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Michigan Republican Party chair Pete Hoekstra listens at a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Mich., Feb. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

The Michigan Republican Party is attempting to step into a new era with a change in party leadership and a resounding message of party unification.

But even in a high-stakes election year, with the presidency and two open congressional seats in Michigan on the line, division remains among Republicans in the state.

David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University, said that although disagreements may arise within political parties, the depth of the division within the Michigan GOP is unprecedented.

“Everybody is really entrenched in their corner,” Dulio said. “It doesn’t appear that many are willing to give an inch.”

Pete Hoekstra, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is now at the helm of the state party after state committee members ousted Kristina Karamo as chair in January and a Kent County judge affirmed that decision late last month.

As a congressman, Hoekstra’s voting record shows he actively opposed abortion rights, LGBTQ adoption rights and same-sex marriage. He unsuccessfully ran for Michigan governor in 2010 and the U.S. Senate in 2012. Former President Donald Trump nominated Hoekstra to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in his administration.

Hoekstra was elected chair of the Michigan GOP in January by the faction of the party that voted out Karamo and filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to establish the group as the legitimate state party after she refused to step down. In the months leading up to her ouster as Michigan GOP chair, state party leaders had pleaded with Karamo to resign following a year of leadership plagued by debt and infighting.

Dulio said Trump and his supporters laid the path that led to Karamo, an election denier who refused to concede her loss in the 2022 Michigan secretary of state race, gaining power within the party when he began building a grassroots base in 2016. 

Those efforts paid off when she was chosen as chair in 2023, Dulio added, but this came with criticism from the so-called establishment wing of the party and led to difficulty raising money from some of the party’s top donors. Several GOP donors felt the party was becoming too extreme, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“I think they just said enough’s enough and we’re worried about winning elections and we need to change course,” Dulio said.

Hoekstra, who is more of a traditional conservative, has received support from the Republican National Committee and Trump.

Republican leaders in the state Legislature — Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt and House of Representatives Minority Leader Matt Hall — also threw their support behind Hoekstra, writing in a joint letter that they believe he can bring the state party together.

“We are on the front lines of the battle against the hyper-partisan progressive agenda in Lansing, and know all too well the importance of unifying,” the letter read. “We can work together to deliver Michigan for President Trump, achieve a Republican Majority in the State House, and elect a deep bench of servant leaders in local races across the state. Now is the time to unify to accomplish those goals.”

Despite messages of unity, the March 2 state party caucus convention was chaotic.

The Michigan GOP split its delegates this year between the primary election on Feb. 27 and a state convention to decide its presidential nominee. Hoekstra and his administration moved the convention from Karamo’s choice of Detroit to Grand Rapids. But the chairs of the party’s 1st and 4th district committees chose to hold alternative conventions in Houghton Lake and Battle Creek instead.

Because the court order affirming Hoekstra as chair of the state party was issued only four days before the convention, Ken Beyer, the 4th District Committee chair, said that the abrupt changes to party leadership and the last-minute move to Grand Rapids led to confusion among local party leaders.

“The emotional clarity of those who are disenfranchised burns bright. We are praying, we are calling out and we are uniting against this injustice,” Beyer said in a video posted to social media March 9.

The video, titled “Fog of War: The Battle for Truth in the Michigan GOP Coup,” ended with Beyer asking people to join a protest outside of Michigan GOP headquarters in Lansing on March 16.

The state convention and primary election ended with a victory for Trump, who won 51 of the state’s 55 delegates. Now, whether Michigan’s GOP can overcome its infighting before the November election, in which Trump will presumably face incumbent President Joe Biden, is “a million dollar question,” Dulio said.

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