Updated: Trump repeatedly attacks Whitmer during rally in governor’s hometown

By: - October 27, 2020 4:56 pm

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, and is escorted to Air Force One by U.S. Air Force personnel. | Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour via Flickr Public Domain

Updated, 10:52 p.m., 10/27/20

President Donald Trump attacked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer four times during a rally in Lansing on Tuesday, relying on false claims about the state of Michigan being “locked up like a prison.”

“Your governor is a disaster. They’ve got to open up this state,” Trump said. “And she’s got to keep her husband away from sailing and fishing. The only one that’s free in your state is her husband.”

Trump also made this false claim at the last debate. Michigan has not had a stay-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic since early June. Most businesses have been allowed to reopen, and schools returning to in person instruction is a local decision under a plan agreed to by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Michigan Supreme Court in early October invalidated Whitmer’s executive orders intended to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, ruling that the underlying 1945 emergency powers law from which they drew authority was unconstitutional.

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Several of the restrictions on business capacity, gathering sizes and wearing masks in public places have been reinstated through emergency orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).

Trump acknowledged the lawsuit, but again falsely claimed the state isn’t open.

“We won that big Supreme Court case against your governor, so what the hell happened, why isn’t it opened? Still not open,” Trump said. “Hey governor, let your state open. Get your kids back to school, governor. Not a good governor.”

The crowd once again started a chant of “lock her up” while the president was attacking the governor.

Trump responded that “I don’t comment on that, because every time if I make just even a little bit of a nod, they say the president led them on. I don’t have to lead you on.”

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During a rally in Muskegon earlier in October, Trump responded to chants of “lock her up” by saying “lock them all up.”

Trump added on Tuesday that “we’ve got to get her going, I don’t know. We’ve got to get her going. I don’t think she likes me too much.”

Whitmer was recently the target of a foiled plot to kidnap and possibly kill the governor, which Trump appeared to suggest at the rally may not have been a problem.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, I’m the one, it was our people that helped her out with her problem,” Trump said. “I mean, 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.”

“It was our people — my people, our people, that helped her out,” Trump added, apparently referencing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which thwarted the plot. “And then she blamed me for it. She blamed me and it was our people that helped her. I don’t get it.”

Whitmer addressed the plot in a column in the Atlantic ahead of the rally Tuesday, saying the president’s rhetoric is linked to the amount of violent threats she receives.*

“Every time the president ramps up this violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way. This is no coincidence, and the president knows it,” Whitmer wrote. “He is sowing division and putting leaders, especially women leaders, at risk.”

The president attacked broadcast journalist Lesley Stahl after she interviewed the president on “60 Minutes” and asked about his previous comments to “lock them all up.”

“Wasn’t she rude? She just kept asking me questions,” the president said of the interview. “What is anger, craziness, right? Fire coming out of her eyes. I look, she sits down, she says ‘are you prepared for tough questions?’”

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Trump gave a shout-out to Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James at the rally.

“How’s John James doing, good? Oh, he’s — I didn’t even know he’s here. John! Wow, is that nice. Wow. I didn’t even know. See, I’m thinking about you and I didn’t even know you’re here, John,” Trump said.

James is challenging U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), who Trump attacked for having low name recognition.

“Think of it, John James is running against a senator, U.S. senator, that nobody has ever heard of before. Even in Washington, Peters, I said, ‘who the hell is Peters?’ Nobody’s ever heard of him,” Trump said. “If one things comes out of this small group of thousands of people, vote for John James.”

Peters’ campaign responded that the president “once again spent his time desperately attacking U.S. Senator Gary Peters to distract Michiganders from the fact that he and John James want to gut their health care, raise prescription drug costs and strip protections for pre-existing conditions — in the middle of the pandemic.”

Trump used some time at the rally in Michigan to predict that he would win Minnesota because of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of the four progressive women of color who make up “the Squad” in Congress.

“You know, when I think of Somalia, I think of Omar. Omar. Ilhan Omar, who truly does not like our country,” Trump said of the Black congresswoman, who was a refugee. “She likes telling us what we should do, how we should run our country. Isn’t that nice? Omar, she hates our country.”

Trump then said Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would “turn Michigan into a refugee camp,” that he wanted a travel ban because “if it’s ok with you I don’t want to have people who want to blow up our country” and because he’s “keeping the jihadists and the violent extremists the hell out of our country.”

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Trump attacked Biden’s running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who was in Michigan earlier this week.

“She makes Bernie Sanders look like a serious conservative,” Trump said. “This will not be, we can’t let it happen, this will not be the first woman president.”

Trump also floated the conspiracy theory that, if elected, Harris would replace Biden as president after three weeks in the case of violence.

“He gets elected; three weeks into his presidency they’ll say, ‘Kamala, you ready? Let’s go.’ That’s why they’re talking about the 25th Amendment,” Trump said. “Three weeks in, Joe’s shot, ‘Let’s go, Kamala, you ready?’ Most liberal person in the Senate.”

Biden is scheduled to campaign in Michigan on Saturday, while his wife, Jill Biden, is scheduled to be in the state on Thursday.

Vice President Mike Pence announced a rally in Flint on Wednesday.

Election Day is Nov. 3, but early voting has already started in Michigan. About 2.1 million Michigan residents had already returned their absentee ballots as of Tuesday, out of the more than 3.1 million that had requested them.

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a reporting intern with the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.