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Michigan Republicans divided after party nominates DePerno and Karamo to top jobs

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MIDLAND, Michigan — Long-simmering divisions within Michigan’s Republican Party have spilled into public view in recent days, exposing just how far to go to embrace former President Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud and sparking fears within the party that it will not be able to unify before the November midterms.

The immediate trigger for the escalating feud came last weekend, when the party nominated two of the key proponents of Trump’s stolen election theories for two of the state’s highest offices.

The state convention selection of Matthew DePerno as attorney general and Kristina Karamo as secretary of state has proven to be a breaking point for some members of the party establishment, which is waging a struggle sustained with upstarts who see themselves as more zealous for Trump. and its agenda.

Within days, a member of a powerful party committee resigned, a normally unanimous vote to certify convention results led to dozens of defections and a Trump-backed lawmaker vying for control of the House of Representatives of the state was kicked out of the Republican caucus.

The schism between those who continue to focus aggressively on voter fraud allegations and those who seek to shift the party to other issues has been exposed in other states, including Georgia, where it topped the GOP primary. for the governor.

In Michigan, party leaders are increasingly concerned that this will dim the otherwise bright Republican outlook in November, potentially giving Democrats an edge in key congressional races and in the contest for state jobs. .

“Republicans should be ready for huge gains across the country,” Republican state committee member Tony Daunt wrote in a searing resignation letter that followed DePerno and Karamo’s victories. “But not here in Michigan. Not now.”

Daunt’s resignation offered a powerful signal of the depth of the divisions. Daunt was seen as a close ally of the DeVos family, part of Michigan’s Republican establishment. Betsy DeVos was Trump’s Education Secretary.

But in his letter, Daunt criticized the party for what he described as excessive loyalty to Trump and the cause of evidence of alleged fraud in the 2020 election.

“Reckless and cowardly party ‘leaders’ have made the election here in Michigan a test of who is most cowardly loyal to Donald Trump and challenge the results of the 2020 cycle,” Daunt wrote in his letter.

In an interview, Daunt said his frustration had been building for a long time and the result of the convention was the last straw.

About 2,000 party delegates voted last Saturday at a Grand Rapids convention center to make Karamo and DePerno — both endorsed by Trump — the Republican nominees for jobs near the top of the state government hierarchy. The Republican gubernatorial candidate will be chosen in a primary in August.

Neither has previously held elected office. The two rose to prominence pushing baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud after Trump lost Michigan by nearly 150,000 votes in 2020.

A Kalamazoo-area lawyer, DePerno led a November 2020 lawsuit against County Antrim over an election night tabulation error – quickly corrected – that Trump supporters seized on in their effort to perpetuate unfounded allegations of electoral fraud.

He raised tens of thousands of dollars through the County Antrim lawsuit, which was dismissed by the court. As a candidate, his fundraising was far less successful and overshadowed by the war chest of his Democratic opponent, incumbent Dana Nessel.

Karamo, who would be the state’s top election official if she wins the race for secretary of state against incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson, has also gained notoriety pushing conspiracy theories. The Oakland County Community College instructor served as an observer in Detroit during the 2020 mail-in ballot count and claimed to have witnessed fraud.

Trump said the pair were key to his plans for the upcoming presidential election, when Michigan is expected to play a pivotal role again.

“It’s not just about 2022,” Trump said at a rally in support of their candidacies in early April. “This is about making sure Michigan is no longer rigged and robbed in 2024.”

Michigan’s top Democrats have already begun to cast the 2022 race as a showdown on democracy, and DePerno and Karamo’s presence on the ballot is likely to lend further support to their claims that Republicans have the intent to distort the electoral system.

Trump allies are working to place supporters in key campaign posts

Neither DePerno nor Karamo responded to requests for comment.

Even before the final results were tabulated at Saturday’s convention, there was drama, with delegates complaining about confusing ballots and other issues with the selection process.

“The electoral system has been a complete disaster, undermining Republican claims of electoral integrity,” said Dennis Lennox, a conservative political commentator who handles Republican campaigns. “Even the basics like the secret ballot were a major problem, as delegates had more privacy in the urinal than in the voting area.”

While the outcome came as no surprise – party insiders expected DePerno and Karamo to win – it was unsettling to some because of the signal they said it was sending about the favoring of the left for the troublemakers at all costs compared to those who had experience.

“If you had an ounce of experience, if you had an ounce of skill, it was an immediate disqualification,” said Jason Watts, former Allegan County Republican Party secretary, who was a delegate to the convention. “The Michigan GOP just named two people who don’t have mainstream appeal.”

“There are rational people in the Michigan GOP who are watching this and thinking, ‘Hey, this isn’t going to end well for our candidates up and down the ballot who have to run with two candidates who will be portrayed as extremists.’ , ” he said.

These apprehensions were exposed the day after the convention, when the Republican State Committee met to certify the results. Typically a unanimous and procedural step, this year there was dissent, with 63 committee members voting in favor and 24 against.

The repercussions continued on Tuesday, when Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives removed Rep. Matt Maddock — whom Trump had backed for president — from the caucus, allegedly for sharing classified information.

Maddock had defended key Trump-supporting challengers seeking to unseat Republican incumbents in the legislature. Just before he was kicked out of caucus, he sent out a campaign email stressing the need to “get behind the ENTIRE Trump ticket.”

“It’s the ultimate taboo,” said Bill Ballenger, a former Republican state legislator, referring to Maddock’s embrace of candidates seeking to dethrone other GOP incumbents. “I think the Republicans just decided that we just have a cancer that’s eating us up inside and we need to get rid of it.”

Maddock put a positive spin on his expulsion.

“I had one of the best fundraising days of my life yesterday,” Maddock told reporters.

Meanwhile, a mobile electronic billboard appeared on the Capitol grounds, with slogans such as “Michigan Wants Maddock.” It also displayed a photoshopped photo of Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth and the phrase “The Wentworth demon attacks the real GOP heroes.”

Maddock’s wife, Meshawn Maddock, is co-chair of the state’s Republican Party and is also a staunch Trump supporter. Both Maddocks endorsed DePerno and Karamo.

Daunt’s decision to quit the party committee surprised many GOP members, including Ballenger, who called it “a signal that things out there are a lot more divisive than everyone was talking about.”

Daunt had used his position as executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative organization backed by Betsy and Dick DeVos, to encourage acceptance of the 2020 election results.

But this position put him at odds with many rank-and-file members of the party.

“I strongly believe in electoral integrity. What I don’t believe in is making false claims about the results of an election and not having the evidence to back them up,” he said during the interview.

Daunt said he didn’t attend Saturday’s convention, in part because he knew what the atmosphere would be. “I just couldn’t take the negative energy,” he said.

Daunt had served on the Republican State Committee for five years. Increasingly, he said, state committee meetings had become chaotic, with members often bickering over resolved issues.

“It’s kind of like a microcosm of the same desire to challenge the 2020 election,” he said. “My daughter went with me to one of the previous meetings and when we were leaving she said, ‘Well, that was crazy.’ ”

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