WASHINGTON, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02:  Matthew DePerno speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump on April 02, 2022, in this file photo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02: Matthew DePerno speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump on April 02, 2022, in this file photo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Michigan Republicans nominated election conspiracists for secretary of state and attorney general on Saturday, but their convention’s voting process was fraught with controversy.


Need to Know

  • Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo won endorsements for state attorney general and secretary of state, respectively.
  • Their endorsements were clouded by unconventional and unclear procedures at the party’s first convention of its kind.
  • Some Republican delegates felt abandoned by the party, even while leaders pushed for “unity.” 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–Conservatives worried about the future of Michigan’s Republican Party had their fears realized this weekend, as the state GOP held a divisive 2022 endorsement convention at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. 

Endorsed by former president Donald Trump, Kristina Karamo won the party’s endorsement for secretary of state and Matthew DePerno won a tighter, more contentious runoff for attorney general. But their opponents and top figures within the party saw the night as “chaotic.” 

The chaos at the party’s first-ever endorsement convention–which was introduced to stir up early name recognition for the candidates–was a steady undercurrent from the day’s start Saturday, when more than 2,000 delegates converged on the West Michigan convention center. As attendees arrived on the unseasonably warm morning, two factions sized each other up outside the entrance.

In one group, young Republicans dressed like Fox News anchors shook hands and took selfies in front of the building named for the late father-in-law of Betsy DeVos. In the other group, Republicans wearing campaign t-shirts and carrying political paraphernalia climbed out of vehicles fit for a parade. Among those campaign cars spotted on Monroe Avenue were an ambulance emblazoned with “TRUMP: Save the USA” on its side; a float proclaiming “All Lives Matter,” “Build the Wall,” and “Family’s” [sic]; and a host of cars and trucks wrapped in the slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Once inside, the tension between the groups intensified, as My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged delegates to back former President Donald Trump’s picks for secretary of state and attorney general.

As some conservative delegates spoke about COVID-19 lockdowns and abortion access, most of the convention was drowned out by conspiracy theories about ending Critical Race Theory in Michigan’s schools (CRT is not taught in Michigan schools), overturning the 2020 presidential election (countless audits have proven that election fraud is a false narrative), and a slew of other QAnon conspiracies.

Indeed, QAnon event speaker Kristina Karamo won the party’s endorsement for secretary of state in a landslide. Karamo first received attention from MAGA leaders by claiming she’d personally witnessed election fraud in Detroit in 2020. Since then, she’s gone on to rally with Trump in Michigan, call public schools “government indoctrination camps,” claim Capitol rioters were “totally antifa posing as Trump supporters,” and dismiss Americans living in poverty as people who “just make dumb decisions.” Karamo has also made homophobic statements that she hasn’t disowned, as The ‘Gander has previously reported.

In an ironic turn of events, election integrity—arguably the No. 1 concern of Michigan Republicans—stalled the delegates’ runoff results for the convention’s other big nomination: state attorney general.

In the first round, Trump-endorsed Matthew DePerno, a former tax attorney, took 49% of the vote. Previous establishment favorites Tom Leonard (40%), who won the party’s nomination in 2018, and Ryan Berman (10%) brought up the rear. Since the party’s primary rules require 50% of the vote for a candidate to win the endorsement, DePerno and Leonard moved into a second round. 

Before it began, Berman messaged his supporters and walked through the convention hall, urging people to vote for Leonard. “Matt DePerno has skeletons on his skeleton,” Berman reportedly told delegates. But Berman was barred by party officials from going on-stage to give his endorsement, even as party officials and Karamo openly endorsed DePerno. 

As the second round began, the candidates’ names and races were displayed on screens throughout the convention hall. In their hands, delegates held ballots with checkboxes marked “Candidate A,” “Candidate B,” and so on, but it was brought to the attention of party officials that the order of the races onscreen did not match the races on the ballots. Many had already voted. To make matters worse, there weren’t enough ballots to start over.

Organizers stopped the vote and discussed the situation. When all parties had met with legal counsel and agreed to continue, voting restarted. But by then, some of the delegates had left the convention.

Well before the results were in, Trump sent an email to supporters promising to back DePerno and Karamo, saying that both would continue to contest the results of the 2020 election on his behalf. In the end, DePerno edged out a victory over Leonard with 55% of the vote. 

DePerno most recently made Michigan news when a three-judge panel dismissed his lawsuit challenging the 2020 presidential election results in Antrim County. He’s also known for starting the Dominion Voting Systems conspiracy theory, and for allegedly leaking sensitive election data to alt-right groups.

“Matt DePerno will be a weight all the way down the ticket. Worse, it will encourage Trump to make even more mischief in Michigan,” said Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who himself has appeared onstage at a rally with two men charged with plotting to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

DePerno and Karamo will officially be nominated during the party’s August convention, barring an upturn in events, and will face incumbents Dana Nessel for Attorney General, and Jocelyn Benson for Secretary of State in November’s general election.