As Dixon weighs LG pick, she faces criticism from fellow Republicans ahead of state convention

By: - August 18, 2022 1:49 pm

Tudor Dixon participates in a GOP gubernatorial debate as part of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference, June 2, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

The Aug. 2 gubernatorial primary is now in the rear-view mirror and right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon is slated to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. But in the run-up to next weekend’s Michigan GOP convention, intra-party discord appears to be growing.

“You can’t run from the basement and beat Whitmer! Get out and talk to people!” Garrett Soldano wrote on Twitter Monday in response to political strategist Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan GOP executive director who’s now with the Lincoln Project, noting that Dixon has largely kept a low profile following her primary win.

Soldano finished third in the primary behind businessman Kevin Rinke and Dixon. He was the first to concede when it became clear Dixon would be the victor, but has since echoed what many Republicans are saying behind the scenes with the public shot at Dixon.

Over the course of the election cycle, Dixon has been routinely criticized by her fellow GOP contenders and Republican voters for being “establishment,” as she secured the endorsement and financial backing of the wealthy and politically influential DeVos family. She also has high-profile endorsements from the likes of former President Donald Trump and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), the latter of which has been slammed by right-wing activists for being a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

Last week, conflict broke out as opposing factions fought to take control of two Michigan Republican county conventions. Shirkey serves as an at-large delegate for Hillsdale County, but was “disavowed” from attending by the executive committee along with about 70 other delegates. Most of the rejected delegates held their own convention in a nearby parking lot. That could set up conflict at the Michigan GOP state convention on Aug. 27.

There could be more conflict. Presumptive attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno, a Trump loyalist who touts the former president’s conspiracy theories about election fraud, is facing some opposition from the party’s establishment wing. Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel has called for a special prosecutor to investigate DePerno over allegations that the Republican participated in illegally accessing voting tabulators used in three northern Michigan counties.

On Aug. 8, the Detroit News’ editorial board urged Republicans to reject DePerno at the party’s nominating convention and instead choose another candidate “with a chance to win.” The right-leaning editorial board cites the special prosecutor investigation, another investigation into DePerno that could result in the attorney losing his law license and his lack of appeal beyond Trump loyalists.

One of the many Truth Social responses on Dixon

Meanwhile on Truth Social, Trump’s platform that serves as an alternative to Twitter without safeguards against misinformation, Dixon’s primary win continues to be largely ill-received by users, despite the former president’s endorsement.

“I never said I was voting for Tooter, a Democrat dressed in Republican money,” one user wrote on Aug. 8, while another called her a “fake Republican.”

“You make me very nervous. Especially with the backing of the DeVos family,” another user wrote. Many posts refer to Dixon as a “RINO.”

The Board of State Canvassers  will meet Friday to certify the results of Michigan’s Aug. 2 primary election. Dixon has until 5 p.m. that day to offer up her choice for a running mate.

Her pick for lieutenant governor, however, must then be approved by an “affirmative vote” from the party at the convention on Aug. 27. If the party rejects her pick, she may address the convention, resubmit her choice or submit a new candidate for consideration.

Nominations may be submitted from the floor of the convention if Dixon’s second nomination does not receive an affirmative vote, according to party rules.

In 2010, there was backlash from tea party activists at the state convention to gubernatorial nominee Rick Snyder’s LG pick of Brian Calley, with calls for him to choose a more conservative running mate.

Both Ryan Kelley and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt — who finished fourth and fifth in the five-candidate Aug. 2 primary, respectively — have said that they would consider accepting a nomination to be Dixon’s lieutenant governor.

Kelley is a real estate broker from Allendale who made national headlines when federal agents arrested him on June 9. He is facing four misdemeanors tied to his alleged actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Kelley has also signaled that he would consider the position of chair of the Michigan Republican Party, a spot that Ron Weiser currently holds with Trump ally Meshawn Maddock as co-chair, setting up the potential for another ugly intra-party fight.

Garrett Soldano, the Rev. Ralph Rebandt, Ryan Kelley and Kevin Rinke participate in a GOP gubernatorial debate on WKAR’s Off the Record, July 15, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Neither Soldano nor Kelley attended a “unity” luncheon the day after Dixon’s primary win.

Soldano and Rebandt did not return calls for comment. Over text messages, Kelley did not respond to questions from the Advance. He instead pointed to his Wednesday Facebook livestream, in which he said he had reconsidered accepting the LG position after previously stating he wasn’t interested.

“I have somewhat reconsidered that for a variety of reasons that I’ll share soon,” Kelley said in the livestream.

He also included a screenshot of a tweet by longtime GOP political strategist John Yob. In it, Yob writes that Kelley “would be difficult to defeat at the convention” as LG.

Dixon is reportedly considering four candidates for lieutenant governor: Jase Bolger, a Republican consultant and former Speaker of the Michigan House; Mike Bishop, GOP former Michigan U.S. House member; Anthony Forlini, a Macomb County clerk and former Republican member of the Michigan House; and Willie Burton, a former National Basketball Association player from Bloomfield Hills.

It is unclear if any of these picks would satisfy the pro-Trump and anti-establishment Michigan GOP delegates.

Dixon’s campaign and the Michigan Republican Party did not return a request for comment.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, announced this week that he will travel to Michigan to campaign for Dixon and give the keynote speech at the Aug. 27 state convention.

“We are excited to welcome Governor Youngkin to Michigan to rally the troops and kick-off our general election campaign to restore competent leadership to Lansing,” Weiser said in a statement.


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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.