TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
When the FBI foiled alleged plans to kidnap Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, most residents there condemned the plot and embraced calls for unity. Now, just two weeks later, there is renewed division. Some Republicans are once again harshly criticizing the governor, and some Democrats claim she's been unfairly targeted because of her gender. Abigail Censky of member station WKAR reports.
ABIGAIL CENSKY, BYLINE: Protesters called her a tyrant. Some Republicans called her a dictator. Then it was revealed some of the heavily armed men who stood above lawmakers at protest had allegedly planned to storm the Capitol, take hostages and try the governor for treason. Democrats blamed Republicans for endangering Whitmer, and they started with the president. At a rally in Michigan a week later, Trump supporters again attacked Whitmer.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Lock them all up.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up.
CENSKY: Far away from campaign stops, in the shadow of the state Capitol, Keith Clark says he doesn't back the men who allegedly conspired to kidnap the governor, but he does think she went overboard responding to the coronavirus.
KEITH CLARK: I'm a Republican, but I don't think that she did anything to be locked up for. I think - you know, I think she took some of the restrictions a little too far, and she choked and pretty much hurt our economy.
CENSKY: Further down Washington Street, Sandra Lamarche says Gretchen Whitmer had it tougher because she's a woman governing a swing state.
SANDRA LAMARCHE: I thought it was absurd. At first, I couldn't believe it. But then I stopped myself and thought about everything that's going on politically and just the reaction of our president and how he's basically attacked our governor.
CENSKY: Whitmer wasn't the only governor with a tough coronavirus response. California's Gavin Newsom and New York's Andrew Cuomo also drew attacks from the president. In downtown Lansing, Cyndy Wetzel says all of the pushback Whitmer has received could be somewhat related to the fact that she's a woman in power.
CYNDY WETZEL: A lot of people didn't like what she did. But I really believe, deep down, if it was a male governor doing exactly what she had done, there wouldn't have been nearly the amount of pushback.
CENSKY: But some say it's not about misogyny; it's about the state's economy. In an American government class at Northern Michigan University this week, students are also grappling with the aftermath of the arrests.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're going to allow another person online, and then we have a couple of people in class...
CENSKY: Here's Jake Allard-Soucy raising a question in class.
JAKE ALLARD-SOUCY: If it's not Whitmer's fault, then, like, whose fault specifically is it?
CENSKY: Student Janae Peterson responds, saying the governor was demonized from the very beginning.
JANAE PETERSON: Whitmer was immediately labeled as an overemotional woman who is a tyrant and is trying to take too much power than she deserves and all of this stuff.
CENSKY: After months of dealing with disruptions to daily life brought by the pandemic, some Michiganders are just looking for a face to blame, says Livingston County resident Lucca Green.
LUCCA GREEN: It's a virus, but you can't castigate a virus, right? So it's like, you've got to have someone to blame.
CENSKY: Despite some bitter criticism, Whitmer's approval rating still hovers around 60%. Michigan is at a critical point again. Hospitalization rates have tripled in the past four weeks, and strong divisions are evident again. But this time, Whitmer alone can't be blamed for the response. A recent state Supreme Court decision gutted her executive powers, and now she'll have to work with Republicans in the state Legislature who have very different ideas about coronavirus response.
For NPR News, I'm Abigail Censky in Lansing.
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