WARREN, Mich. — Yes, they’ll vote for her in November, but many Republicans who attended Donald Trump’s rally in Michigan on Saturday weren’t gushing over their nominee for governor at a rally meant to boost the entire GOP ticket — especially the woman at the top.
Trump was in Michigan, one of the country’s most important swing states, to drum up excitement for GOP nominees Matt DePerno, Tudor Dixon and Kristina Karamo, all seeking statewide office against incumbent Democrats. But Dixon, the party’s nominee for governor, had the smallest contingent of visible allies, judging purely by the campaign apparel that people wore to the rally.
“I like her, but she’s not showing the passion that I want, where you get up there where you raise your voice and you see it in the eyes,” said Ann Clark, a 72-year-old wearing a red MAGA hat and a shirt with Karamo’s name on the front and DePerno’s in the back.
“I didn’t vote for her personally [in the primary], but I’m going to stand behind her. It just happened that she came up so fast, we weren’t so familiar with her,” said Lisa Olson-Marshke, a 57-year-old educator wearing a shirt endorsing Karamo, who is running to be Michigan’s secretary of state.
Both Karamo and DePerno, the GOP nominee for attorney general who is under investigation for alleged election tampering, are seen as the purer grassroots candidates compared with Dixon.
“Tudor Dixon has a lot of ties to Betsy DeVos, and I’m not a fan of DeVos at all,” said another rally attendee who is undecided on whom to vote for, referring to the former education secretary under Trump, who is also a major Republican benefactor and one of the primary backers of Dixon’s gubernatorial bid, according to MLive.
Even if she wasn’t their first choice, attendees who spoke to HuffPost said Dixon was much better than the Democratic alternative, who has been torched by Republicans for the state’s long-discontinued coronavirus closures. Frequently throughout the day, the crowd broke into chants of “Lock her up!” when Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s name was mentioned.
Trump spent more time reminiscing and talking about his former opponent Hillary Clinton than he did pumping up his candidates. The vast majority of attendees seemed to be loyal Trump supporters, sporting brightly colored, sequined or light-up MAGA gear.
“Let’s talk about the persecution of Donald Trump and the Republican Party,” Trump said before launching into a tirade about the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington that sparked the attack at the U.S. Capitol.
He called Dixon a “very, very good woman” and a “national leader in the battle to protect children by getting race and gender ideology out of the classroom.”
“Gretchen Whitmer is one of the most radical, most sinister governors in America,” Trump said. “You need to dump this wild-eyed extremist Gretchen Whitmer and put Tudor Dixon in the governor’s office.”
Dixon spoke before Trump took the stage, complaining that her opponent is running a “basement campaign” and not engaging voters.
“Democrats seem to think you can get away with campaigning in the basement. Are we gonna let them get away with that this time?” Dixon asked, a nod to Joe Biden’s scaled-back campaign during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the extremist GOP congresswoman from Georgia who flew in for the rally, called Dixon “a great American woman” with the “experience to turn Michigan’s economy around,” while Whitmer “abused your children with her communist shutdowns!”
To contest critical statewide offices, Michigan Republicans elevated a slate of nominees favored by the hardcore grassroots and endorsed by Trump. Trump was in Michigan to push them over the finish line after the latest polling has called into question whether they can appeal to swing voters in a year when Democrats are expected to turn out in force to the polls to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
“These people are not liberals, they’re authoritarians,” said Karamo, who believes the last election was compromised by fraud. “The office of secretary of state has never before in American history been so inextricably linked to our liberty.”
In what should be competitive races, Republicans are being vastly out-raised and outspent by their opponents, a sign that major GOP donors aren’t confident in their slate. Dixon, who raised less than a million dollars in the last fundraising cycle compared with Whitmer’s millions, doesn’t even have ads running on television a month before Election Day. Polls show Dixon trailing Whitmer by double digits.
“[Trump] is trying to help them raise some money and get out the Macomb [County] vote when the Democrats are decimating Republicans on the airwaves,” said Jason Watts, a GOP consultant of Trump’s strategically located rally in metro Detroit. “All the grassroots talk is that they figure Trump’s PAC is going to come in and infuse all this money, but it’s just not there.”
Dixon, who has touted her work as an executive at her family’s steel company, emerged from a chaotic primary that had no clear frontrunner and saw several candidates eliminated from contention after they failed to submit the proper paperwork to get on the ballot. The eventual Republican nominee, who is staunchly anti-abortion and pro-parental rights, was seen as the most electable of the remaining GOP candidates.
“No one who is being honest thought [Dixon] would beat Whitmer,” said Dennis Lennox, another GOP consultant from Michigan. “The whole appeal of Dixon in the primary was that she would do the least damage to the ticket in November, particularly downballot legislative candidates.”
John Sellek, a Republican public relations adviser and CEO of Michigan-based Harbor Strategic Public Affairs, said, “Michigan’s primary was like the governor and U.S. Senate primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
“A Trump endorsement put an outsider over the top but then they started the general election without a funded and equipped campaign,” Sellek said. “The GOP is seeking to change the general election narrative from abortion to education and Trump could potentially assist in that effort while here, depending on how he articulates it.”
Lisa Dolan, a 53-year-old who backs Dixon, said education, including how gender and sexuality are being taught in schools, is her top concern.
“I hope and pray” Republicans win, she said. “I don’t think we have a lot of strong Republicans, to be quite honest. At least not right now.”