Republican party officials are becoming concerned that mounting dysfunction in a set of state Republican parties could imperil the GOP’s chances in 2024, going so far as to leave the eventual Republican presidential nominee hamstrung on party infrastructure in key battleground states.
The worries are based on the recent ousters of two state Republican Party chairs in Michigan and Florida, as well as dangerously low finances, ideological clashes and personal scandals that have hobbled the parties in those states plus Arizona and Georgia. And in Nevada, the party has had to deal with the fallout of its chair and vice chair being indicted in a 2020 fake electors case. Each of these states is set to play an essential role in the 2024 races for control of the House of Representatives, control of the Senate and even the presidency.
“I think it’s going to be a problem,” said Oscar Brock, a member of the Republican National Committee from Tennessee. “Any time that you have a state party that’s dysfunctional and suffering from financial problems – which comes with dysfunction – you’re going to have a hard time having a unified campaign in the fall to elect Republicans.”
The dysfunction has spurred some local and national Republican officials to consider ways around having to work closely with state parties. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, after feuding with state loyalists allied with former President Donald Trump, set up his own organization to circumvent the party’s fundraising efforts. In states such as Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, Republicans have depended more on national outside groups like Americans for Prosperity or Turning Point USA to fulfill some of the roles that previously made state parties essential. And in some cases, state parties have been severely damaged by an organized effort called “precinct strategy” to insert fringe activists and election deniers into local party leadership positions.
The chaos is motivating Republicans to look elsewhere to fulfill the role that state parties usually do, said Ron Kaufman, a member of the Republican National Committee from Massachusetts.
“The RNC has built the best databank in the history of the party. And the state parties rely on the RNC and we ship them the data. So we have the data. It’s a question of who we ship it to, so to speak,” Kaufman said. “If a party is not capable of delivering then we’ll have to go a different direction in conjunction with a presidential campaign.”
Parties in chaos
In the last few weeks, two state party chairs have been ousted from their jobs by local Republican officials. Earlier this month Florida Republicans voted to remove chairman Christian Ziegler from his job amid a sexual assault investigation that was spurred by a sex scandal. Days earlier in Michigan, chair Kristina Karamo was voted out of her perch by local state party officials after months of the state party suffering from internal feuding, lackluster funding and internal fractures.
In an email to CNN, Florida Republican Party chairman Evan Power said that his predecessor’s removal had not irreversibly damaged the party.
“The Republican Party of Florida moved quickly and efficiently to remove and replace our Chairman. The Florida Party is unified and ready to win big in 2024!” he said.
Similarly, the Michigan Republican Party said in a separate statement: “As with any family or organization, there will be disagreements and discourse. The Michigan Republican Party is proceeding forward with a renewed unification of spirit and purpose to win more elections in 2024.”
The set of Republicans in Michigan who voted to oust Karamo said shortly after that that they planned to file a lawsuit that would freeze assets and operations of the party as the fight over its leadership plays out. Karamo’s supporters, meanwhile, held their own vote to keep her as chair. And this week, opponents of Karamo were sent cease-and-desist letters to prevent them from “making unauthorized use of the trademarks for the MIGOP and Michigan Republican Party,” according to a news release on Thursday from the Michigan Republican Party.
Not every party in disarray is in that situation because of efforts to remove the sitting chair. In Nevada, the chair and vice chair were part of a set of six Republican officials who were indicted for their involvement in a fake elector scheme in the 2020 presidential election. Republicans are also worried that, as of early January, the Clark County School District had not yet approved requests for 50 caucusing locations requested by the Clark County Republican Party. The concern is that with less than a month to go before voters caucus in Nevada, a large portion of Republican voters don’t or won’t have a place to go if the requests aren’t approved in the state’s biggest county, which is home to Las Vegas.
