Internal turmoil is roiling the Michigan GOP as it looks to retake a key 2024 battleground that’s shown signs of moving away from President Biden.
A Decision Desk HQ/The Hill average of polls out of the Great Lakes State shows former President Trump several points ahead of Biden after the Democrat flipped Michigan blue in the 2020 election. Concerns are also growing that the state’s sizable Arab American population won’t turn out for Biden amid anger over the war in Gaza.
But the Michigan GOP is facing its own setbacks. Republicans there voted this month to oust the controversial Kristina Karamo from her role as state GOP chair, but she’s insisted she’s still in control — sparking a party leadership power struggle as the Republicans eye what should be a prime pickup opportunity.
“We have all these opportunities in the state, we’ve got Trump with a significant lead in early polling, we’ve got an open Senate seat, we’ve got three competitive congressional races. We’ve got control of the statehouse up for grabs,” said Michigan-based Republican strategist Jason Cabel Roe. “And most people, unfortunately, are spending their time and bandwidth talking about all the nonsense going on at the state party.”
Michigan GOP committee members voted this month to oust Karamo, a vocal election denier, after less than a year in the post. Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra was picked to replace her, but Karamo called the meeting “illegitimate” and continued to assert herself as the party chair.
She accused Hoekstra of “attempting to usurp the Michigan Republican Party.”
Karamo and Hoekstra have put out recent statements under the party name, sowing confusion about who holds the top spot.
Over the weekend, Trump weighed in on the discord, throwing his support behind Hoekstra in a snub to Karamo, whom he’d endorsed during her secretary of state bid in 2022 — though he notably backed Karamo’s rival for state party chair last year.
An “initial review” of the matter from the Republican National Committee (RNC) found Karamo appeared to have been “properly removed” from the role, according to a letter from top RNC lawyers obtained by The Hill.
But the RNC’s website now lists the Michigan GOP chair position as vacant.
The letter said the RNC has limited power “to issue binding determinations in internal state party disputes,” but has the authority to decide who its voting members are — and the national party is “unable to conclusively rule” on whether either Karamo or Hoekstra is a voting member of the RNC before its winter meeting this week.
As a result, neither will be credentialed as Michigan GOP chair for the meeting, according to the letter, and “a body of RNC Members will move quickly to review this dispute and make such recommendation as they believe appropriate” afterward.
Karamo’s general counsel, Dan Hartman, shrugged off the RNC letter as “irrelevant” in a statement to The Associated Press.
“Two camps claiming chairmanship, claiming control, the RNC weighing in, Trump weighing in — it’s just a continuation of the dysfunction and the chaos that has gripped and subsumed the Republican Party in Michigan and, I think, a microcosm of the party across the country,” said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party.
Under Karamo’s leadership, the state GOP has grappled with disarray and debt, leading one former Michigan Republican lawmaker to tell The Hill last year that “the state party is dead.”
Timmer framed the ongoing dispute over the state party’s leadership as “factions of the America-first, MAGA fighting amongst themselves,” and argued those factions are big enough to remain impactfully “disgruntled” even once the leadership squabble is settled.
The matter is also making its way through the courts, as a lawsuit from others in the state GOP looks to get Karamo’s removal officially declared.
Observers say some of the impact of the internal turmoil depends on how long the matter stretches out. Roe, for one, predicted Karamo and her supporters could keep “agitating” and “making noise” as the election cycle heats up.
“Going into the 2024 elections, I don’t expect Karamo and her supporters to go away or to in any way be quiet,” Roe said.
But he also said Karamo’s ouster appears as a good sign that the party “might be functional” under Hoekstra once the dust settles from the leadership chaos.
Meanwhile, Democrats should “certainly try” to capitalize on that chaos, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic strategist based in the Great Lakes State.
“There’s been a lot of bad news for Democrats in Michigan, in polling around President Biden specifically,” Hemond said. “And so they’ll take all the good news that they can get, and certainly, your opponents being disorganized and not having very much money is always going to be helpful when you’re trying to win elections.”
And though many Michigan voters may be unaware of the internal party squabbles playing out in recent weeks — or even unfamiliar with who’s part of their state organization — the headline-making chaos isn’t helpful as the party preps for important 2024 contests.
Michigan Republicans took hits in the 2022 midterms, when Democrats scored a trifecta — taking control of both chambers of the state Legislature, as well as the governor’s office, where Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) beat out a Trump-backed Republican challenger.
In 2024, they’re eyeing the U.S. Senate seat opened up by retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), as well as several competitive congressional and state-level races. They’re also hoping to win Michigan in the presidential race, taking advantage of Democrats’ weak spots in the state.
The Decision Desk HQ/The Hill polling averages put Trump up 3 points on Biden in the state as reports signal Michigan Democrats may be moving away from Biden amid weak polling and problems with the state’s younger voters and its significant Arab American population.
“For a presidential campaign, you’d like to be able to show up in a state and have party infrastructure that’s ready to work with you to go out and win an election in November,” Hemond said, arguing the Michigan GOP isn’t there at this point.
Timmer said the disorganization spells trouble for close races throughout the state.
“Whether it’s the presidential or U.S. Senate, or the few big battles in the open congressional districts, or races for the Legislature — if everything’s not pulling together the entire team right down to the grassroots volunteers, that still can make a difference in close races. It’s going to hurt Republican candidates in those races,” Timmer said.
David Dulio, a political science professor at Michigan’s Oakland University, said there are “warning signs” for the Biden campaign in Michigan, but stressed Trump still faces challenges in the state that went to Biden back in 2020.
“It’s a battle for swing voters. It’s a battle for turnout,” Dulio said.
Dulio expects the impact of the Michigan GOP turmoil on campaigns to be “minimal,” given that other groups and donors can weigh in to offset the state party’s shortfalls in the state — but that the fissures and confusion could still impact Republican enthusiasm.