Effort to remove Michigan GOP chair builds momentum as infighting and debt plague party

Effort to remove Michigan GOP chair builds momentum as infighting and debt plague party

Kristina Karamo looks on during the Unite America rally at Fairlane Banquet Center in Dearborn on October 30, 2022. (Photo by Nic Antaya for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By Associated Press

November 8, 2023

LANSING—Former staunch allies of Michigan GOP Chairwoman Kristina Karamo, who assumed the role following an unsuccessful secretary of state campaign, are now uniting to remove her as the party remains mired in infighting and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

It’s a swift fall for Karamo, an election conspiracy theorist who in February was overwhelmingly elected by grassroots activists to lead the state party through the next presidential election until early 2025. Michigan Republicans were coming off historic losses in the 2022 midterms, and Karamo promised to rebuild the state party into “a political machine that strikes fear in the heart of Democrats.”

Just nine months later, a petition is circulating within the state GOP calling for a vote to remove Karamo as chairwoman, according to internal communications obtained by The Associated Press. Party members supporting the petition say Karamo has done little in her time to advance the party, which had at least $500,000 in debt as of last month.

The turmoil among Donald Trump loyalists who have largely controlled formal state GOP operations since 2020 has added to growing discord among Michigan Republicans who are grasping for a strategy to turn around the party’s string of recent losses.

“I love Kristina as an individual, as a person. I think she’s an amazing, amazing woman when you talk to her one-on-one about stuff. But her administration and the way she’s operating has been an absolute disappointment,” said Jon Smith, a former district chair of the Michigan GOP who stepped down last month.

Karamo did not respond to a request for comment by AP.

The Michigan GOP has historically been one of the most powerful state parties in the country, led by the likes of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Ronna McDaniel, who is now the chair of the Republican National Committee. With millions in fundraising, the state party helped Michigan Republicans hold control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature from 2011 to 2018.

But since Trump’s 2016 presidential victory in Michigan, fervent grassroots Trump supporters have gradually gained prominence within the party. In 2022, Democrats swept every statewide race and gained control of all levels of state government for the first time in 40 years.

Karamo, a former college instructor, rose to prominence after claiming she saw election fraud as a poll challenger in Detroit. No evidence of voting fraud was found, and she lost by 14 percentage points in the secretary of state race last year after being backed by Trump. Three months later, she was elected by Republican delegates to lead the Michigan GOP.

Many party members who supported Karamo’s candidacy have lost faith, and infighting has consumed the GOP in recent months.

It escalated to the point of a physical altercation during an executive committee meeting on July 8. Mark DeYoung, chairman of the Clare County Republican Party, was hospitalized after a party activist who was unhappy that the meeting was closed “kicked him in the crotch,” according to a Clare police report. The activist, James Chapman, was later charged with assault and battery and disturbing the peace.

Smith, the former 5th District chair who said he still gets calls every day about party affairs, estimated that between “55% and 65%” of the state’s more than 100 Republican Party state committee members currently want to remove Karamo as chair.

The petition calling for a vote on Karamo’s removal was first circulated by a state committee member, Daniel Lawless, on Oct. 24. It was first reported by The Detroit News.

“I regret to say that after much thought and reflection, I have become convinced that Kristina Karamo cannot lead us in this effort and it is upon us, the State Committee, to replace her and move our party forward,” Lawless wrote in an email to other state committee members that was obtained by the AP.

Half of the party’s state committee members would need to sign the petition before it could go to a vote, which would require a 75% approval to oust Karamo, Smith said. The petition is just one of multiple efforts to remove Karamo.

While internal emails show other committee members support Karamo’s removal, it’s unclear how many have signed the petition. Lawless said he “will make public comment at an appropriate time,” when asked how many members had signed the petition.

The potential vote follows the party’s biannual leadership conference on Mackinac Island in September. The conference attracted six presidential candidates in 2015, the state’s last contested GOP presidential primary.

This year, the event was headlined by former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, actor Jim Caviezel and presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy. The Michigan GOP agreed to pay Caviezel $110,000 for his appearance, according to a contract obtained by AP.

“We had a goal to raise a lot of money for that event, and unfortunately, that did not occur,” Karamo said about the conference on Oct. 19, according to a video posted online by the party.

Michigan GOP leadership outlined the financial situation that day at an event in Macomb County, showing that the party had at least $500,000 in debt. Karamo, who refused to answer a question about how much money the party currently had, blamed the debt on previous leadership. She said that “we are a ways away from where we would like to be,” when asked whether the party could finally support candidates in the 2024 election.

Internal banking documents obtained by AP showed that the party had $35,000 cash on hand as of Aug. 10.

Warren Carpenter resigned from his position as one of 13 Republican district committee chairs following the Mackinac leadership conference due to what he called “financial malfeasance.” Carpenter, who said he was once a supporter of Karamo, is now leading his own effort to remove her.

He said that when a vote occurs to remove Karamo, he doesn’t believe “she walks out of that room with more than 15% support.”

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