Trump in Traverse City: 'If we win Michigan, it's over'

Beth LeBlanc and Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

Traverse City — As the sun set over Traverse City on the eve of the election, President Donald Trump continued his theme in Michigan speeches of warning about the economic dangers of a Joe Biden presidency for the Great Lakes State. 

"He sold you out" to China, Trump said of the Democratic presidential candidate. Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, he said, would "collapse our economy and send our nation into a very steep recession.”

The rally in Traverse City was the fourth of five planned rallies Trump held in Michigan in less than a week, repeating familiar themes from his other speeches warning of regulations, increased taxes, outsourced jobs, fracking bans and Biden's history of support for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

"If we win Michigan, it's over," Trump said, who was headed to Kenosha, Wisconsin and then Grand Rapids after the Traverse City rally.

As the crowd repeated his 2016 promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C., Trump noted the task was more than he anticipated and argued Biden was among the "decrepit and depraved political class."

"It's a deep sucker," Trump said of the swamp. "I thought we'd knock it out fast."

Biden was part of the Obama administration that helped the auto industry rebound from the Great Recession and has said he wants to create 1 million auto jobs by promoting electric vehicle research and development.

Trump and Congress replaced NAFTA in January with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which requires automakers to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement is an increase from 62.5% under the NAFTA rules. 

Trump spent several minutes of his more than hour-long speech acknowledging state Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, Republican U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet and John Moolenaar of Midland., Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel of Northville and GOP U.S. Senate candidate John James.

At one point, Trump brought James on stage, calling him a “great man” with a lot of potential. 

“I got him to run, and he got his feet a little wet and then he just took off,” he said. 

James urged attendees to vote Tuesday for a life that benefits “all of us,” telling the crowd “only you can drain the swamp.”

Both Trump and James took shots at incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters while on stage, with Trump repeating the claim that no one knew who Peters was and calling the senate “a puppet for crying Chuck Schumer.”

James joked that the president “was back in Michigan more in the past six days than Gary Peters has in the past six years.”

Ahead of Trump's arrival Monday, Vice President Mike Pence touted the president's policies on the economy, energy, religious liberty and law enforcement support.

Pence, who was joined by his wife Karen and daughter Charlotte, encourage the Traverse City crowd cheering in 46-degree weather to vote and speak with their friends about Trump's record so far. 

"Just look at ‘em and say, 'Who do you really think can bring this economy all the way back?” Pence said. "…To bring America all the way back, we need four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House.”

Grand Traverse County is Michigan's 22nd largest county by population, but is one of the largest in northern Michigan where Trump hopes to swell his numbers Tuesday. 

Trump won Grand Traverse County by 12 percentage points in 2016. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lost in Grand Traverse by about 1.7 points to her Republican opponent Attorney General Bill Schuette.

In the 104th District, state Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, was reelected by 349 votes in 2018.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Traverse City on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.

'Last chance to get things right'

Glenn and Christal Frantz showed up around noon at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City,  waiting in line for a couple of hours on a blustery but sunny afternoon before they were allowed to enter the stage area where Trump is slated to speak.

"I like that Trump's not a part of the normal way of doing things. He does what he says he's going to or tries to," said Frantz, 69, a retired mechanic and construction worker who lives in nearby Kalkaska. "He doesn't just give lip service."

Frantz and his wife, who was wearing a black Women for Trump baseball cap, plan to vote in person Tuesday. 

A longtime Trump supporter, Frantz said Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden "was not much," adding he believes the former vice president hasn't accomplished anything despite all his years in political office.

"I can remember when Eisenhower was in office," he said, referring to the 1950s. "We've been going downhill since (John) Kennedy was assassinated. I believe this election is our last chance to get things right."

Wrapped in a Trump flag, Jeremy Smith showed up at the rally Monday mid-afternoon with a friend. Smith, who wasn't wearing a mask, said he plans to cast his vote in person Tuesday for Trump.

"To be honest, my stocks have gone up more in the last few years than I can ever remember," said Smith, 20, a communications student at Lake Superior State University in the Upper Peninsula. "It's so great." 

He said Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden flip flops on the issues and continues to criticize Trump for his handling of the pandemic but has no plan of his own. 

"Integrity is important," Smith said. "Hasn't Biden run like three times now? If you lose, you should stop."

Austin Rowlader, a commercial furniture installer and aspiring writer from Bellaire, showed up to see "the spectacle" after months of hearing and seeing so much about the Trump rallies.

"You have to see it for yourself," he said. "I was curious." 

Rowlader plans to vote for Biden Tuesday because he said he has no other choice.

Surveying the people seated on bleachers and crowded in front of the stage, Rowlader said, "This is shocking. This is not what we're supposed to be doing during a pandemic. Some people are wearing masks, some aren't. They're all herded together."  

Wearing a mask, Rowlader stood outside the fenced-in area for the rally.

Still, the 34-year-old was impressed with the enthusiasm for politics during this election year. 

"That's why most people are here. We could be here for a lot of other, stupid reasons," he said. "This interest in politics is tremendous."

Other visits

Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Traverse City in August, when he touted the administration's plan to reopen the country amid slowing spread.

Michigan's COVID-19 case numbers have since grown significantly, and Traverse City was moved backward to Phase 4 of the state's reopening plan.

Pence's visit occurred as the state broke 100,000 cases and 6,446. The state neared 185,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,350 deaths Monday. Grand Traverse County accounts for 823 of the confirmed cases and 14 deaths. 

Trump is set to visit Michigan seven times since the general election campaign began in earnest in September. He has visited Freeland near Saginaw, Muskegon, Lansing, Waterford Township in Oakland County and Washington Township in Macomb County.

The president is set to conclude his campaign in Grand Rapids at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He ended his 2016 campaign with a last-minute stop in Grand Rapids at the DeVos Place convention center where he spoke to supporters at 12:30 a.m. on Election Day. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com