Donald Trump endorses Tudor Dixon to be Michigan's governor

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Republican Tudor Dixon to be Michigan's next governor on Friday night, ending a months-long and hostile inner-party fight for his support just four days before the primary election.

In a statement, Trump labeled Dixon a "conservative warrior" and said she is ready to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom Trump described as "one of the worst governors in the nation."

"Tudor Dixon will make a great governor and has my complete and total endorsement," Trump said. "She will not let you down."

Republican governor candidate Tudor Dixon

The three-paragraph statement from the ex-president at 8:13 p.m. was the conclusion of a battle between the supporters of Dixon and her four primary opponents over who was best suited to gain Trump's backing. Chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan once described the saga as "a knockdown, drag-out fistfight in a phone booth."

Trump's decision makes Dixon, a conservative commentator and businesswoman from Norton Shores in Muskegon County, the likely front-runner in Tuesday's election and lands the former president on the same team in the primary race as his former education secretary and GOP mega-donor Betsy DeVos.

"The fact that he chose to unite the party gives the GOP a fighting chance," said Richard Czuba, a Michigan pollster and founder of the Glengariff Group.

Dixon's high-profile supporters also include the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Police Officers Association of Michigan and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

"I am honored to have President Trump’s endorsement," Dixon said Friday night. "We will unite Michigan and defeat Gretchen Whitmer."

Businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township, one of Dixon's top competitors, has been running millions of dollars in TV ads, including some claiming Dixon is "bankrolled" by Trump opponents, referring to DeVos.

DeVos resigned from Trump's Cabinet a day after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters tried to disrupt the certification of Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election victory. DeVos has since acknowledged that she discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment with other Cabinet members to remove Trump before his term ended, according to CNN.

She recently sent Trump a handwritten note encouraging him to endorse Dixon.

"Your support of Tudor can make the winning difference," DeVos wrote to Trump.

Michigan's five Republican candidates for governor on the Aug. 2 ballot have spent months courting former President Donald Trump for his coveted endorsement.

Trump's endorsement also came a day after nine candidates he's previously endorsed in Michigan for other offices wrote him their own letter asking him not to work with DeVos. Michigan Republican Party Co-Chairwoman Meshawn Maddock planned to give the letter to Trump.

The DeVos family has been spending money to influence more than 25 primary races for the state Legislature this summer, including opposing Trump-endorsed candidates in seven of them.

"There is a war going on for the soul of the GOP in Michigan with Trump-endorsed candidates on one side and the establishment DeVos family on the other," the candidates' letter obtained by The Detroit News said.

Trump didn't mention DeVos in his Friday endorsement announcement. Instead, he focused on attacking Whitmer and touting Dixon.

"When I met Tudor Dixon, she was not well known, but I could tell she had something very special — it was a quality that few others have," Trump said.

He added that Dixon's campaign took off like a "rocket ship" after he recognized her during a speech at a rally in Washington Township on April 2. At that event, Trump singled out Dixon as "fantastic" and "very popular," but he stopped short of an endorsement.

In a race for the GOP nomination where no candidate has been able to take a lead that outmatches the percentage of undecided voters in most polls, Trump's endorsement represents "a seismic change to the race and ultimately is likely to decide the winner," said John Sellek, a Republican strategist and CEO of the Michigan-based consulting firm Harbor Strategic Public Affairs.

Republican Tudor Dixon and James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, stand with former President Donald Trump on April 2, 2022.

Dixon appeared to be Trump's favored candidate in the race for months. In February, her campaign held a fundraiser at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida. Trump spoke at the event and called her "very special."

Political operatives with close ties to the ex-president have also helped with Dixon's campaign. Among them has been Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Trump, and Susie Wiles, one of Trump's advisers.

"I think that we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t say that his endorsement will absolutely frame every race in America," Dixon told The News in an interview last year. "He’s the leader of the party right now.”

Soldano, Rinke and real estate broker Ryan Kelley of Allendale have all previously encouraged Trump not to endorse in the primary race. During a debate last month, Rinke noted that Trump didn't endorse Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin until after he won at that state's Republican convention in 2021.

"I am taking an approach like Glenn Youngkin did to win Michigan for the Republican Party," Rinke said. "And President Trump showed tremendous restraint and appropriately endorsed Gov-elect Youngkin at the right time."

Asked on July 15 if he could win the primary race if Trump endorsed Dixon, Rinke, who's loaned his own campaign $10 million, told reporters "absolutely."

Soldano issued a statement Friday night, saying Trump likes winners.

"I look forward to his support on Aug. 3," said Soldano, referring to the day after the primary election.