The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party faced swift backlash Friday for comments in which he called the three top Democratic women in the state “witches” and quipped about “assassination” as a way to rid the state of two Republican congressman who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
Ron Weiser said in a tweet later Friday that he “should have chosen my words more carefully,” but the state party chairman stopped short of apologizing for what he called “off-the-cuff comments” after video obtained and first reported by The Detroit News showed him making the comments at a local Republican club meeting Thursday night.
Video obtained by the newspaper shows Weiser fielding questions from the crowd about how to get Republican Reps. Fred Upton and Peter Meijer out of office and cut off party donations to the two US congressmen, who voted in February to charge Trump with incitement of insurrection. In the video, Weiser says that the only way to change leadership is to “get out and vote.”
He also tells an audience member that the GOP is focused on winning 2022 races and “focused on the three witches” in an apparent reference to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson – all three Democratic women up for reelection next year.
At another point during the event, Weiser says the GOP’s “job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure that when we have good candidates to run against them, that they are ready for the burning at the stake.”
In the video, a woman in the crowd argues that Republicans can’t win “when we don’t have our own leadership that has our back.”
“Ma’am, other than assassination, I have no other way other than voting out,” Weiser replies, prompting some laughter from the crowd. “You people have to go out there and support their opponents. You have to do what you need to get out the vote in those areas. That’s how you beat people.”
Weiser in his Friday tweet said that his remarks were being taken out of context. “While I should have chosen my words more carefully, anyone who knows me understands I would never advocate for violence,” he said, adding that he’s spoken with Upton and Meijer.
Meijer’s office on Monday declined to comment. CNN has reached out to Upton as well as to Weiser for additional comment.
Ted Goodman, a spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, told CNN in a statement that Weiser was being “very clear that it is up to the voters to determine the nominees of the Republican Party, and to suggest anything else is dishonest and irresponsible.” Goodman also pointed out that Weiser had personally donated to all Republican congressmen in Michigan.
But Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes called Weiser’s comments “not only sexist, but markedly dangerous,” and Whitmer press secretary Bobby Leddy condemned them, saying that “given the dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials during the Trump Administration, this type of rhetoric is destructive and downright dangerous.”
“We saw this firsthand when Republican legislators met with the very militias that tried to kidnap and kill the governor, and when Republican party leaders helped organize the January 6th protest at the U.S. Capitol building,” Leddy said in a statement to CNN.
Leddy added, “As the governor has said repeatedly, it’s time for people of good will on both sides of the aisle to bring down the heat and reject this kind of divisive rhetoric.”
Whitmer on Twitter Friday also posted a photo of her with the book “The Witches Are Coming,” with the quote from author Lindy West: “For a long time, a certain set of men have called women like me ‘witches’ to silence and discredit us.”
Nessel responded with a tweet that included an edited photo of herself, Benson and Whitmer with witch hats, saying, “Witches who magically decrease Covid spread, increase voter turnout and hold sexual predators accountable without any help from the legislature? Sign me up for that coven. Do better, Michigan GOP.”
She later added that as “a gay, Jewish woman, I have long since learned to respond to hateful rhetoric with humor. But as a prosecutor, I know these remarks are certain to inspire further death threats which will eventually be acted upon.”
And Benson wrote on Twitter, “Thinking of all the young women leaders out there who aspire to serve and hold public office, hearing this hateful rhetoric in the headlines (and) feeling discouraged, deterred, or dismissed.”
“My message: Keep leading. The world needs your voice, your service, (and) your courage,” she added.
Weiser’s comments also prompted calls for his resignation from the University of Michigan’s board of regents.
Jordan Acker, a Democrat who serves with Weiser on the board, said that he should resign and that his “reckless and dangerous language does not reflect the values of our Board and our Institution.”
“Comments about removal by ‘assassination’ are a literal attack on our Democracy, and are incredibly dangerous in light of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. And the FBI-thwarted attacks on our Governor,” Acker wrote on Twitter Friday. Whitmer was the target of a kidnapping plot last year.
Weiser has said he does not intend to resign from the board of regents.
This story has been updated with additional information.