President Donald Trump held a campaign rally at a private airport near Muskegon Saturday night, in a county that then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won by 1.5 percentage points in 2016.
Though the subject of the event was originally billed as “Supporting Law Enforcement,” by Friday it had been changed to “Supporting the American Way of Life.”
After mounting the stage and waving to his cheering supporters, the president explained what that meant.
“This election will decide whether we preserve our magnificent heritage, or whether we allow far-left radicals to wipe it all away,” he said.
In a speech that lasted 90 minutes — cutting it close with the rally he had scheduled in Janesville, Wisconsin, right after — the President hit upon familiar talking points (the border wall, casting China as the bully) while also singling out Michigan with tirades that were either threatening or loaded with inaccuracies.
Weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, the president criticized Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the pandemic, eliciting from the crowd chants of "lock her up," an aspersion reserved for Clinton during the 2016 election cycle.
In a tweet Saturday night, Governor Whitmer wrote, “This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop.”
This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop. https://t.co/EWkNQx3Ppx
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) October 17, 2020
The president also warned his supporters to “be careful of (Whitmer) and her attorney general, because they’re, like, in charge of the ballot stuff, right? So how the hell do I put my political, and our country’s political life, in the hands of a pure partisan like that, right?”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel corrected the president on Twitter, pointing out that it’s not her, but Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson who administers voter registration and election law.
Earlier this year, Benson sent absentee ballot applications to all of Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters, and in August a Court of Claims judge upheld her right to do so.
“You can bet our election will be safe and the vote will be protected,” Nessel tweeted.
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) spoke to the crowd before President Trump's arrival, and later tweeted that while "proud to speak in support of the President," the chanting directed at Governor Whitmer "was wrong."
Trump told his supporters to keep an eye on the November 3 election proceedings. Similar rhetoric from Trump has raised fears of voter intimidation in Michigan and other states.
1) In nearly every state of the union, including Michigan, the Secretary of State is “like in charge of the ballot stuff.”
2) I AM law enforcement. And you can bet our election will be safe and the vote will be protected. pic.twitter.com/IcOsZ1okV0
— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) October 18, 2020
Twice during his speech, the President suggested, as he has before, that he would find a way to break presidential term limits.
Responding to a chant of “four more years,” he said, “Now you really drive ‘em crazy if you say 12 more years, 12 more years. Then they say, he is a fascist, he is a fascist.”
During a televised town hall last Thursday, the President said he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost to former Vice President Joe Biden, after refusing to make that commitment for weeks.
Another theme of the night was the economy — specifically, the auto industry in Michigan, where Trump said “many factories are being built, already built, and a lot of them being expanded — it’s a whole different ball game.”
The Detroit Free Press fact checked those claims and noted that only two major assembly plants have been announced since Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
Biden campaigned in southeast Michigan on Friday, and told supporters that voting this year was more important than ever.
Before embarking on Air Force One for Wisconsin, Trump left Michigan with a similar message.
“Get your friends, get your family, get your boss. This is the most important election in the history of our country. Send in your absentee ballots if you have requested one. Or you can vote early by going in and casting your absentee ballot in person. Just make sure you vote.”