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Michigan GOP went to war with itself. Can it rebuild to win for Donald Trump?

former President Donald Trump on stage
The Michigan GOP is raising funds again and courting traditional Republican voters. Will it be enough to help Donald Trump win? (Bridge photo by Dale Young)
  • Michigan GOP partners with Trump campaign to open offices in wake of months-long state party leadership fight
  • Chair Pete Hoekstra says the party is “united” with one objective: To elect Donald Trump
  • Former Chair Kristina Karamo, however, continues her fight

LANSING – On a conference call earlier this month, precinct delegates approached Michigan Republican Party chair Pete Hoekstra with an issue: While knocking doors for the GOP ticket, they were meeting voters concerned about their presidential candidate Donald Trump’s new criminal record.

“We’re getting some kickback on some of that,” said Jon Smith, a Hillsdale County delegate who asked Hoekstra how to assuage concerns about the former president’s 34-count felony conviction in a way that would “get people excited for Trump, other than, ‘You want Biden for the next four years?’”

Hoekstra responded with a lengthy digression into policy, highlighting gasoline prices under Democratic President Joe Biden, immigration and NATO spending, without mentioning Trump’s legal troubles, according to a recording of the call.

Michigan GOP Chair Pete Hoekstra posing for a picture. There a room full of people in the background
Michigan GOP Chair Pete Hoekstra took full control of the party in late February and says he’s rebuilding it in “a very lean way.”

But after another delegate raised the same concern over Trump conviction questions, Hoekstra conceded his “answer was too long … and may not convince somebody.” He asked for a week to get back to them.

“We owe you a much better, quicker response,” Hoekstra said, before citing an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Democrats “rigged that jury trial.”

The call illustrated one of the myriad challenges Hoekstra faces as he seeks to rebuild a state party riven by a months-long power struggle, pulling it from the brink of financial ruin and back into political power behind a presidential candidate who is doing better in the polls than the courtroom. 


By their own admission, Michigan Republicans are playing catch-up under Hoekstra, a former congressman and Trump ambassador to the Netherlands who took full control of the party in late February after a judge ordered former Chair Kristina Karamo to give up her claim to the post.

After 2022’s historic losses, Democrats control state government and hold a majority of Michigan’s congressional seats. Two years prior, Biden beat Trump in the state by 154,188 votes, roughly 2.8%.

Michigan is a critical state in the 2024 election, which means high stakes for Republicans seeking to move past longstanding disunity and rally a base that has swung hard to the right while also winning over moderate voters. 

State party officials say they are at least making progress: After a series of big-money fundraisers, the Michigan GOP is no longer hemorrhaging money. They’re also expecting an infusion of cash from Trump and the national party as they morph into an arm of the presidential campaign. 

“I think that Pete is the right guy for the right time," said Tim Ross, an Ionia County Republican who became the party’s budget chair under Hoekstra. 

"He doesn't want to be chair necessarily, he doesn't want to be chair long term, he doesn't even like running the meetings. But he's great at picking up the phone and asking people for money.”

Climbing out of a ‘financial hole’

In an era where presidential campaigns now spend more than $1 billion per cycle, state parties can be, at their most superficial, conduits for millions of dollars to be spent in ways the campaign can’t under finance rules.

But research suggests a more established state party can provide a competitive edge to candidates, said Matt Grossmann, a political science professor at Michigan State University.

 “Are the parties not just being used as financial vehicles, but are the parties being built such that for the next few campaign cycles they're going to be able to gear up faster to take advantage of opportunities?” Grossmann noted.


Over the past several decades, Democratic state parties had been seen as relatively neglected compared to their GOP counterparts, Grossmann said. In Michigan, though, the roles have reversed. 

Hoekstra said the party he took over was in a “financial hole.”

Less than a year before Hoekstra became chair, MIGOP delegates chose Kristina Karamo, a political neophyte on the heels of a 14-point loss running for secretary of state, to lead the party. 

A self-described enemy of “globalists” and the “uniparty,” Karamo’s conspiracy-tinged rhetoric quickly led to an exodus of the party’s old guard. 

While spending decades wielding influence over the state party, that donor class had also served as the party’s financial bedrock. Fundraising, according to bank statements leaked in late 2023, immediately cratered.

The party defaulted on a loan from its longtime creditor Comerica Bank, and Karamo sued the bank over the debt, along with a trust of former Republican leaders that own the party’s Lansing headquarters, in hope of selling the building. Both efforts failed.

Hoekstra said the party is working with the bank to dig out of that debt and has been building out the party “in a very lean way.”

“There are some unexpected costs there but they're being legitimately claimed by the bank,” Hoekstra said on the call with delegates. “The positive thing is even though we went into default, the bank did not call the loan.”

'Adults in the room again’

Dissent toward Karamo came to a head in January, when about a third of the party’s state committee leveraged a quirk in party bylaws to oust her, and two weeks later elected Hoekstra as her replacement. Karamo never recognized her ouster. The breakaway faction of the party had to get a court order to formally wrest control of the party from her.

Four months after a judge barred Karamo from continuing to call herself state party chair, some money spent during her tenure remains unaccounted for, according to Ross, the new budget chair.

