The schisms in the Michigan GOP

In Sri Lankan politics, one of the tendencies was for parties to splinter and become increasingly fragmented. On the right end of the spectrum, the parties tended to split due to factions centered around individuals while on the left they tended to split along ideological lines, as factions argued that the party had failed some purity test on one or more issues. Once started on this road, further splintering occurred along new ideological fault lines, until there were many tiny leftwing parties that no longer had much influence on politics but engaged in squabbles among themselves. That left an opening for more extreme parties to fill the vacuum.

I was reminded of the latter when reading Andy Kroll’s deep dive for ProPublica into what is going on in Michigan, one of the key states that both Biden and serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) seek to win. It is a fascinating read for those who like to see how Republican politics plays out at the local level, with splintering occurring repeatedly. It is also worth following closely considering how important a role that state plays.

As Kroll writes:

What divides the Republican Party of 2024 is not any one policy or ideology. It is not whether to support Donald Trump. The most important fault line in the party now is democracy itself. Today’s Republican insurgents believe democracy has been stolen, and they don’t trust the ability of democratic processes to restore it.

In the case of Michigan, over several decades the GOP, under the leadership of wealthy, business-friendly elites and dynastic families like the DeVoses, Meijers, Van Andels, Romneys, and Fords had managed to turn the state from a Democratic one into a Republican stronghold that reliably elected Republicans to local, state, and national offices.

But all that changed in 2020 after SSAT started his campaign of delegitimizing elections by claiming that the election had been stolen. The party started fracturing when Peter Meijer, elected in 2020, became one of the few Republicans to vote to impeach SSAT.

Not long ago, this setting was friendly terrain for Meijer. For decades, voters here rewarded sensible, pro-business, avowedly conservative politicians. Meijer fit the archetype of a West Michigan Republican when he first ran for Congress in 2020. He was also basically Michigan royalty as an heir to the Meijer grocery store fortune. In one of the state’s most competitive districts, he won his debut congressional race by a comfortable 6-point margin.

Anger over his vote to impeach resulted in him losing the primary in 2022. He was also unsuccessful when he ran for the US Senate in this cycle and lost the primary even though he tried to mend fences with the MAGA crowd by pledging to vote for SSAT, a man whom he once claimed was ‘unfit for office’. But he was seen as permanently tainted and rejected.

The party’s schisms are now on full display. There is a large and vocal group who have nothing but scorn for the former leaders of the party and vowed to get rid of them and they did. These GOP insurgents have also ditched the normal business of state parties which consists of fairly routine stuff.

A state political party is like the HVAC unit of American politics. When it does its job, you don’t think about it. It hums away in the background, as unsexy as it is essential. State parties recruit candidates to run for office. They mobilize voters. They raise money that helps candidates spread their message and win elections.

The insurgents under the banner of ‘America First’ have focused their entire effort on ‘election security’ while ignoring the nuts-and-bolts of running a state party. They nominated Matthew DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state in 2022. Both got trounced at the elections where Democrats won all the major offices and took control of all three branches of government. Undaunted, Karamo refused to concede that she lost (DePerno did concede) and took the issue to the courts where she lost again. She then got elected state party chair and under her leadership, the party went through such a period of chaos that even they got disgusted and voted to remove her, though she challenged that too. All this infighting, and the lack of efforts at fundraising, has resulted in the party’s coffers running low and facing the threat of bankruptcy.

SSAT, seeing the chaos as harming his chances to carry the state, supported the more mainstream former U.S. representative Pete Hoekstra to replace Karamo as party chair, a move that angered the insurgents, although they are part of his base. Karamo disputed that he is the party chair, claiming that she still occupied the position but a judge ruled against her. SSAT’s endorsement of former congressperson Mike Rogers for the US senate seat further annoyed his supporters.

These MAGA extremists are angry because they think that the old elites are back in control of the party and are disillusioned with SSAT for aiding in that effort. This does not mean that they will vote Democratic. They are too far gone for that. They will very likely vote for SSAT but it is not clear if they will work that hard for him in getting out the vote.

The same holds for Nikki Haley and her supporters. As expected, after criticizing SSAT severely during the campaign, she has slunk back to him and now says she will vote for him. While her supporters will likely follow her lead, with them too, the issue is whether they will throw themselves wholeheartedly into SSAT’s re-election campaign.

On The Daily Show, Michael Kosta looks at how Haley gave her endorsement without getting anything in return.


  1. anat says

    Washington state Republicans are worse -- they just agreed to be opposed to democracy. See The WA GOP put it in writing that they’re not into democracy.

    Some quotes, in case you can’t open the article:

    After the candidates left, the convention’s delegates got down to crafting a party platform. Like at most GOP gatherings in the Donald Trump era, this one called for restrictions on voting. In Washington state, the delegates called for the end of all mail-in voting. Instead, we would have a one-day-only, in-person election, with photo ID and paper ballots, with no use of tabulating machines or digital scanners to count the ballots. All ballots would be counted by hand, by Trappist monks.

    OK, I made up the monk part. I did not make up the part about banning the use of machines to count votes. All in all it would make voting less convenient and harder, by rolling it back at least half a century.

    A resolution called for ending the ability to vote for U.S. senators. Instead, senators would get appointed by state legislatures, as it generally worked 110 years ago prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913.

    “We are devolving into a democracy, because congressmen and senators are elected by the same pool,” was how one GOP delegate put it to the convention. “We do not want to be a democracy.”

    “We encourage Republicans to substitute the words ‘republic’ and ‘republicanism’ where previously they have used the word ‘democracy,’ ” the resolution says. “Every time the word ‘democracy’ is used favorably it serves to promote the principles of the Democratic Party, the principles of which we ardently oppose.”

    The resolution sums up: “We … oppose legislation which makes our nation more democratic in nature.”

  2. jenorafeuer says

    And the old-school Republican party deals with the fact that the tiger they were riding has long since thrown them off and is already at least halfway through eating them.

  3. anat says

    Some Washington Republicans are trying to challenge the extremist atmosphere in their party. Washington, like California and Oregon, has a ‘Jungle Primary’ (officially known as ‘top 2 primary’ ie the 2 top vote-getters move on to the general election) where almost anyone can run and declare themselves as ‘preferring’ any party they can come up with. In recent years there were candidates that instead of running as ‘Republican’ ran as ‘MAGA Republican’ or ‘Trump Republican’. This year, if you look here: You can see Derek Chartrand running in Congressional District 1 with a preference for ‘Calm Rational GOP’ and Patrick “Pat” Harman running for Lt Governor with the preference of ‘Liberal Republican’. (OTOH in Congressional District 4, Washington’s reddest congressional district, there is John Malan, running as MAGA Democrat, I’m guessing he’s trying to stand out as a centrist/moderate Democrat.)

  4. says

    Movements that are against something are prone to splintering and sectarian division, whereas movements that are for something tend to be more unified because they agree on an end goal. Movements against something also tend to fall apart very fast if they happen to achieve their goal, because now they no longer have a common point of agreement.

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