“As in other states where pro-Trump activists are taking hold of the party’s levers of power, [in Michigan] it’s become harder to distinguish fringe players from stewards of the establishment.” – Henry Gomez, NBC

LANSING — The 2020 general election continues to loom large over the Republican Party. Nowhere is that more clear than Michigan, where Republicans are actively ensuring that the Big Lie will dominate the political climate for cycles to come. New reporting from NBC News details the vice grip the last presidential election has maintained on MIGOP leadership, the six extremist gubernatorial candidates, the recognizable figures that remain on the sidelines, and the base at large.

Read key excerpts below on what has become the defining factor of the Republican primary for governor:

NBC News: Trump’s Influence on Republicans Faces Key Test in Michigan

[…] A year after then-President Donald Trump urged followers to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and the FBI scuttled an alleged militia plot to kidnap Whitmer, the GOP has struggled to find a familiar or field-clearing candidate to challenge her in 2022. Many Republican leaders and voters targeting her for defeat are fixated on conspiracy theories and the false conviction that ballot audits such as the partisan one happening in Arizona will prove Trump didn’t lose in 2020.

“Do we even know who’s running?” Toni Shuff, 66, and her friends asked one another on the lawn of the Michigan Capitol last week at a rally for Convention of States, a conservative group that seeks to limit the power of the federal government by amending the Constitution without Congress.


Those already running are leaning into the far-right fervor of the moment, whether they’re echoing Trump’s provocative rhetoric against Whitmer or continuing to publicly sow doubt in President Joe Biden’s victory. On the latter, they see little downside: A new Morning Consult/Politico poll shows that 51 percent of Republican voters believe that audits like the one in Arizona will change the outcome.

“At this point, it’s irrelevant what I personally believe,” Austin Chenge, one of at least six declared but largely unknown GOP candidates for governor, told NBC News when asked if he believes the election was stolen from Trump. “The vast majority believe there are questions that need to be answered.”

As in other states where pro-Trump activists are taking hold of the party’s levers of power, here it’s become harder to distinguish fringe players from stewards of the establishment.


“Michigan and national Republicans’ repeated failures to recruit a viable candidate for governor is no accident,” Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, said. “It’s a direct testament to Gov. Whitmer’s strong leadership through this pandemic while navigating hyperpartisan obstruction in the GOP-led Legislature and a right-wing militia attempt on her life.”

Ronna McDaniel — the former state party chair, granddaughter of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, and Trump’s handpicked Republican National Committee chief — has swatted away the idea that she might run. Two other top Republicans, former Rep. Candice Miller and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, also have said they’re not interested.

John James, the losing candidate in the state’s last two U.S. Senate elections, is taking his time deciding whether he wants to risk losing three times in four years. Businessman Kevin Rinke accelerated expectations by criticizing Whitmer in a guest column for Fox News this month.

James Craig, who recently retired as Detroit’s police chief to prepare for an expected campaign he hasn’t yet launched, is attracting the most attention and has spoken with Republican Governors Association leaders eager to unseat Whitmer. But the political novice has been slow to build a team and reluctant to offer takes on Trump and other issues.

“I’m evaluating,” Craig said last week. “I don’t get too deep into the weeds.”


The other hopefuls, meanwhile, are working to assert themselves as plausible nominees largely by leaning into issues and ideas pushed by Trump and right-wing media figures.

Tudor Dixon is a conservative news host on the same network that features former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who has made adherence to the stolen election lie a litmus test for GOP candidates. She channels Trump on her campaign website with a call for “liberating Michiganders from lockdowns.”

Ryan Kelley, a local planning commissioner, is the founder of the American Patriot Council, a group that has called on Whitmer and other Democrats to be arrested. Kelley also was in Washington on Jan. 6 to support Trump but has said he was not inside the Capitol during the riot.

Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor, earned a social media following — and, he says, a Facebook ban — for organizing pushback against Whitmer’s pandemic rules. If Trump, a businessman and reality TV star with no political experience, could win the presidency, Soldano reasoned by telephone last week, a previously unknown leader of the anti-lockdown movement could, too.


Then there’s Chenge. The businessman, Army specialist and Nigerian immigrant is promising to cancel any state contracts with Dominion Voting Systems, a company at the center of debunked stolen election claims. He also wants to cancel Black History Month, a view that earned him some early attention.


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