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Michigan primary election analysis by Hanson: GOP rift between “traditional” and Trump camps

August 7, 2022

Ford School professor Jonathan Hanson commented on the harsh rhetoric being used in the Republican primary race for governor of Michigan, noting that the long shadow of former president Donald Trump loomed as the candidates sought his endorsement.

“The rhetoric of politics seems to have declined in quality” both with Trump and in his wake, Hanson told Michigan Advance.

“It’s always been a little shallow — there have been a lot of platitudes and not a lot of specifics – but we’ve gotten to a point where Trump took that rhetoric and corrupted it with these transparently ridiculous things he would say,” Hanson continued.

“What you’re seeing is there’s a growing willingness to say things that would’ve been seen as outrageous not too long ago,” Hanson said — such as claiming the current president of the United States stole an election.

Hanson said right-wing candidates often use “cultural wedge” issues to distract lower- and middle-income voters from the candidates’ economic policies, like tax cuts for the wealthy.

“They’re finding these kinds of issues that are working for them, especially with their base right now in the primaries,” Hanson said of Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates. “It will be interesting to see if they shift gears a little bit, whoever wins, when they get towards the general election. I think broadly speaking the strategy of conservatives has been to use these cultural wedge issues as a way to reach out to constituents that don’t necessarily benefit from their economic policies.”

“Traditional journalism doesn’t work very well with this phenomenon with what’s happening with our campaigning. … It’s not all about the horse race; it’s about our system. If we know these statements are lies (such as about the 2020 election), is it the responsibility of the reporter to call it a lie? I think so.”

After the primary, Hanson was quoted in the New York Sun that Trump’s eventual endorsement Tudor Dixon, who went on to win the primary, was an attempt to “paper over” the break between the “traditional Republican establishment” and Mr. Trump’s supporters by telegraphing Ms. Dixon’s selection as a truce between the two factions.

Dixon’s campaign has far less cash on hand than incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Hanson said that this gives Whitmer’s campaign the chance to set the narrative for the general election when it starts spending money in the coming weeks.

The race in Michigan is a microcosm of the national “fight between the traditional Republican establishment and a newer Trumpist element” in the party’s base, Hanson said, adding that the situation that the Michigan GOP finds itself in now demonstrates the damage that this infighting can do to a party’s efforts to win in the general election.

Michigan GOP on the Ropes After Bruising Primary, New York Sun, August 5, 2022

How Trump’s footprint is all over Michigan’s race for governor, Michigan Advance, July 30, 2022