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Kristina Karamo
Critics say party funds were badly mismanaged under Kristina Karamo’s leadership. Joey Cappelletti/AP

Internal Chaos Threatens Michigan GOP Gains

“It’s kind of every candidate for themselves at this point.”

After suffering major losses in 2022, the Michigan GOP is poised to make significant gains in November, but prominent Republicans are worried internal fighting in the state party will throw them off track.

President Joe Biden lags in the polls there, Democrats have a tenuous hold on the Michigan House of Representatives, there’s a crucial open Senate seat and several close House swing districts the GOP would love to pick up. But abysmal fundraising and a high-burn rate, along with the recent ouster of GOP Chair Kristina Karamo, has left the party in an increasingly unstable position.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Rep. Bill Huizenga told NOTUS. “I grew up doing county party stuff. Before I could vote, I volunteered [at] my local party and the lack of effectiveness is going to potentially affect the election.”

The committee officially voted to remove Karamo, a staunch election denier, in early January, following yearslong intraparty beefs — both personal and professional. Since she became chair, party members have openly fought, meetings devolved into brawls and the party’s reputation crumbled (last year’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference — which is traditionally graced by Republican presidential candidates — only got Vivek Ramaswamy).

Party funds were badly mismanaged under Karamo’s leadership and she failed to deliver on her promise to bring in more donors to the Michigan GOP, her critics say. Karamo did not return a request for comment.

Campaign finance filings from January show that the party has burned through its funds. At the start of 2023, it had almost $2 million cash on hand, much of which was used to pay down debts incurred during Karamo’s tenure. But the outlook has not improved since: The party now it has just over $240,000. Its debts also amount to almost 75% of what it currently has in the bank.

As a result, there’s been no real preparation for November. Huizenga told NOTUS that candidates can’t count on the Michigan GOP for help like in past years and that if the party does rebound, the impact of its help wouldn’t be the same.

“It’s kind of every candidate for themselves at this point,” he said.

A Republican state operative told NOTUS that no staff has been hired and party-backed initiatives to energize voters are virtually nonexistent.

“The state party is not supposed to be a volunteer organization,” they said, pointing out that by now the party would’ve hired 30 district field representatives to oversee voter outreach. “It’s a beautiful day outside, people should be knocking on doors.”

The Michigan GOP voted to replace Karamo with Trump-endorsed Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman who served as ambassador to the Netherlands. Karamo, though, has continued to drag out the fight by refusing to concede. She has continued to make rounds in the state and recently met with constituents in Detroit to recruit candidates for Michigan’s State Board of Education elections.

A special committee established by the Republican National Committee confirmed in January that Karamo’s ouster was legitimate. The RNC still needs to officially certify Hoekstra but he has not wasted time in trying to get the state party back on its feet. Michigan was not officially represented at a recent RNC gathering in Las Vegas, but both Karamo and Hoekstra attended as guests. Karamo has threatened to fight for her spot in court.

The RNC did not return a request for comment.

He told NOTUS that the Trump campaign has promised to send him surrogates for fundraising dinners slated right before primaries later this month.

“The bottom line is once the RNC credentials me as the chairperson, then it’s only a matter of weeks before the courts rule in our favor,” Hoekstra said. And then “we’ll get a hold of the checkbook.” Hoekstra has already had calls with both the NRSC and the NRCC and both political groups said they would invest in Michigan, he said.

Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson Tommy Kubitschek said that there was “no real leadership” in the Michigan GOP.

“Republicans have nothing to offer voters except for chaos and MAGA extremism, which will pay dividends for Democrats in November,” Kubitschek said in a statement.

Hoekstra has helped some party officials feel more of a sense of optimism than they have in a while.

“It is not too late to have a plan and vision to win elections in 2024,” said Hima Kolanagireddy, a district GOP chair.

Their colleagues on Capitol Hill also said they were choosing to look at the bright side.

Rep. John Moolenaar told NOTUS that internal divisions would “work themselves out over time.” Rep. Lisa McClain said this could be an “opportunity to have a rebirth.”

“I’m using it as a positive opportunity to rebuild some good conservative values with some really good infrastructure,” she said.

Other Michigan Republicans are confident that Biden’s weaknesses are many and Trump’s base remains strong in the battleground state. Voters will ultimately care more about those things than a few party squabbles, they claim.

“It can seem like an obstacle from a high level, from D.C. looking in,” said Martell Bivings, a Republican mounting a long shot House bid in Detroit. “It takes a certain level of citizenry to even be privy to what’s going on.”

Hoekstra argued that one of the main functions of the state GOP is to amplify Trump and Michigan Republicans’ messaging and that’s what voters would ultimately hear about.

“There’s a whole different dynamic when President Biden is at the helm, and people are disappointed with a lot of his leadership, especially when it comes to the economy and other issues that are important to people in the state,” said one Michigan Republican strategist.

But the infighting doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Andy Sebolt, a GOP district chair, wrote a letter last week in the local press panning an effort by Karamo and her allies to overhaul the process of picking nominees as “nothing short of a nightmare.” If Karamo succeeds, the power to pick nominees would be transferred from voters to a select number of precinct delegates.

Asked if he has any hope the party will be able to turn things around, Sebolt was noncommittal.

“We couldn’t be in a worse position than we already were,” said Sebolt.

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.