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In January 2021, four days after the now-infamous assault on the U.S. Capitol, the Free Press published an editorial documenting the roles 28 Michigan Republicans had played in the unsuccessful attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Headlined “People of the lie,” the editorial described how a small group of elected leaders and GOP operatives in our state plotted to prevent the presidential candidate Michigan voters preferred from succeeding the incumbent he had defeated – first by pressing bogus claims of election fraud, then by delaying certification of county and statewide election results, and finally by seeking to invalidate the electoral votes Joe Biden had won in other swing states.
Like most Americans, we had been shaken by what fact-finders would subsequently expose as a coup attempt months in the making, and we thought it important to memorialize the complicity of Michigan Republicans. But our outrage was tempered by the recognition that a critical mass of principled Republican officials had refused to participate. So in addition to pillorying the 28 who had abetted the scheme, our editorial saluted eight GOP leaders who had upheld our state’s election laws and helped assure the peaceful transfer of presidential power. In their honorable conduct, we found reason to believe Michigan’s democratic institutions would withstand a lawless cabal’s efforts to undermine them.
We harbored no illusion that a post-Trump Republican Party would abandon the policies and priorities the former president had during his four years in the White House. But was it so naïve to hope that Michigan’s next generation of GOP leaders would look more like Liz Cheney, and less like, say, Marjorie Taylor Greene?
Apparently it was.
The party of the lie
Today, with another statewide election just weeks away, Michigan’s Republican Party is unrecognizable to many who have supported it for decades.
GOP lawmakers who resisted pressure to unseat Biden electors in 2020 have been chased into retirement or defeated by primary opponents embraced by Trump. Republican election officials who made sure every Michigan vote was counted in 2020 have been displaced by party loyalists ready to denounce any Democratic candidate’s victory as proof of pervasive electoral fraud.
Dozens of members of Donald Trump’s inner circle have now testified under oath that the president’s stolen election claims were baseless. Yet the three candidates who lead the GOP’s Michigan ticket – Tudor Dixon, who won the party’s gubernatorial primary after both her principal rivals were disqualified; Matthew DePerno, the Republican candidate for attorney general; and Kristina Karamo, a community college instructor who improbably emerged as the GOP nominee for secretary of state – have made Trump’s lies the foundation of their campaigns.
Separately and collectively, Dixon, DePerno and Karamo pose an unprecedented threat to Michigan’s long tradition of free and fair elections. They are neither qualified to hold statewide office in Michigan nor worthy of the once formidable party they and their fellow conspiracy-theorists brought to the brink of ruin.
Serious leaders for challenging times
Let us stipulate, for the record, that we would have likely chosen to endorse the Democratic incumbents for governor, attorney general and secretary of state even if Republicans had nominated less problematic challengers.
We have not hesitated to endorse Republican gubernatorial candidates whose pragmatism and experience distinguished them from less-qualified Democratic rivals, even when that meant putting aside significant policy differences. Indeed, we have recommended the GOP nominee, however reluctantly, in three of the last six election cycles, going back to 1998.
In this year's election, though, neither Tudor Dixon nor her running mates boast qualifications remotely comparable to those of the Democratic incumbents they hope to replace:
∎ Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER spent much of her first term in office battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout it precipitated. The public health restrictions she imposed were costly for hundreds of thousands of her constituents, and Republicans from Donald Trump to state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey have made her a lightening rod for much of the anxiety and economic hardship the pandemic precipitated. But the best evidence is that Whitmer’s leadership saved lives and spared our state from the chaos that engulfed hospitals in many other populous states.
∎ Attorney General DANA NESSEL has made good on her 2018 pledge to direct more of her office’s resources to consumer protection and environmental enforcement, and staved off enforcement of a constitutionally suspect 1931 law that would have abruptly criminalized abortion in Michigan, and successfully parried frivolous lawsuits challenging Michigan’s 2020 election results.
∎ Secretary of State JOCELYN BENSON spearheaded a bipartisan coalition of state election officials whose careful preparation and unflinching leadership assured the accuracy and integrity of a pandemic-era election that attracted a record number of absentee ballots and unprecedented turnout.
We endorsed Whitmer, Nessel and Benson in 2018, and although all three have made unforced errors in their first terms, none has violated the trust Michigan voters placed in them four years ago.
Inexperience compounded by extremism
By any reasonable measure, Dixon, DePerno and Karamo fall far short of the incumbents they are seeking to unhorse.
None has held any elected office. None has exercised executive authority over any large organization, private or public. None can point to any professional achievement suggesting she or he has the wherewithal to perform the duties of constitutional office.
Bob LaBrant, the political strategist who has counseled Republican governors for three decades and can claim responsibility for much of the party’s legislative success, minces no words in describing this year’s GOP ticket as the least qualified either major party has put forward in his lifetime. We concur with LaBrant’s unsparing assessment, which is echoed, albeit privately, by countless current Republican office-holders.
Each of the GOP candidates have further disqualified themselves by embracing fringe positions that repel a diverse majority of Michigan voters.
∎ In a state whose citizens have consistently supported continuing access to abortion, Dixon, DePerno and Karamo seek rigorous enforcement of a draconian ban that would criminalize the procedure even in the case of rape or incest.
∎ They have portrayed public school accommodations for a diverse student population as a declaration of war against whites, heterosexuals and Christians, arguing, with no discernible evidence, that LGBT educators are “grooming” students for indoctrination.
∎ Just four years after Michiganders overwhelmingly approved no-reason absentee voting, all three Republican candidates are promoting a grab bag of faux “reforms” that would erect new barriers to such voting.
It has become a cliche to brand those we disagree with as extremists. But all of these policy choices have created a chasm between the Michigan Republican platform and mainstream opinion in our state.
A party only defeat can revive
Michigan has survived political inexperience, inept leadership and bad policy choices before. What makes Dixon and Co. uniquely dangerous are their persistent efforts to undermine the democratic institutions Michigan voters have historically relied on to expel toxic leaders and correct course when their state loses its bearings.
Dixon is among a half-dozen Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate who refuse to promise they will accept this November's election results as the legitimate expression of the voters' will. Like Donald Trump, who began challenging the legitimacy of absentee votes well in advance of the 2020 election, they are priming supporters to believe that whatever political setbacks await them should be attributed to rampant fraud and Democratic corruption.
The danger that skepticism about the elections will prove a self-fulfilling prophecy, destroying both party's claims to legitimacy and providing election-deniers with a renewed rationale for political violence, is not theoretical. Not to the vice president and lawmakers who ran for their lives on Jan. 6, and not to anyone who remembers how close Michigan Republicans came to disenfranchising their state's voters the last time around.
Democracy is in a fight for its life, but so is Michigan's Republican Party. The only option for those who seek to restore its credibility is to renounce the demagogues whose fictions are driving it ever deeper into the political wilderness.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Editorial: Michigan Republicans are riding stolen election lies to political oblivion