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‘Mass confusion’ as Michigan GOP preps presidential caucus amid leadership fight

Kristina Karamo speaking at a podium
Kristina Karamo says she plans to run the Michigan GOP’s March 2 caucus convention even if the Republican National Committee refuses to recognize her as state party chair (Bridge file photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan Republicans are preparing for a new March 2 presidential caucus convention despite an ongoing leadership feud
  • Kristina Karamo say she ‘absolutely’ plans to run the convention despite critics voting to replace her with Pete Hoekstra
  • The convention will decide 39 of the state’s 55 presidential nomination delegates to the Republican National Convention in July

LANSING — The Michigan Republican Party is preparing to host an unprecedented presidential caucus convention on March 2, and Kristina Karamo says she intends to run the show despite efforts to remove her as chair.

The Republican National Committee’s executive board on Wednesday voted to recognize former Ambassador Pete Hoekstra as Michigan’s new chair, according to sources with first-hand knowledge. Former President Donald Trump had already endorsed him to replace Karamo.

But only a court order would compel Karamo to step down before the convention, she told Bridge Michigan earlier Wednesday, refusing to concede her post as similar GOP leadership disputes play out in Michigan county parties set to meet Thursday night. 

“If the court intervenes and says I have to relinquish control of the party, then of course that changes things,” she said. “I'm not gonna go to jail.” 


Karamo’s comments come less than two weeks ahead of Michigan’s Feb. 27 presidential primary, which will mean less than usual for Republican voters because the state party will award most of its delegates based on the outcome of the congressional district caucus meetings planned for March 2.

Karamo told Bridge she “absolutely” plans to run the convention regardless of any RNC ruling. “It’s not their decision to make,” she said. “We are a bottom up organization, so the delegates choose who their chair is, not the RNC.”

The leadership feud has engulfed the Michigan Republican Party since Jan. 6, when one faction of the GOP’s state committee voted to remove Karamo as chair and later chose Hoekstra to replace her.

Former Ambassador Pete Hoekstra
Former Ambassador Pete Hoekstra has Donald Trump’s endorsement to run the Michigan GOP but does not yet control party bank accounts, email or social media (Bridge file photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Karamo, an election denier who refused to concede her 2022 loss as a candidate for Secretary of State, claimed the Jan. 6 meeting was illegitimate. She called another, where a larger faction voted to keep her as chair while also banning several of her top critics from the state party for five years. 

The stakes have only increased in the run up to the Michigan GOP’s March 2 convention, which could play a significant role in deciding whether Trump or Nikki Haley will be the GOP’s presidential nominee in a critical election year that will also include competitive U.S. Senate, Congress and state House races.

Karamo plans to hold the convention at the Huntington Place in Detroit, where party activists will decide how to allocate 39 of Michigan's 55 nominating delegates to the July Republican National Convention. The other 16 will be allocated based on the outcome of the Feb. 27 primary.

Hoekstra earlier this week declined to discuss whether he is developing alternative plans for the March 2 convention but told Bridge he would be willing to do so after the RNC made its decision. 

Michigan GOP primary/caucus plan

With Democrats planning an early presidential primary that would violate Republican National Committee rules, the Michigan GOP created a hybrid system for selecting the party’s 2024 nominee. Here’s how it would work.

Feb. 15 — County conventions: Republican precinct delegates and elected officials will meet to choose members to send to congressional district caucuses.

Feb. 27 — Michigan primary: The state plans to conduct a primary election for both parties. Republicans will divide their 16 presidential delegates proportionally among candidates who receive at least 12.5 percent of the GOP primary vote.

March 2 — District convention: The Michigan GOP will hold a convention that will feature 13 separate congressional district caucus meetings. 

There, Republicans will debate and vote on presidential candidates, who could receive up to three delegates from each of the congressional districts, up to 39 total. 

The Michigan GOP's state committee will meet that night to finalize results and select local Republicans to serve as delegates to the Republican National Committee convention. 

July 15-18 — Republican National Convention: Michigan will send its delegates a national convention where Republicans will formally elect their presidential nominee.

