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GOP Candidates Separate Themselves With These 5 Questions At Debate

May 17, 2022

(HOWELL) — The record 10-person Republican gubernatorial field separated themselves more clearly along ideological lines at Thursday night’s first post-filing deadline debate, based on the observations of those watching the exchange at Crystal Gardens. 

In front of roughly 650 conservative activists, Garrett Soldano, Ryan D. Kelley and Ralph Rebandtfirmly hopped into the right lane, with Rebandt possibly the furthest right of the bunch. WWMT provided a livestream of the event.

Kevin Rinke and Tudor Dixon looked to be the more mainstream, and arguably more gubernatorial, while conservative Perry Johnson weaved in between the two lanes. 

“Soldano had a good night,” said Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest. “He was charming. He went over very well with the audience. He had some of the biggest applause lines of the night . . . I think it was pretty clear Soldano and Kelley were the most charismatic candidates on the stage in terms of making a connection with their audience.”

Soldano told reporters after the debate, “We won . . . I just really feel that we dominated the debate tonight.”

Johnson declined to say Donald Trump won the 2020 election in Michigan, despite being heckled by the crowd for not saying so. However, Johnson did say at one point, Michigan’s public universities “should cater to people of our state, not of foreign countries,” to much applause.

Johnson, who wore a powder blue suit, also earned kudos from the crowd for standing as he talked, which helped the people in the back of the room who were having trouble seeing everyone.

Kelley repeated his campaign pledge to cancel the Dominion, ES&S and Hart contracts for ballot counting. He advocated for hand counting as a replacement. When told a local clerk estimated this would take a month to count results, Kelley said election workers used to hand count results before ballot tabulators were used back in the day.

Only two of the candidates who appeared on stage Thursday night — Michael Markey and Capt. Mike Brown– were willing to give answers that the roughly 600 attendees at the Livingston County Republican Party didn’t want to hear.

Both were not willing to immediately support a criminal investigation and prosecution of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her administration’s handling of COVID deaths in nursing homes and both were definitely “no’s” when asked if former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

Markey urged the other candidates to be “very careful” how they answered that question. Nobody should go into any public office with the presumption that another person should be prosecuted without a thorough investigation.

Told after the debate that he didn’t tell the crowd what they wanted to hear, he said, “That’s not who I am. I’m the same person in front of the curtain as I am behind the curtain. And No. 2, I’m also looking at the general election. I know you have to win the primary first. You have to have somebody that’s going to be able to bring in the entire Republican Party and some of the independents.”

Brown earned a “wrong answer” response from the crowd when he said he would not immediately rescind the Governor’s executive order on bringing back prevailing wage, saying he supports workers.

“I’m a working class guy. If you have the time, talent and energy to make a certain wage with what you’re doing, I support that,” Brown said after the debate.

All of the candidates said they would not sign legislation expanding the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to cover the LGBTQ community, but Brown said it’s because he believes they are already covered.

Below are the questions that broke up the pack.

1. “Do you believe Donald Trump legitimately won the 2020 election in Michigan?” 

Rinke halted, saying “I’m not going to answer yes or no.” He said there is a lot about the 2020 election people don’t know and didn’t feel it was fair for the candidates to be pinned down on a “yes or no” question on that one.

Johnson attempted to say, “The reality of the matter is that we need data to find out. We need that investigation. . .  Honestly, guys, how would you in a million years — without the data — know the exact voter count?” 

He tried to call out “I am not a Democrat” but was yelled at for not providing an immediate yes-or-no answer. 

Dixon, ReBrandt, Kelley said a “yes.” Soldano said yes and then added, “Mr. Trump is still my president.” 

Alongside saying no with Markey, Brown said “No, and we got a bunch of people on stage here flopping around like fish on a dock.” 

2. “What type of abortion law would you like to see signed into law to protect life in Michigan?” 

The question zoomed in on if the U.S. Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade and if the Michigan Supreme Court overturns the state’s 1931 abortion ban. 

Dixon, who said her exception in an abortion law would be to safeguard the life of the mother, utilized the opening segment to discuss her four daughters and her experience with losing a child after 18 weeks of pregnancy. She said the baby she lost had perfect little lips and perfect little fingers and toes, “and you can’t tell me that that’s not a child.” 

“And my beautiful baby girl may not be with me anymore, but I get to tell her story to every young woman out there who is scared that she won’t have an opportunity because of that baby,” Dixon said. “Because I’m running for governor and I have four daughters.” 

When Dixon was interviewed on the MIRS Monday Podcast during the September Michigan GOP conference on Mackinac Island, she said she was “a pro-life candidate no exceptions,” even in cases of rape, incest and health of the mother. 

Soldano explained how the abortion topic hits home to him, saying his mother was adopted and he wouldn’t be alive if his biological grandmother had an abortion. 

