Former President Donald Trump called for ousting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a Saturday night speech where he described a country in desperate straits heading into the midterm elections.

“Seven months from now, you’re going to vote out Gretchen Whitmer,” Trump told the crowd of 5,500 participants. “The stakes of this year’s midterm election could not be higher. I don’t know of a time we’ve ever felt so low, so dejected. And we have a president who has no idea what’s going on.”

“We’re living through the most dangerous period of our lifetime,” he said at a podium with the message “Save America,” as people in the crowd waved placards with the same message.

“The choice this November is very simple: If you want high crime, high prices, high taxes, high corruption and high incompetence, vote for radical Democrats,” Trump said. “If you want a country that is strong, sovereign, solvent, safe and secure, you must vote for America-first Republicans.”

An early focus on his prepared speech hit his trademark issue of immigration.

Trump said Biden had opened the southern border to Mexico to millions of illegal immigrants. He called it “the biggest invasion ever, of our country and probably any country.”

“Our country is being systematically destroyed,” he added. “Even a third world country protects their borders just a little bit.”

The former president took the stage just before 7:30 p.m, using Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” as his introductory music.

“Wow, that’s some crowd,” Trump said to open his remarks. “There are thousands more outside. I wish this building was four, five times larger.”

Saturday night’s speech marked the first time the former president has visited Michigan since his election eve November 2020 campaign visit to the state.

Trump is expected to stump for his endorsed Michigan primary candidates including his picks for secretary of state and attorney general: Kristina Karamo and Matt DePerno. He had joked on Nov. 2, 2020, in a stop in Grand Rapids that he might not visit Michigan again if he lost. President Joe Biden won the state 51%-48%, a result Trump has disputed.

Hours before Trump took the stage Saturday in Macomb County, crowds lined up outside a sports complex for the former president’s rally.

Washington Township Fire Chief Brian Tyrell said the indoor capacity at Michigan Star Center would be capped at 5,500 and thousands more people would remain outside the facility.

Saturday’s visit comes three weeks ahead of the Michigan Republican nominating convention in Grand Rapids, where precinct delegates will choose which GOP candidates for secretary of state and attorney general will advance to the November elections. They also will select two nominees for the State Board of Education, the Michigan Supreme Court, as well as the Michigan State, Wayne State and University of Michigan boards.

The party will pick its gubernatorial nominee at the ballot boxes in the August primary.

Political experts have said they expect the April 23 nominating convention to test the extent of Trump’s influence within the party.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, kicked off the speakers Saturday with criticism of President Joe Biden, blaming the Democrat for unemployment, economic challenges, the labor shortage and border issues.

“Take a look around for one minute,” she said. “Tell me Joe Biden won? He couldn’t have this many people at a rally and the State of the Union combined.”

West Michigan congressional hopeful John Gibbs, who is challenging GOP U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township, spoke of his work at The Department of Housing and Urban Development under Trump and his opposition to COVID-19 relief funds for the agency, advocating instead to get people back to work by ending “the stupid lockdowns.”

He also attacked primary opponent U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, calling him a RINO or Republican in Name Only for voting to impeach the former president over the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Karamo criticized the media for failing to scrutinize the November 2020 election more closely and slammed Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as an “authoritarian leftist who treats the people of Michigan like the unwashed masses.”

“They tried to demonize us,” Karamo said of the media. “I have a right to scrutinize our government.”

DePerno promised to end mask mandates, vaccine mandates, critical race theory, Line 5 litigation by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and threats to second amendment rights.

He repeated vows to investigate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Benson and Nessel should he be elected attorney general and said Nessel was the only candidate in the election “who has been wheeled out of a football game because she was black-out drunk.”

“I cannot wait to debate Dana Nessel,” DePerno said.

Nessel apologized in November and admitted to drinking alcohol to the point of feeling sick and having to be helped out of the Oct. 30 football game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

But DePerno urged participants to attend the April 23 Republican nominating convention, where he is opposed by former Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt and State Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township. Only votes by delegates selected at April 11 county party meetings are supposed to determine the nominee.

“It’s time we storm the convention,” DePerno said. “It is time for the grassroots to unite. And if you’re not a delegate, you still need to go to the convention.”

Inside the facility, each of the audience seats had a copy of the Secure MI Vote petition, an effort to tighten Michigan voter ID rules after legislation attempting the same was vetoed by Whitmer. Outside the event, dozens of individuals circulated petitions seeking signatures for petitions that included Secure MI Vote, Unlock II and an effort to conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 election.

The rally was flush with GOP gubernatorial candidates shaking hands and snagging interviews. Among the attendees were Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke, Bloomfield Hills quality guru Perry Johnson, Norton Shores commentator Tudor Dixon and former Detroit police chief James Craig.

Two and a half weeks out from the filing deadline, Craig said his campaign was “really close” to meeting the signature requirement mandated for gubernatorial candidates.

Saturday’s event marks Trump’s third visit to Michigan Star Center in Washington Township. He held a rally inside the indoor soccer field in 2018 in lieu of attending the White House correspondents dinner and returned for an outdoor rally ahead of the election in October 2020.

Macomb County was the largest Michigan county Trump won in the 2016 and 2020 elections and has been a frequent stopover in the former president’s effort to court the state’s blue-collar vote.

Michigan Democrats on Friday slammed the former president ahead of his visit, calling Trump a “failed salesman trying to peddle his right-wing extremism to an electorate that already rejected him.”

“Michiganders know that Republicans cannot move their state forward, and that’s why they’ll re-elect Gov. Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel, and Secretary of State Benson in 2022,” said Lavora Barnes, chairwoman for the Michigan Democratic Party.

Ty Paye brought his wife, son, nephew and family friend for Saturday’s rally as well as a longing for a return to the Trump presidency.

“Gas was low. I wasn’t paying $5 a gallon,” the 58-year-old Clinton Township resident said about life under Trump. “Everybody had a job. Groceries, I had money in my pockets. I got to go places. And now I can’t really.

“President Trump says what he’s going to do and he does it. And he cares about the American people and not their pockets. The Democrats, all they care about are their pockets.”

Marrah Madsen of Port Huron was similarly impressed by the president’s record while in office as well as his direct speech.

But the 45-year-old U.S. Navy veteran said that doesn’t mean a Trump endorsement influences her vote. Madsen said she’s a supporter of Karamo and gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano, a Mattawan chiropractor who gained a name for himself by opposing state restrictions during the pandemic.

“Some people it matters to,” Madsen said of Trump’s endorsement. “For me, it’s about the person. I do my own research, what I see online, what they say. … Your actions speak louder than your words.”

Sue Zerillo, a supporter of Soldano and DePerno, echoed Madsen’s ambivalence toward the former president’s endorsement.

“His influence does help,” the 59-year-old Clinton Township resident said. “But the research you do on the people, that’s what I go by.”

Brad Bergman said he’s keeping an “open ear” and didn’t have “blinders” on when it came to endorsements or politics in general. But he was certain the Democratic officials currently in office were “not making the grade.”

“The governor, the AG, I know what they’ve done,” the 62-year-old Brighton man said. “I’ve personally felt it and I think they were wrong.”

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