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Kristina Karamo: Presidential vote shakeup ‘best solution’ for Michigan GOP

 Kristina Karamo in a yellow dress, smiling for a photo
The Michigan GOP worked ‘hand in hand’ with the Republican National Committee on a new plan for awarding presidential primary delegates, according to state party chair Kristina Karamo. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan GOP OKs plan pairing presidential primary with caucuses 
  • The plan awards more delegates to winners of caucuses open to party members than the public primary
  • Critics contend plan could disenfranchise voters, help Trump

LANSING — The Michigan GOP is trying to "protect the voice of Republicans" with a new plan that would pair a traditional presidential primary with 13 district caucuses, the state party's chair, Kristina Karamo, said Monday. 

The hybrid plan, as approved Saturday by state party leaders, means the winner of Michigan's 2024 GOP presidential primary would only be guaranteed up to 16 out of 55 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

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Most Michigan GOP delegates — 39 of them — would be awarded based on the outcome of separate caucus meetings in each of 13 congressional districts on March 2, where party members selected at county conventions would debate and vote on the potential presidential nominee. 

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Critics contend the plan would disenfranchise millions of Republicans eligible to vote in the presidential primary by reducing its importance. And they say the system may benefit former President Donald Trump, whose supporters now control the Michigan GOP and could dominate caucus meetings. 

Republican strategist Dennis Lennox predicted the plan would create a "corrupt process" and would allow "party insiders" to award the majority of presidential delegates to a candidate who loses the public primary.

"It's really hard to see how Michigan will matter in the general election if the party gives a giant middle finger to millions of Republican voters," he said.

Karamo dismissed that criticism in an interview with Bridge Michigan, arguing the plan is a "responsible and sober decision" necessitated by a Democratic law that will move the state's presidential primary up to Feb. 27 if the state Legislature adjourns for the year by the end of November. 

The early primary date would violate Republican National Committee rules and trigger a penalty that would leave Michigan with only 12 delegates to the Milwaukee convention where the GOP will officially select their presidential nominee, Karamo said. 

Waiting on Democrats to decide the fate of the presidential primary would be "downright idiotic" given the looming RNC penalties, Karamo said, calling the new caucus/primary plan the “best solution” for GOP voters.

"If people don't like the fact we have this model, blame the Democrat legislators,” she said. “It's not our fault.”

The plan, as amended Saturday prior to approval by the Michigan GOP's state committee, is contingent on the RNC granting Michigan a waiver allowing it to bypass other national party rules.  

An RNC spokesperson did not immediately respond to Bridge Michigan’s request for comment.

Karamo said she is confident the RNC will approve the plan because it was developed "hand-in-hand" with the national party and its legal team. 

"We've worked with them every step of the way to make sure that this is a process they will be supportive of," Karamo told Bridge. 

Republican National Committeeman Rob Steele — one of two elected members from Michigan — told activists last month he'd discussed presidential primary options with Karamo, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and her legal team.

Presidential candidates "all want to have a highly publicized, totally public big campaign beauty contest vote in the primary," Steele said in the call, cautioning against a caucus-only system that some Michigan Republicans had advocated.

"They look at it as critical for their being competitive — to keeping Michigan competitive — for the general election," Steele said.  "They want as many people voting in the beauty contest... so they know who our voters are for the fall."

A 'middle finger' to millions?

About two-thirds of Michigan GOP state committee members voted for the plan on Saturday, according to Karamo, who said the state party moved quickly to try and avoid media leaks, in part.

But several prominent Republicans are publicly panning the plan.

"I will be surprised to see candidates really even try to compete, because I think the rules are designed to benefit Donald Trump," said Jason Roe, a former executive director of the Michigan GOP.

"His allies have control of the party apparatus, and I think the more localized and I think the more decentralized the process is, I think the more influence they're able to exert."

In a memo released Sunday, Lennox argued the proposal "violates key RNC rules" because it calls for county conventions prior to March 1, among other things. He suggested "interested parties" have grounds to challenge the plan in court. 

Former Michigan attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, who in February lost the state party chair race to Karamo, told Bridge that he and others are discussing plans to potentially sue over the new presidential delegate plan. 

Among their concerns: The plan could allow some GOP precinct delegates to vote twice, in both the caucus and primary, DePerno said.

As state party chair, Karamo said she cannot support any of the presidential candidates until the nomination is settled. Her interest, she said, is in "protecting the voice of Republican voters and making sure that we will have our full delegate strength at the Republican Convention in Milwaukee next year."

The former Secretary of State candidate, an election denier who last year refused to concede her 615,349-vote loss to Democrat Jocelyn Benson, argued that Michigan should remain a key state for presidential campaigns. 

"We have essentially two opportunities for candidates to get votes from Michigan," she said, referencing the primary and proposed caucuses. "So that means they'll have to spend extra time in Michigan."

Preventing ‘a nasty blow-out’

Jamie Roe, a longtime political strategist based in metro Detroit, called the new Michigan GOP plan "one of the best options" for the party given the primary date "predicament" caused by state lawmakers.

"The Democrats in the Legislature are the ones denying us the ability to have a broad, electric primary," said Roe, who is not related to Jason Roe. 

"The reason we don't have that is not the fault of Kristina Karamo or anybody on the Republican state committee."

Michigan Republican businessman Perry Johnson — who is running a long shot bid for president — praised the state GOP's new delegate plan. And he may be a benefactor because he already "has some standing" with likely caucus delegates, Roe said.

"I think Trump is probably the most likely victor in this process, but I don't think it's a preordained conclusion that Trump's going to win," he said. "These other candidates now have an opportunity to engage with the delegates and compete for these delegates."

The congressional district caucuses proposed by the Michigan GOP would be the first of their kind for the state party since 1988, when delegate walkouts marred a caucus-convention system amid infighting between loyalists to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and televangelist Pat Robertson. 

Those meetings were "a zoo" and the process culminated in a contentious state convention that saw Michigan GOP titan Peter Secchia "dump a pitcher of water on somebody's head from the podium," Jamie Roe recalled.

Given ongoing disputes within the state party, including a physical confrontation that Bridge first reported on in April, there could again be "mayhem" in the county conventions and district caucuses proposed under the new Michigan delegate allocation plan, Roe acknowledged. 

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"Closely divided conventions tend to be contentious affairs," he said. 

But the Michigan GOP has "plenty of time" to flesh out presidential caucus rules to try to minimize potential chaos, Karamo told Bridge. 

"The party has a responsibility to ensure we set up a framework for orderly conventions," she said. "Just like if you're playing basketball or any other games, you don't want a free for all."

Karamo noted the party's state committee plans to meet again on Sept. 22 for a vote on final procedures, giving them roughly three months to solicit feedback from district chairs and delegates across the state before drafting caucus rules. 

The Michigan GOP must then file its final presidential primary plan to the RNC by October 1. 

"It won't be this nasty blow-out with fights and arguments," Karamo predicted. “if you have fair rules across the board, then the chips fall where they may.”

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