For Republican supporters of Donald J. Trump in Michigan, it seemed like a crowning achievement: the state party elected two candidates approved by the former president, both outspoken preachers of 2020 election fraud, as its candidates for the state’s top law enforcement and its head of the election administration.
But instead, this step at a convention last weekend – where Republicans officially approved Matthew DePerno as justice minister and Kristina Karamo as foreign minister – has broken the Michigan Republican Party. After months of effort, it looks like it’s finally breaking down as what’s left of the old guard protests against the party’s direction.
This week, Tony Daunt, a powerful figure in Michigan politics with close ties to the DeVos family’s influential donor network, withdrew from the GOP’s State Committee in a blistering letter calling Mr. Trump “an insane narcissist.” Major donors to the state party indicated that they would direct their money elsewhere. And one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal defenders in the state legislature were thrown out of the Republican Republican Party convention.
The rejection of the denial wing of the party by other Republicans in Michigan rarely represents public backlash from conservatives against Mr. Trump’s attempt to force candidates across the country to support his claims of a false vote in 2020. This position has become a litmus test for GOP politicians up and down the ballot, as Mr. Trump adds to his list of more than 150 endorsements in this election cycle.
Still, some Republicans in Michigan and beyond worry that a unique, backward-looking focus on the 2020 election is a losing message for the party in November.
“Instead of distancing himself from this undisciplined loser,” wrote Mr. Daunt in his farewell letter, “far too many Republican ‘leaders’ have decided to encourage his delusions – and even worse – cynically appease him despite knowing they are lies is the easiest way to ensure their continued grip on power, the consequences of the parliamentary elections will be damned.
“Whether it’s misunderstood true belief, cynical cowardice or just ordinary old greed and greed,” continued Mr. Daunt in the letter, which was addressed to a Republican colleague, “it’s a losing strategy and I can not sit on the board of a party that is too stupid to see it.”
Mr. Daunt’s resignation shocked party insiders in Michigan, in part because of his close ties to Dick and Betsy DeVos, prominent conservative donors who have often acted as kingmakers in state Republican politics and have raised millions of dollars through their political arm, the Michigan Freedom Fund. Ms. DeVos served in Mr. Trump’s Cabinet as Secretary of Education.
Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Michigan and a critic of Mr. Trump, said about Mr. Daunt’s letter: “He is taking a step like this is a sign of where their thinking is.” Sir. Timmer added: “It seems very unlikely he would do this and tell them afterwards when they read it in the press.”
A spokesman for the Michigan Freedom Fund did not respond to a request for comment. But some people within the DeVos network have also expressed frustration over the direction of the state party, even though they still want Republicans to do well in November, according to two people who have spoken to donors connected to the network and who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.
In an interview Thursday morning, Mr. Trump disputed that a lasting focus on the 2020 election could hurt Republicans in November.
“I think it’s good for the general election because it has made people very angry to come out and vote,” he said. He declined to say whether he would provide financial support to Mr DePerno or Mrs Karamo, although he praised Mr DePerno as a “bulldog” and called Mrs Karamo “magnetic”.
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Mr. Trump declined to comment on the DeVos network, saying only of Ms. DeVos, who resigned from her administration after the Capitol riot: “She was fine, but the one I really liked in that family was the father, who essentially was the founder. ” (Ms. DeVos’ father, Richard M. DeVos, who died in 2018, was also a major Republican donor.)
The latest campaign funding reports for the state party show that some large dollar contributors have changed their contributions.
“A lot of the traditional donors, they just walked away,” said John Truscott, a Republican strategist in Michigan. “I do not know how it will survive in the long run.”
By the end of 2021, campaign funding reports show, the number of direct contributions of more than $ 25,000 to Michigan Republicans had dropped. The money the party received included $ 175,000 in November from Ron Weiser, the party’s megadonor chairman.
Sir. Weiser, who received criticism last year when he joked about murdering two Republican lawmakers who voted to silence Mr Trump, gave the party at least $ 1.3 million for the cycle, according to reports.
In an email Wednesday, Gustavo Portela, a spokesman for the Republican Party in Michigan, said it was financially sound, citing Mr Weiser’s generosity, saying he had committed to giving and raising “the money we believe is needed to win in November. “
But the names of other productive donors, such as Jeffrey Cappo, an auto dealership magnate and philanthropist, no longer appeared in the reports by the end of 2021.
Mr. Cappo said Wednesday he had found other options for giving money to Republicans.
“Our political state,” said Mr. Cappo, “is more dysfunctional than it has ever been.”
He said about Mr. Trump: “I think the guy really, really cared, but he cares more about himself than anyone else.”
The Republican divisions had grown for several weeks before the state convention last weekend. And frustrations with Meshawn Maddock, a co-chair of the state party with close ties to Mr. Trump, boiled over when she approved candidates before the convention, including Mr. DePerno and Ms. Karamo.
Mr. DePerno, a lawyer who challenged the election results in Antrim County, has vowed to investigate “all the fraud that took place in this election”, including inquiries from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, all Democrats.
Ms. Karamo became prominent after challenging the state’s 2020 results as a pollster, arguing that she had witnessed fraud. Her claims were later refuted, but she quickly gained fame in conservative circles.
When Mr DePerno and Mrs Karamo almost accepted their nominations, it was not through a traditional party primarily. Michigan instead nominates many nationwide offices through a convention system in which party activists act as “precincts” and vote on the nomination.
The campaigns for Ms. Karamo and Mr. DePerno did not respond to requests for comment.
In the midst of the fallout from the Convention, Matt Maddock, a Republican state representative who became Mr. Trump had backed to be the speaker next year, pushed out of the House of Representatives meeting this week.
A spokesman for Jason Wentworth, the current spokesman for the State House and a Republican, confirmed in an email Wednesday that Mr. Maddock had been “removed” from the Republican Party meeting. He declined to give a reason, saying he was not authorized to discuss internal affairs. On the Michigan House Republicans website was a member page for Mr. Maddock has been removed.
Mr. Maddock’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. So did Mrs. Maddock, a chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and Mr. Nor does Maddock’s wife.
Maddocks had been outspoken supporters of Trump-adapted Republican candidates before the convention, including some Republican challengers to the incumbent representatives in the Legislature.
“When you’re a member of a team, you can not expect the benefit of being on that team while at the same time trying to slip your teammates,” said Jase Bolger, a Republican former president of Michigan House. “So it would not be fair to expect him to stay on that team while he is out and actively opposing his teammates.”
To remove Mr. Maddock of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives does not condemn his chances of re-election, but it will make it harder for him to raise money and retain influence. Of course, outside money from groups allied with Mr. Trump help offset any losses in fundraising for Mr. Maddock, the state party or other candidates in line with the former president.
Despite the chaos, veterans of the Michigan Republicans are still positive about the upcoming election, provided the party’s message changes.
“We need to return to focus on issues, on principles, on empowering people and turning away from divisions and personalities,” Mr Bolger said, “and certainly need to focus on 2022 and not 2020.”