Beleaguered Trump fans dig at Michigan County Fair
The author is a contributing columnist, based in Chicago
Tammy, 49, her mother Mary and daughter Nikki, 11, sat polishing a corn dog on a bench at the Ottawa County Fair. They were sheltering from the late July sun, luckily upwind of the smelly goat show and around the corner from the Redneck Fries stall, in this traditionally conservative community near the shores of Lake Michigan. But they were also hiding from the political fireworks surrounding Michigan’s Aug. 2 primary election.
Former President Donald Trump and his loyal band of 2020 election deniers had a strong primary in the battleground state, which voted narrowly for Trump in 2016 and less narrowly against him in 2020. Tudor Dixon, a Trump-endorsed candidate from another city in western Michigan won the Republican primary for governor after half of his main rivals were disqualified for forging petition signatures.
In a nearby U.S. Congressional race, election conspiracy theorist and Trump favorite John Gibbs expelled incumbent Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump after last year’s Capitol attack. These victories underscore the influence the former president continues to wield among voters like Tammy and her family in rural Midwest communities.
Tammy, a cafeteria worker at a nursing home, and her mother, a retired housekeeper, were quick to insist that victory had been stolen from Trump in 2020 – a point of view. view still shared by about 70% of Republican voters, according to the Poynter Institute. Both women were quick to say they would vote for Trump again in 2024: “I hope he runs,” Tammy said.
When asked if they were watching the televised hearings of the US Congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, which heard evidence that Trump had incited his supporters to violence, the two women disagreed. scowling. “I don’t think he did anything wrong,” Tammy said, as her mother nodded silently. Some 75% of Republican primary voters said Trump was “just exercising his right to contest the election”, and less than one in five said he “went so far as to threaten American democracy”, according to a recent New York Times/Siena College Poll. He also revealed that 49% of primary voters would support Trump if he ran again, far more than his potential rivals.
Democrats are hoping the bad publicity from the Jan. 6 commission will hurt public support for Trump, but Midwestern voters like Tammy are telling a different story. She says inflation – the price of corn dogs – and not the Capitol insurrection, is her main political problem. That echoes a recent Iowa poll that found 71% of Republicans and 62% of Iowa Independents put inflation first.
Right after funnel cakes and elephant ears, across from “Dutch Fatballs,” I asked volunteers from the Ottawa County Republican Party tent to explain why so many Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen. A 39-year-old county employee who gave his name to City, took a break from handing out GOP lollipops to cite reports of an illicit “vote dump” at the Detroit counting center. But he also mentioned issues with mail-in ballots: He said he received five ballots mistakenly sent to his home, while a GOP bystander said he got eight.
Meanwhile, there are signs the local GOP is turning to the right, with several moderate county commissioners ousted in the primary by more radical Republicans fighting on an anti-mask and culture wars platform. City, the GOP volunteer, backs the intruders — though he fears they could hurt the party’s chances in the upcoming midterm elections unless Republicans learn to “stick together.”
But the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won Ottawa County was in 1864, so it seems reasonable to bet the GOP will stay strong here anyway. Trump can count on the unwavering dedication of voters like Tammy. But it’s less clear whether that’ll be enough to win the day for Republicans in Michigan — that most volatile battleground in the Midwest — or even secure the former president’s nomination, if he so chooses.