Trump uses Macomb County rally to push influence in Michigan GOP nominations
Washington Township — Former President Donald Trump tried to boost select Michigan candidates running for secretary of state, attorney general and the Legislature in a nearly two-hour Saturday address that aimed to cement his influence in the Michigan GOP.
Three weeks ahead of the Michigan Republican nominating convention, Trump criticized Michigan’s 2020 election as “rigged” and encouraged supporters to ask each state candidate at the April 23 nominating convention “if they will support the Trump ticket.”
“If they won’t give you that assurance, don’t give them your vote,” he said to a crowd of more than 5,000 people at the Michigan Stars Sport Center in Washington Township. Thousands of other attendees stood outside of the at-capacity sports complex, mirroring the crowds Trump attracted at that location while president in 2018 and 2020.
Candidates and officials reinforced Trump’s message throughout the night and repeated unproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
“Donald Trump is still the leader of this party,” said Matt DePerno, Trump’s pick for attorney general against two other opponents. “And Donald Trump has come here today and said to every one of you delegates: Support Matt DePerno. Support Kristina Karamo.
“…This right here is the continuation of the MAGA movement.”
Saturday night's speech marked the first time the former president has visited Michigan since his election eve November 2020 campaign visit.
Precinct delegates will choose on April 23 which GOP candidates for secretary of state and attorney general will advance to the November elections. They also will select two nominees for the State Board of Education, the Michigan Supreme Court, as well as the Michigan State, Wayne State and University of Michigan boards.
The rally was flush with GOP gubernatorial candidates shaking hands and snagging interviews. Among the attendees were Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke, Bloomfield Hills quality guru Perry Johnson, Norton Shores commentator Tudor Dixon and former Detroit police chief James Craig. On stage, Trump singled out Dixon as "fantastic" and "very popular," but stopped short of an endorsement.
Current delegates were peppered throughout the crowd as Trump pushed them to support his candidates of choice and attacked those running against his picks, calling former House Speaker and attorney general hopeful Tom Leonard and U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer RINOs or Republicans in name only.
“He’s a RINO,” Trump said of Leonard, his former nominee for U.S. attorney in the Western District of Michigan. “He’s not going to do a damn thing.”
Political experts have said they expect the April 23 nominating convention to test the extent of Trump's influence within the party.
The Democratic National Committee said after the event that the former president's influence was all too clear as he "took the stage alongside some of the most extreme members of the Republican Party."
"Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party is evident as they stall progress, push debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and back an agenda that would raise taxes, cut health care and increase costs for American families," said DNC spokesperson Adonna Biel.
Trump doubles down on endorsements
Trump introduced DePerno, whom he described as “hated by politicians — the weak ones, the RINOs" and as a "tough cookie" who led the investigation into an Antrim County vote error.
In May 2021, a local judge blocked DePerno's push for an "independent and nonpartisan forensic audit" in Antrim County, where Trump handily won after the Republican county clerk corrected mistakes after preliminary results showed Democrat Joe Biden winning. A state audit that hand recounted every vote upheld Trump's victory in the country but only found a net gain of 12 votes for Trump.
And the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate Oversight Committee accused DePerno of spreading "misleading information and illogical conclusions."
“As your attorney general, Matt will defend your Second Amendment,” Trump said. “He will crack down on violent crime and he will ensure free, fair and honest elections.”
DePerno called Trump “the greatest president in the history of this country.”
“In the spring of 2020 Gov. Whitmer shut down our state, and some of us stood up and fought against it and never submitted to tyranny,” DePerno said. “If elected as attorney general, we will change this in this state we will restore this state, back to what it once was, a constitutional republic. I will return the office back to the law firm for the people.”
Trump also called Karamo up on stage, promising that as secretary of state the Oak Park educator would "clean up Michigan's election for us" and deliver citizenship and residency confirmation, signature verification guidelines and tougher voter ID laws.
"You're guaranteed to have a corrupt election, with your radical Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson,” Trump said.
“I am so excited to be your next secretary of state, to make sure that no matter who you vote for what you believe your vote counts and your vote is not nullified by an illegal ballot,” Karamo said.
Earlier in the night, she criticized the media for failing to scrutinize the November 2020 election more closely and slammed Benson as an “authoritarian leftist who treats the people of Michigan like the unwashed masses.”
“They tried to demonize us,” Karamo said of the media. “I have a right to scrutinize our government.”
More than 200 audits by local clerks, several court rulings and a Senate investigation into the 2020 election have upheld the results in Michigan, where Biden defeated Trump by about 154,000 votes.
DePerno promised to end mask mandates, vaccine mandates, critical race theory, Line 5 litigation by Nessel and threats to Second Amendment rights. He repeated vows to investigate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Benson and Nessel should he be elected attorney general and said Nessel was the only candidate in the election “who has been wheeled out of a football game because she was black-out drunk.”
“I cannot wait to debate Dana Nessel,” DePerno said.
Nessel apologized in November and admitted to drinking alcohol to the point of feeling sick and having to be helped out of the Oct. 30 football game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
West Michigan congressional hopeful John Gibbs, who is challenging GOP U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township, spoke of his work at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under Trump and his opposition to COVID-19 relief funds for the agency, advocating instead to get people back to work by ending “the stupid lockdowns.” Gibbs is endorsed by Trump.
