LANSING, Mich. — President Donald Trump returned to battleground Michigan on Tuesday and so did his supporters’ chants of “lock her up” about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
About 35 minutes into the president’s speech, he described the election as a choice between a “Trump boom” and a “Biden lockdown,” referring to Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re already locked down,” Trump then said as the crowd began chanting, “Lock her up.”
The president then said, “I don’t comment on that,” adding that if he did, the media would criticize him for leading the chant.
The president last visited Michigan on Oct. 17 for a rally that drew thousands in Muskegon. At one point, the crowd at that event chanted “lock her up,” referring to Whitmer, as Trump criticized her restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.
The Muskegon “lock her up” chant came less than two weeks after authorities revealed an alleged plot to kidnap the Democratic governor, who resides in Lansing.
Whitmer responded to the chant on Twitter: “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.”
In Lansing, Trump noted that his appointees — the U.S. attorneys for Detroit and Grand Rapids — filed the charges against six of the 14 defendants who are accused in the alleged kidnapping scheme. But the president indicated the defendants could be found innocent at trial.
“It was our people that helped her out with her problem,” the president said. “We’ll have to see if it’s a problem, right? People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t.”
The Whitmer campaign immediately sent out a fundraising email that said Trump “just doubled down on his attacks against Gretchen — and we need to respond. Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous to our country and dangerous to our leaders, like Gretchen, who are doing everything they can to keep us safe during these times.”
The email from “Team Whitmer” requested a donation “to defend Michigan and return decency to the White House on November 3.” The governor is a national co-chair for Biden’s campaign.
With temperatures in the 30s, light rain falling and COVID-19 cases on the rise in the state, the line into the Lansing event at about noon appeared to be longer than the lines for the president’s last two stops in Michigan. In addition to Muskegon, he visited Freeland on Sept. 10.
Jordan Brown of Lansing said he didn’t mind the rain as he entered the outdoor venue for Trump’s speech near an airport hangar. Brown contended that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would “fundamentally change” the country.
“I feel like our freedom is at stake here,” Brown said.
Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally. Both he and Biden are targeting the state ahead of Election Day as polling has found the former vice president with a lead.
Biden’s was up 9 percentage points over Trump, according to a poll by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV of 600 likely voters in the four days following the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland. The survey had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 points.
But Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican Nation Committee, said Tuesday the race in Michigan is closer than the public polling indicates.
“We’re looking at the raw data, the numbers coming in and the votes left outstanding,” she said. “It’s going to be a turnout race.”
McDaniel, a Michigan resident, said Trump had “delivered” for voters in the state. She highlighted tax cuts imposed by the president and the the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, his replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“The crowd is massive. And it’s freezing. And it’s raining,” McDaniel said of the crowd in Lansing.
McDaniel and Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, spoke ahead of Trump on Tuesday. Rock musician Ted Nugent also performed for the crowd.
“I should be in a tree stand or duck blind, but I would give up anything to get this great president elected again,” Nugent said. “Because without him, we aren’t America anymore.”
James, a businessman from Farmington Hills who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2018, said Republicans had no one to blame but themselves for losing the gubernatorial race and other statewide contests in 2018. Democrats had presidential-year level turnout in that mid-term election, he said.
“The time is now,” James told the crowd. “We have seven days. We need to show up. Democrats are showing up. You want to talk a big game? You’ve got to show up.”
Vice President Mike Pence will visit Flint on Wednesday. And Biden will be back in the state on Saturday, three days before the election.
Trump’s stop in Lansing on Tuesday comes as COVID-19 cases in Michigan, other Midwestern states and parts of the rest of the country are surging upward. Michigan reported its first cases of the virus on March 10, but the state disclosed the most new cases of any week last week at 13,129. It was the second straight record-setting week.
In a Tuesday press briefing, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said Trump was trying to “wish” away the virus. She contended that it was “reckless” and “irresponsible” for him to hold a large rally with many people not wearing masks during the pandemic.
“I find it continually shocking to see what he’s doing,” Stabenow said.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said Michigan is seeing a second wave of COVID-19 and it needs to be taken seriously.
“Lansing needs a president right now who supports us,” said Schor, a Democrat. “We need a president with a plan for COVID response.”
Trump and Whitmer have clashed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican president has criticized her stay-at-home order and other restrictions. The governor has called for a national strategy to respond to the virus.
Trump targeted the Democratic governor during the presidential debate in Nashville on Thursday.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally at Muskegon County Airport in Muskegon on Oct. 17, 2020. Trump is scheduled to make a campaign stop Wednesday at the Lansing airport.
“Take a look at what’s happening with your friend in Michigan, where her husband is the only one allowed to do anything,” Trump said. “It’s been like a prison. Now, it was just ruled unconstitutional.”
The president was referring to the Michigan Supreme Court’s effectively striking down the governor’s use of emergency powers on Oct. 2 and Whitmer’s husband, Marc Mallory. He sought to have his boat launched in May during the pandemic. Mallory called a company and asked whether the fact he was married to the governor could get his boat installed more quickly.
Whitmer said later that her husband had “made a failed attempt at humor” in asking for the installation of his boat to be sped up. Whitmer imposed strict policies, including a stay-at-home order, to try to halt the virus’s spread in Michigan. In recent months, she had eased many of them before the court’s ruling.
In June, researchers at Imperial College London and Oxford University found that states that were more successful at keeping people at home were also more successful at reducing the spread of COVID-19. And mobility decreased more in Michigan under Whitmer’s stay-home orders than in any other Great Lakes states — or most states in the United States, according to the study.
©2020 The Detroit News