The GOP strategy for winning Michigan’s primary, the White House

The Republican Party continues to revolve around the same man it has for most of the past decade — former President Donald Trump. 

Supporters cheer as Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

Supporters cheer as Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

This year’s Republican presidential primary in Michigan differs from past editions. 

Officials moved the primary ahead in the election cycle, which violated the national GOP’s rules. 

So Michigan Republicans will award some delegates to the primary winner and the rest at a state convention next month. 

That way the national party will recognize at least some of Michigan’s delegation. 

But the GOP strategy for winning the primary and the White House continues to revolve around the same man it has for most of the past decade, former President Donald Trump. 

Autoworkers and adulation

Cheers of “We love Trump! We love Trump!” filled an airport hangar at a recent rally in Waterford Township. 

The presumed Republican nominee for president was on the attack.  

Trump blasted the prosecutors and judges in the numerous trials against him which, he told the crowd of thousands, are really attempts to curtail their freedom. 

He insulted his political opponents and the media. 

And Trump claimed millions of illegal immigrants had poured across the nation’s southern border bent on taking good-paying jobs away from people in Michigan. 

“Even here in Oakland County you’re being overrun,” Trump warned. “One man said, ‘What are we gonna do about it?’ We’re gonna have the largest deportation effort in the history of our country. We have no choice.” 

Trump did not mention that by many accounts he helped convince Congressional Republicans to derail a bipartisan deal to better protect the southern border. 

Instead he reserved particular disdain for the United Auto Workers union, which endorsed his rival, President Joe Biden. 

Trump said the union’s leaders sold members down the river. 

He predicted Biden’s push for electric vehicles will drive customers to lower-cost versions made in China, killing the U.S. auto industry in the process. 

“Crooked Joe has ordered a hit job on Michigan manufacturing with his insane electric vehicle mandate. Do the autoworkers here, of which we have a lot, do you agree with that?” 

Not only does the crowd roar in approval, but Trump invites one unidentified autoworker to join him on stage. 

“Thank you President Trump,” the man shouts, standing next to the likely GOP nominee. “We got your back! The autoworkers are gonna support this guy like we did in ’16 and ’20. We’re gonna do it again in ’24!”  

He climbs off the stage as a beaming Trump tells the crowd the man did a better job of selling his candidacy then the former president himself. 

“I met him backstage, I liked him. I said what do you do? He said, ‘I’m an autoworker.’ I said that’s too bad because you’re not gonna have a job in two years.” 

Even the head of the UAW acknowledges a significant portion of his membership support the billionaire businessman. 

Shortly before last year’s strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers, workers like Johnny Bellamy said Trump’s pledge to protect U.S. jobs outweighed any of the controversies he brought to the White House. 

“People get it twisted as far as his purpose and what he stood for. He’s for the middle class, people that’s working and people trying to earn an honest living. If you want to just sit around and be lazy, he’s not for that. So I voted for him. I would vote for him again, to be honest with you,” Bellamy vowed. 

Listen: The GOP strategy for winning Michigan’s presidential primary

A state party in ‘ashes’

Michigan Republican party officials are banking on that kind of loyalty to steamroll Trump through the primary and into the general election. 

Oakland County GOP chair Vance Patrick contends there’s angst among Michigan voters over the current state of “Bidenomics.”  

“I’m in the construction business. And every single job site that I’m on people are supporting Trump. They don’t like where the economy is, the inflation. I think people just realize that we were better off four years ago when Donald Trump was in office,” he said. 

But it may prove harder for GOP officials to spread that message in the political battleground state this year. 

In-fighting among the top Republican leaders has led to battles over who chairs the state party. 

Patrick said that’s translated into poor fundraising efforts and a lack of available campaign cash.  

“It takes money to run the party because you gotta buy literature, you’ve got to support your candidates. Commercials cost money. There’s a delicate balance, but fundraising and grassroots volunteers are what it’s gonna take to win Michigan over again.” 

Some long-time conservatives, like the editorial page editor of The Detroit News, Nolan Finley, say the GOP might have to rely on county organizations. 

Finley says the state party is in such disarray it may be hard to repair. 

“At the moment it’s in ashes,” he said. “It’s been burned completely down. It’s dead broke and doesn’t really have a staff to speak of.” 

He says Trump’s campaign strategists, in particular, must plot their outreach to voters based on rallies and their own fundraising network. 

Finley says it’s really nothing new. 

“There’s a lot of the donor base in Michigan that wouldn’t support Trump anyway, some of the ‘establishment’ Republicans, if you want to call them that,” he said. “A lot of the big money Republicans in this state either never were with Trump or are done with him. So I don’t expect the Michigan Republican Party to be a huge factor in this election for anybody, let alone the top of the ticket.” 

Finley adds that there’s an extra factor in this presidential election year. 

He says both Republicans and Democrats have almost certain presidential nominees that could conceivably, at some point, be forced out of the race. 

“With Donald Trump, you never know what’s next. So just on that sort of contingency factor that Donald Trump does self-destruct or the courts play a huge role in this, I mean there’s too much uncertainty ahead. I think both of these parties need to keep a Plan B, if you will, in place,” Finley said. 

The Trump train cometh

But there’s often a backlash facing those who even think of replacing Trump. 

His supporters successfully targeted current Michigan U.S. Senate candidate Peter Meijer when he was a GOP member of the House, after he voted to impeach Trump.    

“They got their revenge when I lost my primary,” Meijer said. “There’s certainly some folks with very strong feelings, for sure. I’ve also found a surprising amount of support from some unexpected corners. They say, ‘The thing we loved about Donald Trump is that he’s not afraid to be a bull in a China shop. He’s somebody who says it like it is, he’s not afraid to ruffle some feathers. And you’re kinda doing the same thing.” 

Yet down-ballot Republican primary endorsements and the GOP itself, in Michigan and elsewhere, now seem to hinge on the blessing of the 45th president of the United States. 

At the airport hangar rally in Oakland County, Trump himself noted there is little room left for those who are not true-believers. 

“Republicans are mostly MAGA! MAGA!”  

He pushed for single day voting on paper ballots as he continued the false narrative that the 2020 election was rigged. 

The crowd applauded every syllable. 

Yet at the same time Trump reminded them voters can cast ballots early in Michigan now. 

He said MAGA needs to be out in force, no matter how far ahead of his rivals polls show he might be. 

“We gotta get out and vote. And that includes in the primary. I mean, you don’t have much of a primary here, I think,” the former president said. “But you know what? It’s important to send the Democrats a message. We have to let ‘em know that a freight train is coming in November!” 

And at the moment, the strategy for most Republicans heading towards the November presidential general election seems clear. 

Get onboard the Trump train or get run over.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.