He also attacked Meijer, calling him a RINO for voting to impeach the former president over the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump encouraged voters to oust Meijer in the August primary because of his impeachment vote, riffing on what he saw as the odd pronunciation of the Meijer name. Most Michigan residents are familiar with the name because of the Meijer family's supermarket chain in the Midwest.
What "the hell kind of a spelling is that?" Trump asked.
Trump targets Democratic leaders
Trump also took aim at Whitmer, Benson and Nessel on issues that included state-ordered shutdowns during the pandemic, the threatened closure of Line 5 and decisions Benson made ahead of the election.
He pinged Benson for her mailing of unsolicited ballot applications to Michigan voters, signature verification guidance that was overturned by a judge post-election, and the acceptance of third party donations toward election operations.
“Republicans must get tough and smart and not let them get away with the crime of the century,” Trump said.
While a judge did overturn Benson’s signature verification guidance on administrative grounds, other courts upheld Benson’s mailing of ballot applications and the acceptance of third party donations.
Trump reminded the crowd that Whitmer's husband tried to use his position to get a boat in the water in May 2020 during the early depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. The owner of a Northern Michigan dock company said Marc Mallory placed in the water before the Memorial Day weekend as Whitmer urged residents not to rush to the region.
"...He could go ice skating," Trump said. "He could do whatever.”
“I want to see what this guy looks like,” Trump said of Whitmer’s husband. “He must be a handsome son of a bitch to get away with that.”
Whitmer defended her husband at the time the boat incident became public by saying he "made a failed attempt at humor."
Trump accused Biden and Whitmer of imposing rules on everyday citizens "that they did not abide by themselves." In May 2021, Whitmer apologized after a photo emerged showing her at a restaurant with 12 other people gathered around tables pushed together in violation of her health department's epidemic order.
"They totally failed on the pandemic, and now they are trying to walk away from COVID like nothing happened," the former president said.
The Whitmer administration has pointed at studies estimating that thousands of lives were saved by her early stay home orders. But since the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Whitmer's emergency powers unconstitutional in October 2020, the Democratic incumbent has gradually shifted away from public epidemic health orders.
The former president then pivoted to Line 5, the 68-year-old pipeline that carries about 540,000 barrels of light crude and natural gas liquids that serve as a propane source to the Upper Peninsula and lower Michigan after it is processed in Sarnia, Ontario.
Whitmer and Nessel have sought to shut down Line 5 in federal and state courts. Legal proceedings have dragged as Canadian officials have sought talks with Biden administration officials because they argue closing the pipeline would violate a treaty.
“They tried to shut down Line 5 pipeline that provides 55% of all propane gas in the state of Michigan,” Trump said. “They want to close it. What the hell are they gonna do when it's closed? It's crazy.”
Environmental allies of Whitmer have argued that supplies of fuel could be maintained with a minimal increase in price.
Fed issues take center stage
Trump zeroed in on several federal issues for a large portion of the address, calling for the ouster of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as he described a country in desperate straits under Biden heading into the midterm elections.
Trump criticized the resettling of Afghan refugees in Michigan as he criticized Biden's Afghanistan military withdrawal. He also criticized the acceleration of inflation, economic setbacks and border policies.
“The stakes of this year’s midterm election could not be higher," Trump said. "I don’t know of a time we’ve ever felt so low, so dejected. And we have a president who has no idea what’s going on.”
“The choice this November is very simple: If you want high crime, high prices, high taxes, high corruption and high incompetence, vote for radical Democrats,” Trump said. “If you want a country that is strong, sovereign, solvent, safe and secure, you must vote for America-first Republicans.”
Later in his speech, he promised if Republicans retook the U.S. House and Senate that they would "immediately" end "every single COVID mandate."
During his presidency, Trump said he preferred that states set COVID policies instead of the federal government.
GOP weighs Trump influence
Ahead of the rally, attendees voiced support for the president but said that didn't automatically extend to support for his endorsed candidates.
Ty Paye brought his wife, son, nephew and family friend for Saturday’s rally as well as a longing for a return to the Trump presidency.
“Gas was low. I wasn’t paying $5 a gallon,” the 58-year-old Clinton Township resident said about life under Trump. “Everybody had a job. Groceries, I had money in my pockets. I got to go places. And now I can’t really.
“President Trump says what he’s going to do and he does it. And he cares about the American people and not their pockets. The Democrats, all they care about are their pockets.”
Marrah Madsen of Port Huron was similarly impressed by the president’s record while in office as well as his direct speech.
But the 45-year-old U.S. Navy veteran said that doesn’t mean a Trump endorsement influences her vote. Madsen said she’s a supporter of Karamo and gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano, a Mattawan chiropractor who gained a name for himself by opposing state restrictions during the pandemic.
“Some people it matters to,” Madsen said of Trump’s endorsement. “For me, it’s about the person. I do my own research, what I see online, what they say. … Your actions speak louder than your words.”
Sue Zerillo, a supporter of Soldano and DePerno, echoed Madsen’s ambivalence toward the former president's endorsement.
“His influence does help,” the 59-year-old Clinton Township resident said. “But the research you do on the people, that’s what I go by.”
Brad Bergman said he’s keeping an “open ear” and didn’t have “blinders” on when it came to endorsements or politics in general. But he was certain the Democratic officials currently in office were “not making the grade.”
“The governor, the AG, I know what they’ve done,” the 62-year-old Brighton man said. “I’ve personally felt it and I think they were wrong.”