In an interview that first aired last week, Michigan's leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, said that a 14-year-old incest victim was the "perfect example" of her justification for a nearly total ban on abortion access in the state.
This article first appeared in Salon.
During an interview with journalist Charlie LeDuff, host of the internet talk show "No Bullshit News," Dixon, who formerly worked in the steel industry and as founder of a "pro-America, pro-Constitution morning news program" for children, doubled down on her previous statements that she opposes abortion in all cases except when necessary to save the life of the mother.
Asked by LeDuff about a hypothetical situation in which a 14-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by a family member, Dixon said, "Perfect example." She went on, "Because I know people who are the product. A life is a life for me. That's how it is. That is for me, that is my feeling."
The story gained wider attention this week when it was first picked up by the regional news outlet Heartland Signal and then by national outlets. In a statement to HuffPost, Dixon, who is endorsed by Right to Life Michigan, elaborated, saying, "Not everyone agrees with me that every life has value and we should have the courage, as [University of Michigan football coach] Jim Harbaugh put it, to let unborn children be born.… I know that. I'm not hiding from it."
Dixon's position is in alignment with a 1931 abortion law in Michigan, which bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother, and which might go into effect in the state following the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade last month. Currently, a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood challenging the law's constitutionality has resulted in a temporary injunction on the old law taking effect.
To moderate and progressive politicos in Michigan, however, Dixon's comments are par for the course in a Republican field that has tilted far to the right.
"It's not particularly shocking and it also doesn't really differentiate her much from the rest of the Republicans she's running against," said Michigan Democratic spokesperson Rodericka Applewhaite. "They have all pushed pretty extreme anti-choice agendas." One of Dixon's opponents, far-right pandemic skeptic Garret Soldano, declared this winter that rape victims should recognize that "God put them in this moment" and the child that could result from their rape "may be the next president."
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
While most Republican voters in Michigan say they support abortion exceptions in cases of rape and incest — and that position would have been normal just a few elections ago — Applewhaite continued, "It's just testament to the purity tests that have come to define the Republican Party at this point. In Michigan in particular, there's been a real sprint to the right." The entire GOP field of gubernatorial candidates, she noted, is basically in agreement on denying the validity of the 2020 election and stripping the state budget of funds for public services, from schools to infrastructure.
"The electorate isn't necessarily there yet, but at the same time, those voters are about to line up to support these people in 11 days," on the Aug. 2 Michigan primary, Applewhaite noted. "So the candidates are dragging the party to the right and I expect the electorate to follow them."
Former executive director of Michigan GOP says Dixon's "barbaric" and "insane" incest comments "show how far outside the mainstream the party has become."
Jim Timmer, the former executive director of Michigan's Republican Party, agreed, saying Dixon's comments "show how far outside the mainstream the party has become." Timmer, who publicly opposed Donald Trump and has since left the GOP, said that, before Dixon, no past Republican candidate for the office "has ever taken the position that we're going to take a 14-year-old girl and make her carry her rapist's baby. Dixon is the first one to ever demand that that happen, and that's barbaric and it's insane."
That's indicative of larger problems in the GOP, he said: "Michigan is a microcosm of the insanity around the MAGA movement. We have what really amounts to unprecedented lawlessness within the Republican Party."
Throughout this election cycle, Michigan has stood out for repeated scandals involving Republican elected officials and candidates for office. Of 10 initial Republican candidates for governor, five were disqualified for submitting fraudulent signatures in their voter petitions. One, Ryan Kelley, was arrested in June on charges relating to his participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. ("Instead of ending his candidacy," remarked Timmer, "it catapulted him to the top tier.")
Further, Timmer pointed out, a GOP candidate for attorney general is under investigation for pushing false election fraud claims; the Republican speaker of the House is being investigated for both financial and sexual misconduct; the Republican Senate majority leader is being investigated for campaign finance violations; and the co-chair of the state party is being investigated, alongside others, for voter fraud in association with Republicans' "alternate electors" scheme.
"There's no top Republicans right now that aren't touched by criminal investigations," said Timmer. "It's unheard of."
And it doesn't even stop there. As Salon has reported, last March a candidate for state House, Robert Regan, said during a livestream that he'd told his daughters, "If rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it." In April, state Sen. Tom Barrett, who's running for Congress, sent out fundraising texts claiming that recipients' children had been scheduled for "gender reassignment surgery," and if they didn't like it, they should sign up with Republicans now. In June, state Rep. Steve Carra proposed a resolution to mark Jan. 6 as an official day of "remembrance" for the Capitol rioters.
Earlier this month, Trump's pick for Michigan secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, was reported to have described abortion as a "satanic practice" and "demon possession" as a sexually transmitted disease." Not to mention that throughout the late winter and spring, a suite of right-wing ballot initiatives — restricting voting rights, curtailing state power to address pandemics and sending public money to private schools — joined radical far-right activists with mainstream GOP leaders like Betsy DeVos (and another dose of petition fraud).
Everything happening in Michigan, said Applewhaite, is "reflective of a trend we're seeing across the country in which Republicans are moving further to the right, it's turning off a lot of independent voters and it is galvanizing a lot of Democrats." A recent poll by The Detroit News found that almost 60% of Michigan voters "strongly oppose" the recent Supreme Court abortion decision overturning Roe.
Yet given the current state of politics, Timmer warned, the likelihood that even a far-right candidate like Dixon could become governor is very significant.
"The easiest thing to do would be to look at someone like Tudor Dixon and say she's so outside the mainstream she can't win. Except that she might not just win the nomination, but any of those people could be elected governor in this climate, where any of these crazy candidates are going to get 47% [of the vote]," Timmer said.
"I think 2022 is a harbinger of what we can expect in 2024 and the return of Donald Trump," he continued. "A dark dystopian future for America can become a fait accompli this year if the MAGA candidates — like Tudor Dixon, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Kari Lake in Arizona, Joe Lombardo in Nevada — win. If these folks win, we're looking at a very dark future, beginning in 2024, where how states like Michigan vote will not matter. Republicans will have their thumb on control of the certification process, and will use that power that they didn't have in 2020 to skew the election results. And that bodes very poorly for the future of democracy in America."