The dust has finally settled on the precarious Michigan republican gubernatorial ticket. Only five candidates remain after half were removed for providing false signatures on their petitions. Of those, one has recently been arrested by the FBI for his involvement in the January 6 attack, and one hasn’t been able to poll high enough to meet the minimum requirement for a podium at the debates. As for the other three, there is a spectrum of horror behind each of their campaigns.
Many in Michigan seem puzzled about how to talk about the race. It seems partial and undemocratic to say there is no good Republican choice. Some of Michigan’s biggest media institutions have advocated for damage control, endorsing the candidate that poses the least amount of risk to the people of Michigan while emphasizing the unique circumstances that brought us here. However, this attempt at bi-partisan inclusion comes with a very clear long-term danger to our political ecosystem.
On July 23, the Detroit Free Press published an opinion piece, signed by its editorial board, endorsing Kevin Rinke as its Republican pick. The piece says that with no good option, Rinke is the “least dangerous” candidate. It suggests that while not to the point of someone like Liz Cheney, Rinke is an outlier to hardline Trumpism. In the context of the other candidates, it evaluates him as more of a Reagan or Gingrich than Trump.
While acknowledging the nuance of his allegiance to Trump in other ways, the Free Press suggests Rinke does not support the MAGA mantra of election fraud. “In an interview with the Free Press Editorial Board, he said he had discovered ‘no evidence’ that Biden’s victory was fraudulent,” it says.
But there is no examination of statements he’s made on the contrary. During the June 2 debate on Mackinac Island, Rinke was asked whether he would accept the election results. He responded, “We know there was fraud in the election. Unquestionably. We know that because there has been fraud in every election.”
He continued to exemplify “significant voter irregularities” with the testimony that his house had received mail-in ballots for people who do not live there (an occurrence that does not contribute to voter fraud). Rinke even joked with Soldano on the debunked conspiracy film, 2000 mules and produced campaign ads on this platform.
The definitive declaration on Rinke’s viewpoint based on one interview likely comes from the pursuit of healthy competition, and from the culturally ingrained value that the election represents some reasonable range of political ideologies. That’s just not the case.
The Free Press endorsement is not an isolated instance. On July 6, The Detroit News endorsed Tudor Dixon in a similar manner. The Newspaper reflected that its decision was tough because of the state of disarray that is the GOP campaign. Despite its difficulty, the paper backed the candidate who more recently welcomed an endorsement from Trump.
But the overall tone is less critical than The Free Press. The article says The News chose Dixon based on her
potential, “Ability to unify Michigan and bring consensus governing to Lansing.” It even calls her, “An optimist who sees a prosperous, positive Michigan.”
Nothing is mentioned of Dixon’s confidence that a 14-year-old sexual assault victim is the perfect evidence for a complete abortion ban, her Financial backing from the Devos family, and its potential influence over opinions on issues such as Line 5, or her conditional commitment to accept the election results.
The issue is not that these institutions lack criticism for the candidates. The Free Press article is far from an objectively positive perspective on the Rinke campaign. The issue is that this approach weighs candidates on a curve as opposed to by the standard we should expect.
The GOP Candidates are not all exactly the same, but their views are homogenous enough that none of them should have the power and privilege of being crowned ‘least damaging.’ They all have destructive attitudes toward precarious and sensitive topics in Michigan, like the environment, women’s rights, and voting inclusivity.
Regardless of how many times it is said that there is no good choice when a candidate is ultimately deemed the better option among a pool of unqualified individuals, one implies they can see a world where that person is elected. In a subtle way, this normalizes and legitimizes that candidate’s talking points.
Objectively outrageous campaigns that, when considering the resumes and platforms of previous candidates, would never have met the GOP standard in previous election cycles, don’t seem too extreme.
This is how one finds arguably the most reputable paper in Michigan supporting a candidate partly on the principle that they are the least devoted to Trump’s election fraud and the “least likely to lead his party even deeper into the authoritarian abyss,” while that candidate is claiming “dead people always vote Democrat” and Democrats are pushing for infanticidal rights.
A candidate should challenge the status quo but this cohort just challenges the standards of qualification, namely a platform based on reality.
At the end of the day, a media endorsement may not be a deciding factor in the outcome of an election. In the 2016 Presidential race, Clinton had 500 endorsements to Trump’s 28, and she still lost. But there is an indisputable long-term effect on society when media institutions give these ideologies time on a respected platform without a critical eye. It’s easy to observe how rhetoric from President Trump continues to influence the political atmosphere despite the revocation of his public platforms.
One factor that may contribute to the casual and incidental support of far-right ideologies is the underestimation of the candidate’s potential to succeed. “We’ll be alarmed if Rinke’s proposal turns out to be more than a bumper sticker slogan,” The Free Press said regarding his budget plans.
The article ended by flirting with the thought of encouraging, “Democratic and independent voters to sabotage the GOP primary by voting for a fringe gubernatorial candidate more repellent than Rinke.” Even after Trump, and although polling consistently underestimates the Republican vote, they still don’t think there is any chance these candidates will achieve real power.
In an interview with Poynter, Scott Gillespie of the Star Tribune says that the newspaper endorsement is a traditional fulfillment of the leadership role to which an editorial board is beholden. He says, “we also want to be widely read and be relevant, and our endorsements generate readership and spark healthy debate…
But certain traditions no longer align with the new political landscape and some media companies have already adapted. In 2016, The Arab American News declined to endorse a presidential candidate for the first time. More recently, it supported neither candidate in the 2021 Mayoral race in Hamtramck. Maybe it’s time to follow their lead and stop pretending the far right ideology can be progressive just because the election represents no alternative.