Trump: Michigan stands ‘at the crossroads of history'

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Grand Rapids — The working class is poised to “strike back” at the ballot box, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said early Tuesday in west Michigan, predicting victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton during a final campaign rally that stretched in to the wee hours of Election Day.

“We’re hours away from a once-in-a-lifetime change,” Trump told thousands of enthusiastic supporters who packed the DeVos Place convention center in downtown Grand Rapids.

The late-night rally, Trump’s eighth campaign stop in Michigan this cycle, served as an exclamation point for his aggressive attempt to woo blue-collar workers here and win a state that Democrats have carried since 1992.

Trump was joined by running mate Mike Pence, who campaigned Monday in Traverse City. Clinton also campaigned in west Michigan on Monday, and President Barack Obama stumped for her in Ann Arbor.

“Michigan stands at the crossroads of history,” Trump said. “If we win Michigan, we will win this historic election and then we will truly be able to do all of the things we want to do.”

Trump’s closing argument focused on familiar themes delivered with a determined sense of urgency. He hammered international trade agreements as job killers, blasted Ford for shifting small car production to Mexico and vowed to impose a 35 percent tariff on products from companies that move jobs south of the border.

The brash businessman reiterated his call to “build a wall” to stop illegal immigration at the Mexican border and said he would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that Clinton has said she wants to fix.

“The corrupt politicians and their special interests have ruled over this country for a long time,” he said. “Today is our Independence Day. Today the American working class is going to strike back.”

Rock legend Ted Nugent, a Metro Detroit native, warmed up the crowd ahead of Trump’s arrival with a rendition of “Fred Bear” and what he called the “Hillary Clinton National Anthem for her zombie supporters,” which amounted to a series of sheep noises.

Want definitive proof “Trump has the cojones to be commander in chief? He invited Ted Nugent here,” Nugent said during an extended and improvised monologue.

Thousands of Trump fans hoping to see the presidential nominee lined up outside the convention center ahead of Trump’s speech. The line wrapped around the building, over a pedestrian bridge across the Grand River and continued on towards the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

“I haven’t seen this since the Reagan days of ’80 and ’84. The intensity level is blowing out the house,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told The Detroit News. “It’s pretty incredible. Something’s happening. You can feel this surge, and I like our chances. I think we can win tomorrow.”

Clinton rallied supporters earlier Monday in suburban Grand Rapids, an increasingly liberal pocket in the conservative region. She urged voters to reject Trump’s “dark and divisive vision” during a speech at Grand Valley State University in Allendale.

A rowdy group of protesters gathered outside the DeVos Place ahead of the Republican’s rally. One held a sign saying “f--- Trump,” while another shouted “Trump’s racist” at supporters who lined up awaiting entrance.

“Look at what he’s said about Mexicans,” said Isiah Flora, a 25-year-old student at Grand Valley State University who said he plans to vote third-party on Tuesday. “It’s ridiculous. He says Mexico is sending all these rapists here. How can he give these speeches to these people? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Trump said Clinton’s Monday visit prompted him to make one final stop in West Michigan.

“I said let’s follow it up, let’s follow it up. I said there’s no place I’d rather be for my last rally, right here in Michigan, late at night and full of energy and life. Boy do we have energy and life,” Trump said.

Neither candidate performed particularly well in west Michigan in the state’s March 8 party primaries. Trump finished third to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in voter-rich Kent and Ottawa counties. Clinton lost both by wide margins to Vermont U.S. Bernie Sanders.

Trump and Pence have spent significant time in the region attempting to rally the conservative base.

“It is our time, West Michigan, to get out there and vote,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, who suggested the election is about “the next 40 years” because the next president could appoint multiple Supreme Court justices.  “It’s time to make sure all of our conservative friends come home. It’s time for them to decide between right and wrong.”

But both candidates generated large crowds here in the final hours of their campaigns, with Trump easily filling a larger venue.

“I like the fact he’s going to protect the United States, provide border security, end Obamacare and defeat ISIS,” said Mike Swierbut of Grand Rapids, a 70-year-old retiree, who carried a “Trump that b---h” sign and said he thinks Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton should be in prison.

FBI Director James Comey said, again, Sunday the agency does not believe Clinton should face charges for her use of a personal email server while secretary of state, but Swierbut said he thinks that’s because “the whole system is corrupt.”

Steve Murdad of Caledonia, 46, wore a Trump flag as a cape and a “border patrol” T-shirt to the rally. The snowmobile and motorcycle salesman said he’s concerned about Supreme Court picks and likes Trump’s plans for border security.

“If someone comes in here correctly like our ancestors did through Ellis Island, I’m all for that,” said Murdad. “But all the porous borders, the drugs, the illegals and all this stuff. It’s common sense. You take care of your own people before you take care of anyone else.”

Tami Austin, a 49-year-old nurse from Vicksburg, said she is a former Democrat who voted for President Barack Obama eight years ago but had grown wary of politics. She’s now planning to vote for Trump.

“It’s a fallacy that women aren’t educated that vote for Trump,” said Austin, explaining she has a bachelor’s degree and is not overly concerned by lewd comments Trump has made about women.“It bothers me more that we have a criminal running for president.”