Trump speech date still planned in Michigan

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The Genesee and Saginaw county Republican parties are proceeding with plans to host presidential candidate Donald Trump for a speech next month, despite an onslaught of criticism of the celebrity billionaire for bashing U.S. Sen. John McCain’s military service.

Trump has committed to speak at an Aug. 11 event at the Birch Run Expo Center for a $25-a-ticket fundraiser for the two county parties.

But the outspoken real estate tycoon came under intense scrutiny over the weekend for dismissing McCain’s military service because he spent more than five years as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said Saturday at an Iowa Republican forum. “He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Several Republican presidential candidates quickly condemned Trump’s comments about McCain, a Navy pilot whose plane was shot down in October 1967 during a Vietnam War bombing mission.

“Donald Trump owes every American veteran, and in particular John McCain, an apology,” said former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Air Force veteran.

McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, traded barbs with Trump last week, saying that Trump “fired up the crazies” with controversial rhetoric about immigrants at a rally in Phoenix. Trump retorted that the Arizona Republican was “a dummy” who graduated at the bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Michael Moon, chairman of the Genesee County Republican Party, said Sunday he would not back down from hosting Trump in the name of free speech.

“I’m not going to shut somebody down,” Moon told The Detroit News. “There’s no tolerance anymore. Everyone’s screaming for tolerance but no one has tolerance for even the people who make moronic statements. He has the right to say what he wants to say.”

Moon said he is supporting the presidential candidacy of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who declined to criticize Trump over the weekend.

Trump was the first of the 16 major Republican presidential candidates to accept the county party’s invitation to speak at a Lincoln Day event, Moon said.

County parties rely on Lincoln Day events with high-profile national speakers to raise money for getting Republicans elected to local offices, Moon said.

“I’m going to take the first person I can get,” Moon said. “... I don’t agree with what (Trump) says, but I defend his right to say it.”

Paul Welday, a former Oakland County Republican Party chairman, said he understands the need for local Republican parties to raise money, but thinks they should find someone else to speak to avoid the Trump “circus.”

“I think Donald Trump has worn out his welcome, frankly, if he ever had one to begin with,” Welday said. “Donald Trump is the wrong message at the wrong time and I hope he decides to skip Michigan. ... If it were me, I’d say ‘thanks but no thanks.’ ”

Trump, who claimed last week week he’s worth more than $10 billion, has resisted calls from fellow Republicans to apologize to McCain and tone down his portrayal of Mexican immigrants as criminals.

The Birch Run Expo Center can seat up to 3,500 and local Republicans are expecting Trump will command a large crowd, said Amy Carl, chairwoman of the Saginaw County Republican Party.

“There is no dinner being planned at this time due to the anticipated volume of attendees,” Carl said Saturday in an email.

Ticket sales are expected to go on sale this week for the 6 p.m. event and Trump is slated to speak at 7 p.m. Moon said tickets would be sold on the county party’s website,

Trump’s planned speech comes as the pace of presidential candidates visiting Michigan is steadily increasing. Michigan’s presidential primary is March 8.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made a two-day swing through Michigan July 10-11, with stops in Highland Park, Shelby Township, Flint, DeWitt and Holland.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to formally enter the crowded GOP presidential field on Tuesday, will make two stops in Michigan on Saturday.

Oakland County Republicans are hosting Kasich for their first ever “Calvin Coolidge Breakfast” at the Southfield offices of the professional services firm Towers Watson, according to the Oakland County Republican Party.

Later that day, Kasich will be the keynote speaker at a Lincoln Day dinner the Ottawa County Republican Party is hosting in Grandville, according to his campaign. The Ottawa County GOP is charging $75 for the fundraiser, according to a Facebook notice.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is coming to Michigan on Tuesday for a private fundraiser at the Grosse Pointe home of two of her supporters.

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The Associated Press contributed.