Finley: Leonard could save GOP from a wacko
Mackinac Island — Perhaps the most significant event at the Republican Party's biennial policy conference here this weekend is the announcement by Tom Leonard that he's running for attorney general.
Leonard, former speaker of the Michigan House, narrowly lost the AG's race to Democrat Dana Nessel in 2018, so he'd seem the natural choice to face her again in 2022. He looks like a winner against a Democratic extremist who has even alienated many in her own party.
Except that former President Donald Trump has already endorsed a GOP candidate in the race. He's put his name behind Matthew DePerno, a Kalamazoo lawyer and leading purveyor of the false assertion that rigged voting machines led to widespread fraud in Michigan's balloting.
He's been denounced by Michigan Senate Republicans for spreading "demonstrably false" information about the election.
In disclosure, The Detroit News was awarded sanctions of $79,000 by a judge who agreed that DePerno filed a frivolous wiretapping, defamation and conspiracy lawsuit against the paper on behalf of former state lawmaker Todd Courser. The News settled the case earlier this year and donated the proceeds to charity.
That confirms rather than colors my opinion that DePerno is a wild-eyed nut whose presence on the GOP ticket next fall would cement perceptions of Republicans as the party of radical conspiracy theorists, a fringe outfit controlled by an egomaniac and with little to offer middle-of-the road Americans.
"DePerno on the ballot would not just cost us the opportunity to win back the attorney general's office, it would have impact up and down the ballot," says former state party director Jason Roe, who was forced out for questioning Trump's election strategy.
"He is as far out on the fringes of conspiracy theorists as any person with a platform in Michigan. He would undermine the credibility of all Republican candidates."
Should Republicans nominate a not-crazy gubernatorial candidate such as former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, saddling him with DePerno on the ticket would force him to constantly address the stolen election nonsense DePerno is spewing.
Roe also believes DePerno on the ticket would doom the 2022 ballot initiative that would implement common sense election security measures.
Leonard, of DeWitt, was a respected speaker who worked well across the aisle during his tenure. He enters the race with endorsements from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Tom McMillan, a longtime leader of Michigan's conservative movement.
The nomination will be decided in April at the GOP nominating convention — there is no statewide primary for attorney general.
Leonard's political connections and history should position him well with GOP convention delegates.
But Trump's endorsement is a formidable obstacle. The former president has been using his backing to reward candidates who peddled his election fraud claim or to settle scores with political enemies.
His other Michigan endorsements so far have gone to state Rep. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, who is mounting a primary challenge to Congressman Fred Upton of St. Joseph. Upton was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. He's also backed Kristina Karamo, who has been critical of the election and is running as a Republican for Secretary of State.
How important is the former president's backing?
"It is valuable," says Saul Anuzis a former state party chair and National Republican committeeman. "There is still a very large percentage of party activists who see Trump as the leader of the party. His endorsement will be a value add.
"The good news for Leonard is that he's been around. He's run before, people know him. He is clearly a very credible candidate."
A lesser known Republican, state Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township, who has pushed in the Legislature for an audit of the election results, has also entered the race, but is not likely to last long at the convention, where, if there are three candidates and no one gets a majority, the lowest vote getter drops off after the first ballot. The final match-up most likely will be Leonard against DePerno.
Michigan Republicans have made a priority of defeating Nessel, whose far-left agenda is damaging the state and the rule-of-law.
But you don't beat one radical with another.
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