Trump's choice in Michigan gubernatorial primary faces criticism that she isn't 'MAGA' enough
Just days before the Tuesday primary, Trump threw his support behind Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator who has coalesced support from prominent Republicans in the state, even as she beats back criticism that she's an establishment candidate who isn't "MAGA" enough to inspire the GOP base.
The Mitten State's prolonged, often bitter, Republican primary saw a handful of candidates disqualified from the ballot, while another -- still in the race -- was arrested for his alleged participation in the January 6, 2021, riot. Dixon is up against a handful of Trumpian candidates, some of whom have fully embraced the former President's lies about the 2020 election.
Dixon's embrace of those falsehoods has been more tepid. In a May debate, she raised her hand and confirmed, yes, she did believe Trump won Michigan -- a state he lost by more than 154,000 votes in 2020. But in an interview with CNN, she offered a more muted response.
"I've talked about this at length, about the 2020 election," Dixon said. "It was unlike any election we had ever seen obviously because of the pandemic. But in Michigan, there were some things that happened in Michigan that didn't happen in other states, which are very concerning."
In interviews with CNN, Dixon's opponents quickly slammed her for appearing to water down her views on the 2020 election.
Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor vying for the GOP nomination, panned Dixon for dodging the 2020 election question and doubled down on his support for the former President.
"The election, in my humble opinion, was stolen," he said in an interview. "I'm not even endorsed by President Trump, and I still have his back."
Soldano then turned his stare straight down the lens of a CNN camera, seemingly hoping to address Trump directly.
"Even though, sir, you didn't endorse me, you're still my President," Soldano said.
Businessman-turned-candidate Kevin Rinke also bashed Dixon for dancing around election falsehoods.
"She got an endorsement and within 48 hours when she was asked on national TV if the election was stolen, she changed her mind," Rinke said. "That's what politicians do. Tudor Dixon is the Republican version of Gretchen Whitmer -- 'I'll say anything, I'll do anything for position and power,'" he said referring to the state's Democratic governor.
Rinke didn't go so far as to claim the election was stolen and acknowledged that Joe Biden is the President. Still, he said he believes there were "irregularities" in 2020.
Meantime, Ryan Kelley, a real estate broker in the race, has essentially turned his arrest for allegedly participating in the Capitol riot into a campaign rallying cry.
"Look how hard these people are trying to silence me," Kelley said in a July GOP primary debate. "I got arrested. I got kicked off Airbnb."
He has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges he faces and has continued to falsely claim Trump won in 2020.
Republican activists here have rallied behind Trump-loving, election-denying candidates. At an endorsement convention earlier this year, Republicans backed Kristina Karamo for secretary of state and Matthew DePerno for attorney general, paving their path for official nominations later this year. If they win in November, they would be in key positions to oversee the state's elections.
But the prospect of having Dixon atop the ticket has rankled some Trump supporters, particularly when it comes to her less-than-enthusiastic embrace of the election falsehoods fueling the base.
"I think she's given lip service to President Trump and his supporters on those issues but only when truly pushed," GOP political strategist John Yob said in an interview.
"President Trump still is very popular with conservative voters, so I think that his endorsement will definitely have an impact on this race," Yob said. "However, it also puts things in a bit of a precarious situation with some of his supporters being left dazed and confused because they've been behind other, maybe more MAGA-centric, candidates and now all of a sudden he's endorsed the establishment."
The former President's team doesn't share the concern that Dixon may not be as vocal on election issues, said a person close to Trump.
Dixon has largely shrugged off the criticism.
"I think that's interesting," she said of the election-related barbs from her GOP opponents, "because my Democrat opponents actually have a whole thing -- a whole list of reasons they hate me because of the election, right? I guess it's just a campaign tactic."
Dixon said she believed she could get a boost from the Trump endorsement but declined to say whether she would back him if he runs again for president in 2024, insisting that she is focused on 2022.
"I feel honored to get the endorsement. It feels like we're really bringing everybody in the Republican Party together," she said. "So, we feel really good about how Tuesday is going to end up, but we're still fighting."
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.