An official with the Nevada Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
And in neighboring Arizona, chairman Jeff DeWit had found himself at odds with Republicans over a proposal to hold that state’s presidential primary contest on one day in 2024. DeWit and the state party ultimately rejected that proposal, fueling tensions between Trump-aligned Republicans in Maricopa County advocating for the changes and DeWit and the other Republicans opposed to it. DeWit has also pleaded with the Republican National Committee for financial help to try and burnish the party’s coffers, according to an Arizona Republican with knowledge of those discussions. DeWit has met with RNC chair Ronna McDaniel personally and DeWit’s team sent over budgets to explain what they needed help with, the Arizona Republican said.
In October, the party said it raised over $340,000 in the third quarter of 2023, a 348% increase over the last analogous quarter in 2019.
An Arizona Republican connected to the state party brushed off the prospect that any financial or internal strife has kneecapped the state GOP’s ability to do its job.
“The party should be doing really two things: managing communications and funding legal [sic] to defend because the party can enter any lawsuit and get in the middle of anything,” the Republican said.
In Georgia, Kemp has had to create some distance between him and the state Republican Party. The governor rarely interacts with the state party, according to three Republicans with knowledge of that relationship. A Georgia Republican operative with knowledge of Kemp’s moves said, “We keep our interaction to a minimum.”
The division between Kemp and more-MAGA friendly Republicans in the state party is rooted in their feelings toward Trump; Kemp has been one of the few outspoken governors willing to spar with the former president. Kemp has also feuded with state party officials over covering legal bills for the set of alternate 2020 electors who erroneously argued that Trump actually won the 2020 election.
Kemp and the top Republicans in the state party also sparred over endorsements in the 2022 midterm elections, the Georgia Republican operative said. The operative, though, stressed that “it’s mostly in the state GOP apparatus” that Kemp avoids.
“We’ve done one off local GOP events,” the operative said.
In 2021, Georgia Republicans passed a law establishing leadership committees available to the governor and lieutenant governor as well as the caucuses in both chambers of the state legislature. Those leadership committees can raise unlimited funds. Kemp has used his, the Georgians First Leadership Committee, as a political fundraising vehicle operating outside of the usual channels of the state Republican party.
It’s not unheard of for upheaval to emerge in a state party, especially between opposing factions. It’s also not the first time state chairs have been ousted. But the fact that a handful of state parties are all experiencing serious internal problems less than a year before a presidential election in states that are essential for any Republican nominee to win has triggered alarm bells among veteran Republican state party officials.
“The job of the Republican Party, the job of the Democratic Party, the job of any party is to get their nominee elected whether you like the nominee or not,” Jason Shepherd, a longtime Georgia Republican activist and former Cobb County Republican Party chairman, said. “If you don’t like the nominee and can’t get them elected then you need to step back from your party position whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. But this is all about one person, so those of us who have been involved in the party for – in my case, 30 years – are frustrated by the fact that we are not giving our primary voters the benefit of the doubt and that the party is trying to manipulate the process to choose who the party leadership wants.”
The fears extend beyond the presidential level. State parties play a key role in activating voters, organizing door knocking efforts and corralling donors. That’s starting to look like a luxury, argued Henry Barbour, a longtime member of the Republican National Committee from Mississippi.
“The party, being the state party or the national party, has a fundamental job to help candidates be position for victory and to do the ground game and the data and so much of the infrastructure work of campaigns,” said Barbour. “So when you have a party that’s failing, it’s like the public utility down the street doesn’t work anymore. How do you get your electricity or your water? … The party really plays that fundamental role in elections for its candidates.”
Barbour warned that the stakes are already high for the party and the chaos could prove costly by the time voters go to the ballot box in November.
“This is a difficult time for the party and arguably in one of those election years that really could be one of the most important in the last 20 years that people always talk about,” Barbour said.
For candidates in these states, they now have to figure out a way to recalibrate with an absence of a healthy state GOP. In the past, Barbour stressed, candidates could leave a fair share of the phone calls and door knocking to the state parties. In these states that’s not currently the case.
“The party has a real job to do and its one job is to win elections. That’s its only job -and we have failed just looking at the last few cycles. It could certainly happen again but it doesn’t have to. If we could make this election about Joe Biden we’re going to be in pretty good shape,” Barbour said.
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