how to handle unproven claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 vote and on what Trump's role should be moving forward.

McDaniel said, “Put your differences away. Get over yourself. Let’s start focusing on the Democrats.”