Kevin Rinke ad for governor | Screenshot
Kevin Rinke has grabbed my attention like none of the other 11 Republican candidates seeking the governor’s office next year.
It’s not because of his qualifications, which I have not been able to discern. And it’s not because of his policy positions, which are pretty much the same culture-war talking points and manufactured issues his competitors are spouting.
It’s his car.
Rinke, a wealthy Bloomfield Township businessman, is running a campaign ad that shows him driving a 1969 Pontiac GTO convertible. Sweet!
For those of you who weren’t yet born when the GTO reigned as the king of the Woodward Avenue drag racing scene — that’s about 70% of Michigan’s population — here’s what you need to know about this iconic machine:
The GTO, which ushered in the muscle-car era of the 1960s, was the creation of General Motors wunderkind and bad boy John DeLorean. It was a time of big horsepower, poisonous leaded gasoline and unrestrained motoring enjoyed by young people who weren’t off fighting the Vietnam War.
In the ad, Rinke says freedom is what his campaign and the GTO represent. And then he points to a dilapidated Yugo that he claims is a symbol of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.
“Gretchen Whitmer — she’s straight out of the assembly line of disastrous career politicians,” Rinke says. “She’s a Yugo.”
What’s a Yugo, those of you who were toddlers in the 1980s ask? It was a cheap, unreliable econobox built in what was then communist Yugoslavia and sold in the United States between 1985 and 1992. Car and Driver magazine called it “the worst car in history.”
The Yugo also had a tragic connection to Michigan that garnered national headlines. One was blown off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989, plunging the 31-year-old Royal Oak waitress driving the car to her death in the Straits below.
Rinke draws a tenuous line between the Yugo and Whitmer. Rinke says Whitmer “acts like a queen” and shows a crown with Whitmer’s name on the side of the Yugo.
Really? No self-respecting queen would be caught driving a Yugo. A Michigan-made Cadillac, yes.
The rest of his ad spotlights issues that have little, if any relevance, to Michigan: illegal immigration, critical race theory and voter fraud.
Regarding voter fraud, the Republican-led state Senate Oversight Committee found Michigan’s 2020 general election was fairly decided. Yet Republicans like Rinke keep giving oxygen to loser Donald Trump’s lies that the election was stolen from him.
Rinke also models himself after Trump as an “outsider” conservative businessman who’s not a politician, like that’s a good thing.
Trump, who badly mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic, was the first president since Herbert Hoover to see the number of U.S. jobs shrink during his time in office.
It’s interesting to note that many Republicans once regarded Michigan Gov. John Engler, a career politician who served from 1991 to 2002, as the state’s most effective governor.
Rinke strikes me as the classic wealthy Baby Boomer who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. He inherited his family’s Detroit-area automotive dealership group (he claims in the ad to have created “thousands of good-paying jobs” while running it) and sold the operation to billionaire auto magnate Roger Penske 21 years ago.
He’s now planning to spend $10 million of his own cash trying to become Michigan’s next governor, not a comforting thought unless you own a television station.
I doubt that top auto executives and labor leaders in Detroit are spending any time worrying about undocumented immigrants sneaking across the Indiana and Ohio borders into Michigan, whether Michigan schools are teaching critical race theory, or if the 2020 election was stolen. That’s the fantasy world where Rinke and his fellow Republican candidates for governor are living.
– Rick Haglund
The problem is Rinke’s Michigan, as portrayed in his campaign’s first television ad, no longer exists. His “I’m a freedom-loving GTO and Whitmer’s a failed socialist Yugo” comparison is irrelevant.
Both cars long ago ceased production. And while the gas-guzzling GTO is fondly remembered by Boomers for its blistering performance, many of today’s more environmentally responsible vehicles can blow its doors off.
A 1969 GTO could accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about seven seconds. A new Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV can do it in half the time.
The world is moving to a cleaner, smarter electric-car future. Michigan, the center of the fossil-fuel driven auto industry, faces serious challenges in transitioning to that future, none of which Rinke addresses in his ad or on his campaign website.
Detroit’s automakers are trying to fend off new electric vehicle competitors from China and California. Michigan is competing for talent and investment with southern states that are determined to make themselves the epicenter of electric vehicle and battery manufacturing.
I doubt that top auto executives and labor leaders in Detroit are spending any time worrying about undocumented immigrants sneaking across the Indiana and Ohio borders into Michigan, whether Michigan schools are teaching critical race theory, or if the 2020 election was stolen.
That’s the fantasy world where Rinke and his fellow Republican candidates for governor are living.
Rinke’s GTO freedom machine ad memorializes an era in Michigan that remains only in the confines of The Henry Ford museum, which has the original muscle car on display.
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