Michigan GOP governor candidate Rinke highlights similarities to Trump in campaign ads


Says the narrator of one ad, 'An outsider and businessman like President Trump, Kevin Rinke will restore Michigan's greatness.'

Kevin Rinke, a Republican candidate for governor of Michigan whose campaign ads feature totems of the state such as muscle cars and music that calls to mind Bob Seger and use typical Republican catchphrases like "tyrannical government," "closed small businesses," "illegal immigration," "voter fraud," and "critical race theory" to attack incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, has recently pushed what his campaign team apparently sees as a winning message: ways in which Rinke is similar to former President Donald Trump.

Rinke posted a campaign ad on July 7 with a tweet that reads, "When liberals blamed their failures on President Trump, he didn't back down. Neither will I. I'll restore Michigan's greatness by reversing Whitmer's awful policies - unleashing American energy, abolishing the income tax, and securing our elections.

"While liberals pointed fingers, President Trump didn't back down," intones the narrator of the ad. "Neither will Kevin Rinke. An outsider and businessman like President Trump, Kevin Rinke will restore Michigan's greatness."

Like Trump, Rinke has faced allegations of sexual impropriety and racist comments, and was sued twice by employees of Rinke Pontiac/GMC, a car dealership that is part of the Rinke Automotive Group, the family company Rinke joined after college. The Detroit News reported in December that the accusations in the suits, filed in 1992, included use of the N-word, derogatory comments about women, and unwanted sexual comments in interactions with employees, creating what one court filing said led a plaintiff to resign because he couldn't "tolerate the outrage, humiliation and endure the relentless racial slurs."

Both lawsuits were dismissed by agreement between the parties; the Detroit News said it was unclear what the agreements involved.

The Rinke campaign stresses his Michigan roots, and during a primary debate on July 6 in Grand Rapids, Rinke repeated the narrative, with the same sort of positioning of himself as savior that characterized Trump's insistence that he was the only one who could save the country. Rinke said:

My son and I, and my wife, were in our family room, and my family's history dates back to the 1700s, before Michigan was a state, and we were talking about leaving the great state of Michigan. We were looking at alternatives because we saw dysfunctional government, we saw a draconian lockdowns. And my son looked at me and he said, "Dad, fix it. I've never seen you so energized on an issue and be willing to walk away. This is our roots, this is our family, this is our history. Fix it." Later that same day, a friend called from Idaho, and we were talking about the actions of our government. And he said, "Kevin, have you ever heard this quote? 'For tyranny to prosper, good men need to sit by idly and do nothing'? You're a good man. You should run for governor." And that's why I'm running for Michigan. For the people, for our state, for you.

A campaign ad full of automotive imagery posted to YouTube in February and called "Drive" features Rinke at the wheel of what he calls "the all-American GTO" muscle car, which he contrasts with a beat-up Yugo: "Like the terrible socialist system it came from, it's a pile of junk," Rinke says, adding, "Gretchen Whitmer — she's straight off the assembly line of of disastrous career politicians. She's a Yugo."

The ad then goes on to suggest several ways in which Rinke would restore greatness: He would open Line 5, an oil and propane pipeline that the Michigan League of Conservation Voters says would have limited relevance to the state's overall energy profile and could have potentially catastrophic effects on the environment in the event of a leak; he would abolish the state income tax, which would reduce the state's revenue by 12 billion dollars; and he would take measures to change the state's election system, which Rinke and the other Republican gubernatorial primary candidates insist without evidence are not secure.  

Rinke's proposal to eliminate state income tax sets him apart from the other candidates, although all four — Rinke, Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, and Garrett Soldano — support tax cuts of some nature. In the debate on July 6, Rinke said, "Lansing has too much money. Like Ronald Reagan says, the only way to control government is to starve it."

Dixon also supports eliminating the income tax, but says it would have to be done incrementally, not by 2024 as Rinke suggests. None of the candidates specifically answered a question about which government services or departments would have to be eliminated as a result of tax cuts.

Although not the most vociferous of the four candidates on election security, Rinke has agreed with the other three on supposed voter fraud. In a campaign ad released in June, he repeated a debunked lie about fraudulent votes being cast in the names of the deceased, asking, "Why is it that dead people always vote Democrat?" During the debate he said, "There is no question that there was fraud" in the 2020 election.

Other issues in the debate failed to reveal major differences between the candidates.

All of them doubled down on their support for the gun rights they claim are guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Kelley, having been arrested by the FBI on charges stemming from his alleged involvement in the riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, has been forced to hand over his firearms to the authorities pending his court hearing. Dixon has repeated the line that "gun control" means "using both hands." Garrett Soldano says in a campaign ad, "No one's taking my guns, that's for damn sure!"  

Rinke claimed in the debate, "We don't sell military weapons at gun stores," despite the fact that the AR-15, which has been used in many mass shootings and is available at gun stores, is a civilian version of a military weapon. 

All four candidates reiterated their anti-abortion credentials, with Rinke and Kelley making the point that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was not an "abolishment of abortion" but an assertion of states' rights.

Dixon said she was the only candidate who was endorsed by Right to Life and is "“unequivocally pro-life," while Kelley and Soldano reiterated their support for abortion with exceptions only for the life of the mother.

A poll conducted in mid-June for the Detroit Free Press gives Kelley a slight lead in the race following his arrest by the FBI in June, with Dixon and Rinke close behind. 

Last week Kelley pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanor charges, each carrying a maximum sentence of a year's imprisonment or $100,000 in fines.  

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.