Michigan GOP still in turmoil under extremist chair

The Michigan Republican Party continues to be enveloped in chaos going into the final stretch before Michigan’s primary election on Feb. 27.

The Michigan GOP remains bitterly divided as two leaders deny each other’s legitimacy: Kristina Karamo, a controversial former Secretary of State candidate who was elected as party chair last February, and Malinda Pego, party co-chair who was appointed by a faction of Karamo opponents to become acting chair earlier this month.

Resentment between party factions has reached a boiling point during the past year between the state’s Republican “establishment” and Karamo’s supporters, who say they represent the “grassroots” base.

When Republicans chose Karamo as chair last February, she had just lost her bid for Michigan secretary of state in the 2022 general election. She had challenged incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson, who won by more than 615,000 votes, and has since refused to concede the race, claiming without evidence that the process was “fraudulent.”

Karamo, previously a part-time community college instructor, had begun making a name for herself in politics prior to the 2022 election by spreading claims of fraud in the 2020 election. She has endorsed numerous conspiracy theories in the past, saying that Beyoncé is secretly trying to convert Black people to paganism through what Karamo called her “‘Black is King’ album” (Black is King is a film) and that yoga is a satanic ritual. Her political stance on issues such as abortion rights and Social Security are also far right.

Karamo became Michigan GOP chair after promising that she would unify the state party and relieve it of its financial woes; some Michigan Republicans say she has failed to do either.

In two separate incidents, tension between party members erupted into physical confrontations, including a fight over an alleged attempt by a county chair to rid her local party of Karamo loyalists. Both altercations resulted in misdemeanor charges being filed. Karamo, who inherited the party at a time when it was already essentially broke, further alienated some of the party’s wealthiest donors by criticizing their influence in the state. The Detroit News reported the Michigan Republican Party had about $600,000 in outstanding debts as of December.

Karamo’s critics tried to oust her at a meeting in Oakland County on Jan. 6. In a 40-5 vote, members of the Michigan Republican State Committee, the state party’s central governing body, removed Karamo, as well as Michigan Republican Party lawyer Dan Hartman, from their positions and appointed Pego as acting chair.

“For me, this is not a happy day. It’s a somber day. However, the bylaws process and rules were followed,” Pego said in a statement following the Jan. 6 meeting. “Now is the time to unify Republicans and grow our voter base to win elections throughout our state in 2024 and beyond.”

In turn, at a meeting hosted by Karamo in Houghton Lake on Jan. 13, a majority of state committee members voted to reaffirm Karamo as party leader. They also voted to ban Pego and six other Republicans who had acted against Karamo from being affiliated with the party for five years.

“I’m so looking forward to us winning in 2024,” Karamo said in a video posted to social media on Jan. 13. “The matter has been settled.”

On the same day as the gathering in Houghton Lake, nine state party district chairs and three vice chairs signed a document on official MIGOP letterhead, doubling down on the move to make Pego the acting chair. Karamo opponents are planning to take the fight to court, according to Bridge Michigan.