Hoekstra held the first state party meeting of his tenure in March, which was not without drama, as several Karamo loyalists were barred from participating because their county chairs had not signed them up. 

Emblazoned on party credentials at that first meeting: "Up from the ashes."

The Michigan GOP has, in recent weeks, begun to resemble the traditional state party. 

Hoekstra and his colleagues have opened field offices, toured the state with Trump surrogates like potential running mate Doug Burgum and held joint events with the Republican National Committee, including an "Election Integrity Volunteer Training" on June 14. 

“There are adults in the room again at the state part,y and they can trust that their money is going to be used properly to help Republicans win in November,” Tyson Sheppard, the party’s new executive director, told Bridge in a statement. 

“There was a fear of investment with the previous administration — there’s no concern about that with Pete’s leadership.”

Much of the Michigan GOP’s fundraising is not public. State parties in Michigan can raise unlimited sums for “administrative” accounts that don’t have to disclose donors and fund millions in election ads. But the party’s federal account, which does have disclosure requirements, hints at what Republicans are up against.

Through the end of May, Michigan Democrats had benefited from nearly $4.6 million in money transfers — most of it in the past two months — from partners like Biden’s campaign and a political action committee linked to U.S. Senate candidate Elissa Slotkin.

Through the end of March, the Michigan GOP had not yet reported any funding transfers from campaigns or other groups. That may soon change, however.

Ross, the Michigan GOP budget chair, said he expects the Trump campaign and RNC will “dump a bunch of money into Michigan” and “a lot of it will flow through the party.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee had been at loggerheads with Karamo’s staff over how the party might spend its transferred NRCC dollars, but Hoekstra, a familiar face in Republican circles, appears to have alleviated some of those concerns.

Trump focus

If there’s one person that can unify 2024’s Michigan Republican Party, it may be Trump.Among the most active and enthusiastic Republicans in Michigan, his candidacy is the glue holding the party’s increasingly disparate factions together.

“We’re focused and united with one objective, and that objective is winning the Michigan electoral vote for Donald Trump,” Hoekstra said on the call with delegates — though he later amended his statement to acknowledge congressional, legislative and local races.

A saving grace for MIGOP may be that in presidential election years, state parties perform a sort of melding with their nominees’ presidential campaigns, sharing staff and resources. Michigan Democrats refer to their effort as the “One Campaign.”

For the Michigan GOP, that means opening field offices co-branded as the “Trump Force 47” headquarters for local communities. 

“The role of the state party during a campaign where you have the House up, you have the Senate up, you have the presidency up, is to get the ticket elected,” Victoria LaCivita, who is now communications director for both the state party and Trump’s campaign in Michigan.

 “The party is both a home base for all these candidates once we have the nominees but also an intersection and playing a valuable role in making sure that the candidates all up and down the ballot get elected.”

The Michigan GOP and Trump’s campaign have together set up at least a dozen regional field offices and have a team of paid staff in the state. By comparison, the Michigan Democratic party had already opened 30 local offices by mid-April. 

For the Michigan GOP, the Trump campaign “brought on 11 of the 13 regional directors along with three political coordinators,” deputy state director Alec Faggion told delegates. “... We have folks in all regions, all areas of the state, making contacts.”

Karamo fights on

Karamo still has a contingent of supporters in the Michigan Republican Party, and she has vowed to fight on. She has appealed the injunction that barred her from claiming to be chair and is raising money to fund the legal battle. 

In a recent email soliciting donations, Karamo casts the sides in her fight as “constitutionalists and the globalist 'uniparty' and their pawns,” asserting critics who orchestrated her ouster “threaten the survival of our children, grandchildren and nation.”

As Chair, Karamo had openly derided Republican legislative leaders for partnering with the moderate former governor Rick Snyder on fundraising efforts. Hoekstra, meanwhile, told delegates he meets with legislative leaders weekly.

“I think the party still has a lot of work to do in terms of bringing back historic donors who left the party over the last year or so no longer trusted the party,” said Matt Deperno, a one-time candidate for party chair who’s running for state Supreme Court while facing tabulator tampering charges. 

Hoekstra has shown donors “that the party is a big tent, which is historically what it always has been,” DePerno said. 

There are some outside efforts trying to sidestep the conflict. 

Throughout May, an organization called Delegates For Trump toured the state, recruiting delegates to run as precinct delegates, and in turn, get them to volunteer during election season.

The group aimed to be as “neutral as possible and as pro-Trump as possible to unite people” behind the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, said organizer Shane Trejo. They eschewed association with the party because “we didn't want this to be something that would be divisive.”

“Let's put our fights on hold until after the election in November,” Trejo said. “Let's focus on getting Trump and as many Republicans elected as possible. And then we can have those battles again, when the time is right for that. I think most people believe that.”


State Rep. Steve Carra, a staunch Karamo supporter and far-right Republican from Three Rivers, said he too is urging Republicans to unite – at least through the fall. 

“We need to concentrate on winning the election, but then we also need to concentrate on restoring the Republican Party from within, and not just accepting status quo politics,” Carra said. 

“If the Democrats and corrupt Republican establishment have their way moving forward in the years to come, we'll just continue to destroy our country even further, and erode our basic, constitutionally protected rights.”

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