It’s time for Karamo to “end her misinformation campaign,” Hoekstra said in a Wednesday statement after the RNC vote. “She should join the fight to re-elect Donald Trump rather than dividing this party. Since I was elected chair, we have moved full-steam ahead to develop a plan to elect Republicans across Michigan. We are ready to execute.”

Hoekstra’s team had already been reaching out to congressional district chairs who will run the individual caucus meetings at the March 2 convention under rules developed with the RNC, said Barb Zinner of Sterling Heights, who chairs the 10th District. 

“I'm not sure what's going to happen exactly,” Zinner said. “I think it's going to work out fine. We may not agree, but we want Republicans elected because we want what's best for the country, the state, our district and counties.”

But the leadership dispute has put local GOP leaders in an awkward position, said 7th District Chair Dan Wholihan. He recognizes Hoekstra as state chair but is prepared to run the March 2 caucus even if Karamo remains in charge. 

“I am controlling what I can control,” Wholihan said. “I will make sure that we do what we are supposed to do, regardless of whatever the courts decide in regards to leadership.”

A Kent County judge could decide the Michigan GOP leadership dispute as early as next week, when the circuit court will hold a hearing on a preliminary injunction requested by some of Karamo’s opponents. 

'Mass confusion everywhere'

The Republican infighting is not limited to the state party, where delegates elected Karamo last February amid a grassroots takeover. 

Competing factions are also battling for control of several county parties, which are slated to meet Thursday night in order to select which local Republican activists to send to the March 2 caucus convention in Detroit. 

In Kalamazoo County, Republicans will hold two separate conventions amid an ongoing leadership feud between Kelly Sackett and Rod Halcomb, both of whom claim to be the local GOP chair. 

"It's mass confusion everywhere," said Sackett, who contends a September vote to remove her from the county post was "fake" even though the Karamo administration has subsequently chosen to recognize Halcomb as chair. 

"It's confusing to delegates" who have received two separate calls to convention and must now decide which to attend, Sackett said.  "One slate of delegates is not going to get to go to March 2, and the other slate will."

A Kalamazoo County judge this week declined to settle the local dispute, rejecting Sackett's request for a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit she filed against both Halcomb and Karamo. 

In court testimony, Halcomb argued Sackett was properly removed as chair for "disciplinary purposes" because she had unilaterally ousted several Karamo loyalists from the county party. "After that, I was elected as the chair," he said.

Halcomb plans to hold his county convention at a community center in Scotts, while Sackett's faction plans to meet about 16 miles away at the 12th Street Baptist Church in Kalamazoo. Both start at 7 p.m.

“I recommend going to (Halcomb’s) convention, because it's the only convention that the Michigan Republican Party will recognize,” Karamo said Wednesday. 

‘Lighting and thunder’

The Michigan GOP devised its presidential caucus plan to avoid a delegate penalty after the Democratic-led Legislature moved up the state’s government-run primary to Feb. 27 in violation of RNC rules

While the RNC previously agreed to the plan, it’s not immediately clear if the national party would recognize presidential delegates from Karamo's March 2 convention now that it no longer recognizes her as state party chair. 

"That is something our legal team will need to address," Karamo acknowledged. 

But, she argued, the RNC "can't just not recognize these duly elected delegates because they don't like the state chairperson. It doesn't work that way."

Karamo allies have been urging her supporters to flood county conventions this week so they can secure spots to the March 2 caucus convention in Detroit, where they’ve suggested there could also be another vote on her leadership.  

“When the delegates get together and make a stand, we the people will be heard,” Ken Beyer, chair of the 4th Congressional District, said in a recent video message distributed to fellow Republicans. 

“The storm is behind us. The delegates will be the lightning and thunder.”

Karamo declined to confirm whether she plans to ask activists to decide her political fate at the March 2 gathering. Current convention rules make no mention of a leadership vote, but “that's something we're still open to,” she said, “because we are in uncharted waters as a Michigan Republican Party.”

While critics contend they removed Karamo as chair due to fundraising struggles and her handling of local party disputes, she alleges they are simply bitter that she has prioritized working class voters over wealthy donors who had long funded what she called a “Grey Poupon Party.”

“There's been an extremely well funded effort to get rid of and purge us unwashed masses, as many from the old guard consider us,” she said. “They find us to be beneath them. We’re filth to these people.”

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