Dueling pro-Trump factions in Michigan are confusing swing state Republicans

(Joey Cappelletti/Associated Press)

Dueling pro-Trump factions in Michigan are confusing swing state Republicans

Election 2024


February 22, 2024

The Republican Party of Michigan was deeply in debt when a longtime party donor, who had given more than $1 million over the past decade, requested a meeting with its chairman.

Kristina Karamo rejected the donor. Her reasoning, according to two people familiar with the matter, was that he was a Republican in name only, or a RINO, an insult long used to denigrate members of the party considered not conservative enough.

Today, the party’s finances are so bad that Karamo has sued former party leaders so she can get permission to sell the organization’s headquarters. And she refuses to leave her post, even as a former president


Trump and national Republicans have installed a new ally in her place.

The cash crisis and infighting within Michigan’s Republican Party, long a bastion of traditional conservatism, is a case study in the new phase of the parties nationally in the age of Trump, where the competing elements are no longer simply for or against him are. Instead, pro-Trump factions in Michigan and elsewhere are fighting over how best to represent his Make America Great Again movement, openly alienating some Republicans and undermining the party’s work in key swing states.

While Trump is widely expected to win Tuesday’s Michigan primary, his campaign is trying to improve Republican standing in a state that could decide Trump’s possible November rematch with the Democratic president.


Biden. But some of Trump’s most ardent supporters disagree with his efforts to replace Karamo and openly question his judgment.

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“I don’t think he should be involved in state politics to begin with,” said Steve Willis, chairman of the Clinton County GOP, in south-central Michigan near Lansing. He just listens to people who have his ear and makes a decision.

Trump’s allies have replaced Karamo with Pete Hoekstra, a former nine-term congressman who served as Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands. Hoekstra is now responsible for assembling a functioning network of activists, donors and political staff, while recognizing, as he said in an interview, that he cannot build an entire political party in eight months.

We have to rebuild the brand, with our base and our donor class, Hoekstra said. My intention is to rebuild those relationships.

Karamo, who did not respond to several text messages and phone calls seeking comment, retains control of the party’s bank accounts, social media and email. A lawsuit seeking to force her to give up power is being heard by a judge in Michigan.

Karamo, who was elected party chairman last year, is a staunch Trump supporter who rose to fame by repeating false claims about voter fraud in Detroit and denying that Trump lost the 2020 election.

She inherited a state party torn by infighting and facing millions in debt. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a rising star of the Democratic Party, had easily won reelection and Democrats gained control of the Legislature.

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But many donors and longtime activists say Karamo refused to work with them. Many of them, in turn, stopped donating, cutting off resources for a party accustomed to raising at least $20 million and sometimes more than $30 million to help statewide candidates.

John Kennedy, the longtime CEO of a medical implant manufacturer and part of a core of Michigan’s most loyal donors, was told that Karamo would not meet with RINOs, according to two people familiar with his story who were not authorized to discuss the matter. to be discussed publicly. spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kennedy declined to comment in response to an email inquiry.

An attorney for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which oversees U.S. House races across the country, sent the state party a letter questioning whether Karamo and her staff were instead spending money intended for campaigns for the daily expenditure.

“I will not deny that we are increasingly alarmed by reports that MIGOP is in financial trouble and is grossly mismanaging their limited resources,” wrote Erin Clark, NRCC general counsel. These do not appear to be the actions of a state party adhering to conservative principles; or frankly, one that has the desire or ability to elect Republicans into office.

Karamo’s opponents tried to push her out last fall. She was voted out in January. The Republican National Committee sided with Hoekstra this month, recognizing him as the rightful chairman of the state party.

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He brings credibility and donor acceptability to major donors, that’s for sure, said former Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser, who has contributed millions to the party over the decades. People know him and he’s from Western Michigan, where you have the largest percentage of major donors on the Republican side.

Hoekstra is trying to piece together a patchwork of helpful GOP county chairmen, such as in densely populated Oakland County northwest of Detroit, and outside political groups working on campaigns in Michigan, while inviting donors who have left the party.

It’s still a long way from where we need to be. The nice thing is that you call these people and ask for help


They’ve been ignored for a year, and they feel, hallelujah, that someone is asking them to do something, he said.

But Karamo isn’t going quietly, and neither are her supporters.

A significant number of local Republican activists remain loyal to Karamo, joining her belief that Trump not only won Michigan but was cheated out of a second term in general. Among the federal and state reviews proving this belief false is a 2021 GOP-led Senate survey that found Biden defeated Trump in Michigan by 3 percentage points.

Iosco County GOP Chairman David Chandler refuted criticism of Karamo, saying fundraising isn’t really a requirement.” He said efforts to remove her were a coup by big-establishment Republicans to try to grab what they couldn’t get a decent, fair election.

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Jon Smith, former GOP chairman of Michigan’s 5th Congressional District, said that while he supported Karamo’s removal, the RNC’s work to oust her helped turn her into a martyr.

Kristina’s faction has more people. But Pete Hoekstra’s faction has more money, he said.

Unless current plans change, Karamo and Hoekstra will hold separate nominating conventions on March 2 to allocate most of the 55 delegates from Tuesday’s primary. National Republicans will recognize Hoekstra’s event in Grand Rapids. Karamo’s faction will meet in Detroit after refusing to transfer the room lease to Hoekstra.

Trump offered a generous shoutout to his hand-picked successor at a campaign rally in Oakland County last week.

I said: Do you think you can ever get that Hoekstra? He’s incredible, Trump told more than 2,000 people sitting in an icy airplane hangar. And you were willing to do it. And I appreciate it. Everyone appreciates it. We are going to win.

Most of the crowd cheered or remained silent as Trump spoke about Hoekstra. But a lone voice in the back of the audience cheered and shouted towards the stage.

“He’s a RINO!” the man said.


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