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Michigan Residents React To Trump's Comments About Rep. John Dingell


Last night, as the House of Representatives voted on articles of impeachment against President Trump, the man himself held a fiery campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich. He raged against Democrats, listed his accomplishments, and thousands of supporters in the crowd were with him every step of the way, until he talked about a phone call with a recently widowed wife of beloved Michigan Congressman John Dingell, a Democrat.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: John would be so thrilled. He's looking down. He'd be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir. I said, that's OK. Don't worry about it. Maybe he's looking up. I don't know.


SHAPIRO: So why did a crowd supportive of the president boo and groan when he suggested that a Democratic congressman had perhaps gone to hell? Stephen Henderson is the host of "Detroit Today," and he joins me now to help put this in context.

Hi there.


SHAPIRO: Trump supporters come to these rallies expecting the president to make insensitive or taboo statements, and when he does, they often cheer him on. Why do you think they responded differently to this moment?

HENDERSON: Well, normally, when the president does this, I think his targets are people that his supporters don't like or want to mock.

SHAPIRO: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, etc.

HENDERSON: Exactly. Exactly. John Dingell doesn't fit in that company in quite the same way, not here in Michigan, at least.

SHAPIRO: Explain. There are people who voted for Dingell and Trump?

HENDERSON: Absolutely. If you went down to the district that his wife now represents in 2016, you would have seen signs on people's lawns for Debbie Dingell right next to signs for Donald Trump. It is that kind of place where people have local concerns and local allegiances that don't always track with their national voting behavior.

SHAPIRO: Is this remark from his rally a big deal in Michigan today?

HENDERSON: It is. There is - across the board, politically, people are really appalled by the statement itself, but also kind of scratching their heads, I think, about why take this shot, not just at John Dingell but at Debbie Dingell, his widow, who most of us know have - has had a really hard time with his passing and is still grieving his passing. I think it's very hard for people to quite fathom what he thought he could ever gain from a remark like that.

SHAPIRO: She responded today. Can you tell us about what she said?

HENDERSON: She did. And as usual, she took the high road. She said, I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth. We need to be more civil in the way that we talk about things and disagree about things. She, again, reiterated that she was thankful for what the president did for John when he died in terms of lowering the flags and giving him the full treatment at the Capitol. But she also said this was inappropriate and hurtful and that it exacerbated her grieving.

SHAPIRO: Do you think this was a blip or could it have larger political consequences for the president in Michigan?

HENDERSON: I think the idea of coming here on the night of impeachment was aimed at saying, look - this is an important state. I won it four years ago. I need to win it again. I think he may have overplayed his hand here. And people who ordinarily would be attracted to the kinds of things he's saying, especially about trade and jobs, might think again about the way in which he treats somebody who they also have great admiration for.

SHAPIRO: Do the local headlines today focus on what he said about trade and jobs or what he said about the late Congressman Dingell?

HENDERSON: Way more about what he said about Congressman Dingell - I think it's hard for people outside the state to quite understand how much people here just loved and really respected Congressman Dingell. Whether you were a liberal or a conservative, this was somebody who served our state and our nation tremendously and didn't deserve what the president said about him.

SHAPIRO: Stephen Henderson is host of "Detroit Today."

Thank you for giving us this perspective.

HENDERSON: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.