MDP MEMO | As Governor Whitmer Gets Results, All Signs Point Towards Messy GOP Primary

To: Interested Parties

From: Lavora Barnes, Michigan Democratic Party Chair

While the radicalization of the Republican party throughout Michigan injects several purity tests into the gubernatorial primary, Governor Whitmer has been showing our working families that she has the dedication and focus to keep them first. Her strong leadership helped save lives in the face of COVID-19 with a robust vaccination program that got Michigan back to work quickly, resulting in the fastest economic recovery in the Midwest and the biggest drop in unemployment statewide since the pandemic began. Additionally, she secured major and historic multi-billion dollar investments in health care, public education, and roads — decisive wins for Michiganders made possible without raising taxes on anyone. 

Since the last MDP memo was published in April and with a few days to go until being exactly a year out from the August 2nd, 2022 primary, the political environment Republicans have created resembles a three ring circus more than a race with vision, substance, and focus as party infighting and a base ever fixated on lies about the 2020 election continues to divide Republicans and reshape who is on the ballot and who isn’t.

To that end, all signs show that the Republican gubernatorial primary will remain messy and divisive, as the following key dynamics continue to dominate the GOP field

  1. As party leaders in the establishment get cast out as RINOs, every last Republican capable of clearing the field has passed on a run.

To recap, the following high-profile Republicans have affirmatively declined to launch a bid for governor: Macomb County public works commissioner Candice Miller, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, former Michigan state House Speaker Lee Chatfield, Congressman Fred Upton, and former Trump Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra. 

This mass avoidant phenomenon comes in the wake of observing those within MIGOP leadership that have attempted to move beyond 2020 get quickly ejected from their posts in an ongoing “RINO hunt.” Former executive director Jason Roe became the latest victim of Michigan Republicans’ crusade to cannibalize anyone who dared call the presidential election legitimate, resigning after being “under constant assault from the grassroots” after five months on the job. In observing the state of things in Michigan, conservative columnist Nolan Finley noted that “the Trump personality cult is wielding outsized influence on a party that should be looking forward to a big year.”

  1. The Republican base only cares about far-right litmus tests, including loyalty to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Ralph Rebandt, Ryan Kelly, Bob Scott, Austin Chenge, Evan Space, and Articia Bomer have yet to catch fire in this primary – but their candidacies reflect the extreme rightward direction in which the Michigan Republican base has been headed. Stateside political operatives like Richard Czuba have noted that the GOP grassroots are “going to have an enormous influence and a far bigger influence than the establishment here. All the energy is on the activist side.”

In May, Reuters determined that 61% of Republicans reject the actual results of the 2020 general election and believe it was stolen from Trump. And despite President Biden winning Michigan by 150,000 votes, there is an endless patchwork of partisan and pointless strategies to undermine the legitimacy of our elections. Republican legislators are introducing bills to review general election ballots that have already been audited while moving to obstruct the freedom to vote with a 39-bill package featuring some of the most restrictive anti-voter tactics in the country. On top of that, counties that went to Trump by overwhelming margins have requested the state conduct a recount of their results.

  1. For this reason, the James Craig coronation is not going smoothly as the party insider favorite runs out of time to dodge questions on every key issue.

James Craig had a clunky rollout last week in which he jumped in under a legally non-existent “exploratory” distinction — the signature move of his head consultant John Yob — then hours later declared “I’m running” on national television, only to attempt to hop back into exploratory mode the next morning. Since May, he has dodged questions and refused to talk with voters and reporters alike about where he stands on the issues even as party insiders have built softball events to introduce him to Michigan Republicans and ensure a smooth coronation. There’s no doubt there will be more of the same through the rest of the summer as Craig announced a “listening tour” for August that presently has neither dates nor locations on the books.

  1. Garrett Soldano and Tudor Dixon are best situated to harness grassroots energy and will impose whatever purity tests they must in order to grasp it.

James Craig’s slow wade into this primary and months-long refusal to put a flag in the ground on any issue has created an opening for at least two Republicans as they delivered July quarterly reports that cracked six figures and maintained a burn rate under 50 percent. In working to establish some daylight between each other and Craig, they are already posing a litany of purity tests that all candidates will be forced to meet to prove genuine commitment to the base.

Current leading fundraiser and snake oil salesman Garrett Soldano has been questioned by the FBI for propagating extremist views, got banned by Facebook for ‘advocating the spread of COVID-19,’ and pushed nutritional supplements as an alternative to seeking medical treatment for coronavirus. After using bogus signatures and lying to the public to neuter a governor’s ability to respond quickly in a crisis, Soldano has consistently drawn the biggest crowds at campaign events he’s been holding frequently across Michigan in an attempt to cultivate a true grassroots movement.

Similarly, online commentator Tudor Dixon has shown that she too has a finger on the pulse of the base after making appearances at CPAC and staffing up with several alums from the previous White House. Also like her extremist counterpart, Dixon has made a home in the conspiracy theory deep end, baselessly claiming that Governor Whitmer “has decided to represent cartels” and “supports the abuse of children at our Southern border.”

  1. Additional Republican candidates remain tempted by the current primary climate and see no barrier keeping them out.

Despite the field already being quite crowded with nine candidates that have established campaign committees, anemic fundraising totaled less than $1 million among the seven Republicans that filed July quarterly reports to disclose. It’s yet another signal that this primary is on shaky ground and bound to shift unexpectedly over the next year. 

Those facts combined with Craig’s clunky announcement rollout makes for the exact type of climate that spurs those with the means to self-fund to jump into the ring. There are at least three Republicans in that category, ballooning this field to 12 if all got in.

Following the news that Governor Whitmer currently has over $10 million in cash on hand, Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke pledged to put up that much of his own funds in an “initial investment” as he grows more serious about a run. Rinke was approached by the RGA for recruitment earlier this year and has at least one staffer on board to communicate the textbook self-funder rationale: “It’s become abundantly clear that no other candidate can put together the campaign and resources necessary to defeat Gov. Whitmer.”

And in recent weeks, Michigan dynasty matriarch and former Secretary of Education during the Trump administration Betsy DeVos has gotten more deliberate about looking like a Republican in the early stages of launching a bid with appearances on Fox News and op-eds targeting Governor Whitmer’s staunch support of public education. Multi-millionaire business owner Perry Johnson has also been mentioned as a self-funder that could hop in.

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