“I know the progressive left wishes that would have happened,” Soldano said, earning some giggles from the crowd. “We need somebody to stand up and I will always stand up. If you look at our species, where in the history of our species have we ever, ever sacrificed the child?” 

However, when asked about exceptions, Soldano listed “life of the mother.” 

Rebrandt specifically said he would not sign a law that offered exceptions, because “when it comes to the life of the mother, that is not an abortion (with a child) being ripped from a woman’s body. That would be life-for-life.” 

Markey on the other hand, obtained several annoyed looks when he pivoted into a ramble involving the removal of Critical Race Theory from schools, eliminating COVID-19 mandates, supporting the police and making Michigan top in the nation for employment. 

After briefly saying “I’m pro-life,” he eventually admitted his exceptions would be life of the mother, rape and incest. 

3. Did COVID-19 Vaccines Help Fight The Virus? 

A question that acquired a wave of chuckles and shaking heads regarded if the COVID-19 vaccine was helpful in combating infections. 

During the end of November 2021, the Michigan Health and Hospital Association presented that 87% of COVID-19 patients within an intensive care unit were unvaccinated against the virus. 

“How do we say ‘no’ and talk for 90 seconds?” Rinke asked. “The vaccine represented political science versus medical science . . . people were used as guinea pigs for political gain in this country and in this state. It wouldn’t even qualify — pre-COVID — to be called a vaccine. It was experimental medicine, and I gotta tell you, I’ve had COVID twice and I’m still here.” 

He said the sickest he was is when he had the vaccine because he was visiting outside of the country for work. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the purpose of the COVID-19 vaccine was to teach cells how to make copies of the spike protein, so when an individual is exposed to the virus their body will be equipped to recognize it and fight it off better. 

Soldano expressed there doesn’t need to be a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, because it best served people suffering from diabetes, who were over the age of 70 years old or with numerous underlying medical conditions. 

“You’ve all seen Governor Whitmer’s commercial. All it is is ‘vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate . . .’ you go down to Florida, they talk about the vaccine, they talk about Vitamin C, Vitamin D, monoclonal antibodies and they say ‘live free Florida,'” Soldano said. “That’s exactly the type of leadership that we need in the state of Michigan.” 

There were several mentions of Florida at Thursday evening’s debate. Kelley, in particular, pointed toward Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has acquired significant conservative stardom, with its origins including his stance against enforcing vaccine mandates within hospitals and mask mandates for schools. 

Kelley specifically said, “If you’re looking for a governor in the state of Michigan that’s like Ron DeSantis, I’m your guy.” 

On the other hand, Dixon took a moment to praise Operation Warp Speed, which was a public-private partnership initiated during former President Donald Trump’s time in office. The U.S. government operation aspired to accelerate the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. 

However, she shamed Whitmer for not allowing residents access to alternative COVID-19 treatments like the dewormer ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for malaria patients. 

Health officials across the country specifically gave weighty warnings against self-medicating with ivermectin, as it’s often used to treat parasites in animals and humans and could result in vomiting, neurological disorders and potentially severe hepatitis if not appropriately absorbed. 

“Gretchen Whitmer threatened people who were going to give out the other therapeutics in this state and we have to hold them accountable for that because there could have been lives lost because of the fact that she would not allow people to have hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin,” she said. 

4. Should Whitmer Be Prosecuted For Nursing Home Deaths 

In January of this year, the state’s Office of the Auditor General found Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) did not include 2,386 deaths related to COVID-19 that occurred in a long-term care facility, equating to a 30% undercount. 

The director of the department, Whitmer-appointed Elizabeth Hertel, stood her ground that the counting guidelines used by the DHHS were different than the ones looked at within the report. 

The department has also consistently said Whitmer’s executive policy requiring long-term care facilities to accept COVID-19 positive individuals was never enforced in Michigan. 

“This same woman coerced the owners of the nursing homes to take the already infected COVID patients into the nursing home,” Johnson said when asked if the Governor should be prosecuted for nursing home deaths. 

Johnson said the Governor “knows that she killed all of those people indirectly. I’m gonna ask you, should our Governor be prosecuted? Let’s make her accountable . . . we’ve gotta do something.” 

The self-proclaimed “Quality Guru” obtained applause at his fiery remarks. However, Brown – the Michigan State Police captain – expressed it is not the role of a governor to say someone needs to be immediately prosecuted for one thing or another. 

“If there’s ample evidence that comes up — and it looks like there is — there should be an investigation into that,” Brown said. “But we do not need a governor that will target citizens of this state and I will never do that to any citizen in this state.” 

5. Who is your favorite president in U.S. history?

Soldano and Brown both said Ronald Reagan. Markey and Dixon both said Abraham Lincoln. Kelley, Rebandt and Johnson said Donald Trump and Rinke was torn between Reagan and Lincoln.

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