Trump paints himself as persecuted, and challenges ‘creepy’ Democrats

WARREN – President Donald Trump, visiting Michigan for the second time in six months to build his base ahead of the midterm elections, gave a somber speech Saturday laced with grievances against Democrats, characterizing himself as persecuted by enemies and the nation as threatened of rising prices, crime and the possibility of a third world war.

Describing Democrats as “cruel and vindictive left-wing tyrants” and calling them “sinister” and “toxic,” the former president urged his supporters to elect a slate of Republicans he has endorsed for office on Nov. 8. and warned that failure to do so could have dire results.

“These are dangerous people willing to burn every American institution to the ground,” Trump said at one point in the speech to about 5,000 people at the Macomb County Community College Sports and Expo Center.

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More:Gretchen Whitmer’s lead over Tudor Dixon grows to 16 percentage points in new poll

Trump visited Michigan as the most powerful national figure in the Republican Party and someone who has repeatedly hinted that he will seek the presidency again in 2024. But on a night when he was expected to shed more light on candidates running in state this year — namely GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, Attorney General nominee Matt DePerno and Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo, as well as others running for Congress or the state legislature — they played only a brief role in a speech that lasted about an hour and 45 minutes. There was also little discussion of how, as a matter of policy, Republicans could address high inflation, protect the southern border, or respond to Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Instead, Trump focused on himself and legal matters he faces, from an FBI probe into documents, some believed to be classified, found at his Florida estate to investigations in New York where the attorney general is looking into the financial practices of his companies , and in Georgia, where his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election are under scrutiny.

“Let’s talk about the persecution of Donald Trump and the Republican Party,” he said near the beginning of his speech. And for well over an hour he did.

He said the actions against him were politically motivated as a way to prevent him from running again in 2024, and he made allegations that some investigations were driven by enemies, including people who worked for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee , he struck in 2016, although he provided no hard evidence for such claims.

“I think they would like to see me in jail,” he said. “You know why, because they’re sick—they’re sick individuals.”

But he also said the efforts to hurt him actually helped him and his Make America Great Again effort, which he called “by far the greatest political movement in the history of our country.”

“They make us much stronger and much more united,” he said.

Trump calls Whitmer ‘creepy’, repeats election lies

At several points during the speech, the former president repeated claims that the 2020 elections in several key states, including Michigan, had been fraudulently won by Biden, despite the fact that no widespread problems or corruption were ever uncovered, no court has ever upheld the claims and a Republican-led state Senate committee largely rejected the president’s arguments.

He maintained that it was “a fake and stolen election,” and some of his endorsed candidates — including Dixon, DePerno and Karamo — continued to repeat many of the same claims. Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes in 2020.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have a fair election again,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, he criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who sparred with Trump at the height of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic amid her own stay-at-home orders, as “radical” and “one of the most sinister governors of America.” He said that during her tenure, Michigan has suffered the “worst crime wave” in its history, but offered no data to back it up. Overall, while crime increased across the United States during the pandemic, it has not reached levels from the early 1990s.

“Michigan, you need to dump this wild-eyed extremist Gretchen Whitmer and put Tudor Dixon in the governor’s office,” he said.

The former president also railed against electric vehicles — with Michigan automakers planning to bring dozens of models to market in the coming years — as something that would “kill Michigan’s auto industry forever.” He also tried again to take credit for fully funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as president — when what he did was actually reject cuts that his own administration had proposed for some years to that effort.

Many of these claims were ones he has made before. But there were other comments that seemed to go further than he has done in the past.

Crackdown on crime and an increase in contacts with undocumented immigrants at the southern border, he went through a list of violent incidents involving immigrants and said countries around the world were sending detainees to cross into the United States — without giving any for proof of the claim. He also spoke admiringly of what he described as China’s reliance on “speedy trials” for accused drug traffickers – with what he thought was likely to be close to a 100% conviction rate – and then executions.

More:In Detroit auto show speech, Biden links auto industry growth to American resurgence

“You have to have the death penalty, and if you don’t, that crime is going to go through the roof,” he said. “I really think it needs to be part of our platform… We have no choice but to do it.”

At the end of the speech, he spoke in a somber, menacing tone over solemn music, invoking the specter of World War III and painting a picture of a nation in dire straits, beset by crime and fear.

“We are a nation that has lost its way, but we will not allow this to continue,” he said.

Trump’s visit comes with five weeks until the election

Trump’s visit to Warren comes at a time when Whitmer and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson are ahead of their Republican opponents in the polls, and given that Trump saw his standing with suburban voters shrink in Michigan in 2020 , the timing of this rally — and the airing of many of the same complaints — came as something of a surprise.

On the other hand, Trump rarely changes his message based on political realities.

Certainly, the speech could serve to motivate his base of supporters who believe the 2020 election was stolen and bring in voters who might otherwise sit out. And Macomb County, a mostly blue-collar base of enthusiastic Trump support, is a key swing county — one Trump won in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections but backed Whitmer over Republican Bill Schuette in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

But the rally likely won’t help Dixon, DePerno and Karamo with voters who may already feel they’re too aligned with Trump.

Without a doubt, Trump remains the most potent figure in the Republican Party. Polls show that he currently has a comfortable margin over other potential presidential candidates in his party. He’s also running neck-and-neck with Biden in a potential 2020 rerun.

But there have also been cracks in Republican allegiance to Trump. Candidates for statewide office who have emerged from primaries in Michigan and other states by appealing to his most ardent supporters and repeating his unsupported claims that the 2020 election was stolen appear unlikely to fare well with a much broader group of voters in November.

Based on history, the midterms should be good for the Republicans with high inflation and an unpopular Democratic president. But the quality of Trump-era Republican candidates, combined with a surge in Democratic energy after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, has raised doubts about whether the GOP can retake both chambers of Congress.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

Contact Todd Spangler at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler.

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