Michigan Republicans prepare for fraught delegate convention

<span>Pete Hoekstra speaks to open the Michigan Republican Convention at DeVos Place, Grand Rapids, in 2022.</span><span>Photograph: Daniel Shular/AP</span>
Pete Hoekstra speaks to open the Michigan Republican Convention at DeVos Place, Grand Rapids, in 2022.Photograph: Daniel Shular/AP

Michigan Republicans are gathering in Grand Rapids for a convention they hope will be less fraught than the last four months of chaotic power struggle within the state Republican party.

During Saturday’s convention, the party will choose most of the delegates it will send to the Republican national convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in July to formally choose the party’s 2024 presidential candidate (Tuesday’s primary, which Trump won, determined the rest).

Related: Michigan Democrats have sent Biden a flashing warning sign about the election | Ben Davis

But the Michigan state GOP convention on Saturday is more than just a vessel to nominate delegates to the national convention, who will probably all support Donald Trump. It is also the first major Michigan GOP gathering since members of the party ousted their controversial former party chair, Kristina Karamo, in early January.

If some of Karamo’s allies decide to show up to the Grand Rapids convention, that will put them face-to-face with the more establishment-leaning Republicans they have been feuding with for months – a tense moment for a state party trying to unify after a year of open warfare.

“I really have no idea how Saturday will play out,” said Pete Hoekstra, the new Michigan Republican party chair.

By the time Karamo’s opponents made the decision to boot the former chair, fractures had formed within the Michigan party over interpersonal disputes within the county chapters, questions about the role of hardline Christian conservatism in the party and Karamo herself, who critics blamed for exacerbating the party’s financial woes through extravagant spending.

To replace her, Karamo’s opponents chose Hoekstra, a former congressman and close Trump ally who served as Trump’s US ambassador to the Netherlands, hoping he would attract the major donors that have abandoned the party in the last year.

Hoekstra said he would be able to win back those donors because “they know they can trust me” and because of his reputation for frugality – one that he said was known even when he served in Congress in the 1990s under Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.

“You know, Gingrich described me as the guy that could make a penny squeal,” he said.

But Karamo, a once-obscure Christian podcaster who rose to prominence in 2020 as an election conspiracy theorist and lost a race to become Michigan’s secretary of state in 2022 that she has yet to concede, has refused to go quietly. She continued to claim she was still the rightful state GOP chair, even after the Republican National Committee recognized Hoekstra on 14 February.

Karamo did not respond to a request for comment.

Hoekstra’s allies were forced to go to court to wrest control of the state party’s finances from her. On Tuesday, a judge found that she had indeed been properly removed, and ruled that Karamo may not access the party’s social media accounts, finances or postal boxes. She appealed that ruling, but the Michigan court of appeals immediately ruled against her, upholding the circuit court’s ruling that Karamo had been ousted properly.

Karamo had scheduled a separate convention in Detroit at the same time as the Grand Rapids convention, but canceled it on Friday.

It is not clear yet whether she will continue to forge ahead in the state GOP – or whether her allies will make amends with their party.

Some of Karamo’s allies may show up in Grand Rapids because they want to have a voice in who represents the party at the national convention this summer – and register their fury about their leader’s ouster.

“We hope that they come with a positive attitude, that they’re willing to, at least, you know, put out a hand and meet us halfway,” said Hoekstra. “But I can’t control what they do.”