Michigan Republican Party in chaos as presidential primary nears

Kristina Karamo speaks to Michigan Republican Party delegates Feb. 18, 2023, in Lansing, Mich. Karamo, a former community college instructor who lost her bid last fall to become Michigan's secretary of state by 14 percentage points, won the chair of the Michigan Republican Party a week ago. She beat a fellow election denier, failed attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno. (AP Photo/Joey Cappelletti, File)

A growing number of leaders of the Michigan Republican Party are joining an effort to oust the party’s Chair Kristina Karamo, whose leadership they say has left the party broke and in shambles as the 2024 election year begins.

“Please put an end to the chaos in our party,” eight of the 13 Michigan Republican Party district chairs wrote in an open letter to Karamo published on Dec. 28. “Please have the grace, courage, and love of our state to accept the fact that at this most critical time in our nation’s history, the Michigan Republican Party needs someone else in leadership.”

With less than a month to go before the state’s Feb. 27 presidential primaries, the Michigan Republican Party is $620,000 in debt, the New York Times reported. That number is so large that one Republican state lawmaker said the party is on the “verge of imploding,” the Times said.

Republicans say Karamo is largely to blame for the party’s financial troubles, pointing to her lack of fundraising as well as a $110,000 loan the party took out to pay for actor Jim Caviezel to speak at the state party’s annual fundraiser on Mackinac Island. Caviezel recently appeared in “Sound of Freedom,” a movie about child sex trafficking that became popular among QAnon followers.

According to a copy obtained by Michigan Live, an internal report commissioned by a state party activist who is seeking Karamo’s ouster says, “In only a matter of a few months, the party is essentially non-functional and, worse yet, the party and others associated with the party are now facing potential civil and criminal consequences for breaking laws.”. 

The Michigan Republican Party’s shambolic situation puts the GOP’s election prospects at risk in 2024. This year, Republicans will try to flip the state red in the presidential contest, win the open Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and claw back some of the U.S. House seats the party lost as suburban voters abandoned the Republican Party for Democrats during former President Donald Trump’s tenure. 

State parties traditionally help organize volunteers for both local and federal elections in the state, help identify winnable races at the local and state levels, and help raise money for candidates’ campaigns. A nonfunctioning state party would not be able to do those things.

“It takes people doing the shoe-leather kind of things in campaigns on top of the money, and that’s where I think that Michigan is going to be hampered,” former Michigan Republican Party Executive Director Jeff Timmer told the New York Times. “You can’t replace everything with money. Some things still take people on top of it, and they can’t buy mercenaries to do that.”

Karamo, for her part, is refusing to leave. 

“That’s just not gonna happen,” Karamo said in a podcast on Dec. 22, according to the Detroit News. 

Karamo is an election denier who lost a bid for Michigan secretary of state in 2022 after running a campaign based on lies that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. She rose to prominence in state politics after filing a lawsuit that sought to throw out thousands of absentee ballots in the 2020 election that were cast in the heavily Democratic city of Detroit. The lawsuit failed, and Karamo was ultimately sanctioned by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny, who forced her to pay $58,000 in fines for filing a suit that he described as “rife with speculation, an absence of facts and a lack of understanding of Michigan election statutes and Detroit absentee ballot procedures.”