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Who is Pete Hoekstra? Meet the Trump ambassador in fight for Michigan GOP

Pete Hoekstra
Former Ambassador and Congressman Pete Hoekstra wants the Republican National Committee to recognize him as the new chair of the Michigan GOP. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Pete Hoekstra is seeking national party recognition after a faction of Michigan Republicans voted to make him new state party chair
  • Hoekstra has served as a congressman and U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands under then-President Donald Trump – sparking some controversies along the way
  • Kristina Karamo contends she remains Michigan GOP chair, and is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to recognize Hoekstra

LANSING — Pete Hoekstra stood in front of one half of a divided Michigan Republican Party on Saturday and declared the “days of division are over.”

A faction of state committee members had just elected him as the new Michigan GOP chair even as Kristina Karamo continued to claim that title. The bitter leadership feud has rocked the party and is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon without action from the courts or Republican National Committee.


Hoekstra, a former congressman and U.S. ambassador under then-President Donald Trump, wasn’t declaring an end to the leadership fight. But he was extending an olive branch to conservatives who Karamo had driven out of the party as RINOs — Republicans in name only — or “deep state” operatives.

“Those who don't want to be part of the party but believe in our values … you are welcome to help elect Republicans on Election Day,” Hoekstra said, according to a video of the closed-door speech reviewed by Bridge Michigan. “If that's the only time you agree with us, when you vote ‘R’ in November, you are our friend.”


In a pre-election pitch to state committee members, the Holland Republican had described himself as a "populist" and independent-minded "man of faith" who could work with both the grassroots activists and traditional donors.

But Karamo allies are already blasting “Hoaxtra” as an establishment politician who Trump only picked to be his ambassador to the Netherlands as part of what they allege without evidence was a "compromise with the globalists."

If his election is upheld, Hoekstra would take over a once-powerful Michigan GOP whose influence has waned amid infighting and financial struggles, punctuated by default on a $500,000 loan Karamo says she inherited.

With the 2024 elections fast approaching, Hoekstra has vowed to pay off party debts within 90 days and then "put a full court press on raising the funds necessary to defeat Democrats in November."

But his hands are essentially tied for now: Karamo still controls the state party bank accounts, email lists and official social media channels. 

Her critics last week filed a lawsuit seeking judicial intervention, but swift resolution appears unlikely. The judge has set a hearing on Karamo’s motion to dismiss the case for March 15 — roughly two weeks after a primary and caucus convention will help decide the party’s presidential nominee. 

Even if the national GOP should recognize Hoekstra's election before then, uniting the fractured state party for the 2024 election cycle "poses a huge challenge" for him, said John Sellek, a longtime GOP strategist and founder of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs in Lansing. 

Hoekstra is a “known quantity to both sides of the party” who knows how to win elections and “how to operate in the Trump world,” Sellek said. “So if there was somebody on a shortlist who had the chance to bridge some of these gaps, he is one of the people that would be on that list.”

Meet Pete Hoekstra

Hoekstra, 70, has been a mainstay in Michigan politics since 1992, when he first won election to the U.S. House after campaigning by bicycle across what was then the 9th Congressional District as part of a surprisingly successful bid to defeat longtime incumbent Republican Guy Vander Jagt. 

His political career has included 10 election wins (to Congress), two statewide losses (for governor and U.S. Senate) and some notable controversies, including a racially charged campaign advertisement and comments about Islam.

Before politics, Hoekstra graduated from Hope College in 1975 and the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in 1977. He then went to work for Herman Miller, the Holland-based furniture company, where he eventually became vice president of marketing. 

In Congress, Hoekstra served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2004 to 2007, founded the Tea Party Caucus and logged a staunchly conservative voting record, which included opposition to abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage and paid parental leave for federal employees. 

He made national headlines in 2006 by falsely claiming weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, echoing earlier claims that then-President George W. Bush had used as pretense for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

Hoekstra opted against running for re-election to Congress in 2010 and instead launched a campaign for governor. He finished second in a five candidate GOP primary won by Rick Sndyer, who went on to win the general election. 

Two years later, Hoekstra ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012 but lost by more than 20 percentage points to incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow. 

He faced controversy early in the Senate campaign over what critics called a race-baiting ad that featured an Asian woman speaking in broken English and thanking "Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow."

Hoekstra was one of five Michigan co-chairs for Trump's winning 2016 campaign and was a fixture at the future president's rallies in the state, where he often warmed up the crowd.

Trump returned the favor in 2017, tapping Hoekstra to serve as his ambassador to the Netherlands. Early in his tenure, Hoekstra apologized for false 2015 claims that the Netherlands had “no-go zones” made unsafe by radicalized Muslims.

Bishop returns, Karamo fights back

Hoekstra isn’t the only former U.S. representative attempting to return to the inner fold of Michigan Republican Party politics. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, who lost reelection in 2018, plans to join him as general counsel for the state GOP. 

"It breaks my heart to see this party marching off the cliff, like it was doing, and I just felt duty bound to come back," Bishop told Bridge Michigan after the Saturday vote. "Hopefully this makes a difference."

Karamo contends the entire effort to oust her was “illegal,” and her allies have already begun trashing Hoekstra.

In a recent email to Michigan Republicans, Karamo loyalist Robert Owens published what he called a partial "dossier" on Hoekstra, highlighting parts of his long political career grassroots Trump supporters may question. 

That includes connections to the “deep state” Council on Foreign Relations, Owens wrote, referencing the international-focused think tank that Hoekstra spoke to as a member of Congress in 2008. 

Owens alleged without evidence that Hoekstra would use fundraising to “support corrupt politicians and crush righteous ones." The former congressman is “"serious bad news… dangerous and not to be underestimated,” he concluded. 

Karamo has personally accused Hoekstra of “scheming with saboteurs” to undermine Michigan GOP delegates who elected her as party chair last February and the state committee faction that voted this month to keep her on. 

In a Saturday email to state party delegates, Karamo argued that campaigns by Hoekstra and two other Republicans who competed to replace her “spotlight the arrogance and disdain” they have for grassroots Republicans. “They see themselves as enlightened humans and we are the peasants beneath them.”


Hoekstra, for his part, has called Karamo a "fine lady"  who had a "performance issue” that warranted her removal. 

In a written plan released before Saturday's vote, Hoekstra said he had "no intention" of running for party chair and even met with Karamo "several months ago to give advice and offer my help" before critics voted to oust her.

But Hoekstra has acknowledged that it will be a heavy lift to win over Karamo’s supporters who elected her to the post less than a year ago.

"They will be invited to come on board," he told reporters Saturday. "It's always a lot more fun to be on the winning team than a losing team."

Editor's note: This article was updated at 12 p.m. Jan. 24 to correct the date of when President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq.

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