Susan J. Demas: From Steve Bannon to Diamond & Silk, Trump ‘celeb’ surrogates traipse around Michigan

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks with bloggers Diamond and Silk (Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson), Thursday, July 11, 2019, during the Presidential Social Media Summit in the East Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks, Flickr

President Donald Trump may have only done one 2020 campaign stop in must-win Michigan, but a slew of D-List minions have descended upon the state in his stead.

Sure, Vice President Mike Pence is busy charming the high-rolling donor class with a speech at the Detroit Economic Club and a closed-door Romulus event. And the Michigan GOP finally landed him for its biennial confab on Mackinac Island, which probably came as quite the relief, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (who?) isn’t exactly known to set activists’ hearts afire.

But Team Trump is also dishing out plenty of red meat for the non-eight-figure-earning crowd, like an April Grand Rapids stop advertised as “News/Photo Op with Media Darlings Diamond & Silk,” best known for their bizarre Trump-worshipping YouTube videos.

Lynette Hardaway (Diamond) and Rochelle Richardson (Silk) are former Democrats who boarded the Trump Train early in 2015 and now routinely rail against “Dummycrats” in a “schtick so phony and lazily constructed that it could plausibly be an elaborate Dadaist prank,” perfectly put by Alex Nichols in the Outline. But they’ve been invited to speak at the White House, because, of course.

Charlie Kirk is slated to speak in Troy later this month. Kirk, founder of the pro-Trump college group Turning Point USA that’s been plagued by completely surprising racism scandals (lol), is best known for having supporters don diapers and members who made photoshopped memes of Kirk’s tiny face, which the group tried to quash and naturally became a Twitter sensation.

Charlie isn’t just a pretty face, though. He also writes dystopian political fanfic, like “A sleeper cell of socialists could steal the 2020 election — and finish off America as we know it,” which Newsweek embarrassingly published.

Candace Owens of Turning Point USA is sworn in before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing discussing hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Turning Point’s Candace Owens appeared at the same venue, providing some conservative counter-programming on the day of the 10-candidate presidential forum at the annual NAACP national convention held in Detroit where candidates like U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talked about tackling racism in education and the criminal justice system.

Owens, who, like Diamond & Silk, became a Trumper fave for being an African American liberal who saw the light with Trump, had this, uh, interesting take on the Fuhrer: “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, okay, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize.” Republicans invited her to testify in a Capitol Hill hearing on white nationalism a few months later, natch.

Then there’s Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns best known for wearing a bullet necklace on teevee to trigger the libs (which is the core Trumper value). She spoke in (you guessed it) Troy last month at a Women for Trump event.

The Detroit News gave her a platform for a ridiculous op-ed, “Women can feel confident voting for Trump,” which naturally omits the 20-odd women who have accused the president of sexual assault and his record of trampling on women’s reproductive rights. (You can expect News columnist Ingrid Jacques to recycle these talking points several more times before the 2020 election).

Bannon rallies hundreds in Detroit for Trump’s border wall

And disgraced former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, who helped Breitbart turn into a Trump/white supremacist fanzine, came to rile up folks against immigration in Detroit in March (most folks in the crowd looked like they had last gingerly stepped foot in Motown in about 1972).

David Clarke at Cobo, March 14, 2019 | Ken Coleman

He also brought along Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state who lost his 2018 gubernatorial bid, and former former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has the rare distinction of having been deemed too unqualified to serve in the Trump administration after a plagiarism scandal broke.

Bannon is probably the saddest case, as his chief goal doesn’t appear to be running a con, but to get back in the good graces of Trump, who fired and humiliated him. Sure, Bannon clearly sees Trump as a vessel for his white nationalist dream (which he’s been trying to spread across Europe). But it’s just odd to see those who built a movement against the wimpy “cucks” in the GOP repeatedly prostrate themselves before “Mr. Trump.”

It’s easy to laugh at the motley crew of Trump evangelists hocking their wares across Michigan (and it’s almost impossible not to). It would also be tempting to respect the hustle, as they’ve clearly found enough marks to attain a modicum of fame and make their acts profitable.

Susan J. Demas: Trump’s crazy 2 weeks underscore just how much we’ll lose if he wins in 2020

But just like with the QAnon death cult, which had a significant presence at Trump’s Grand Rapids rally this winter and at his other events across the country, the main goal is to sell folks that they’re part of something big and important (and the media and libs just don’t get it, man).

Crowds lining up for blocks to see President Trump in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

Team Trump is banking on these diehards showing up in droves to put him over the top in Michigan again in 2020. But no one can amp up the faithful like Trump himself, which is why it’s pretty odd that he’s not spending more time in our critical state.

Maybe his feelings are hurt by his poor showing in poll after poll in Michigan. Maybe it would be hard for him to maintain a nonstop campaign schedule this time around.

But Diamond & Silk and Charlie Kirk are a poor substitute for the big man himself. We’ll see if Trump’s supporters start to notice.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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