Republicans aim to take out their chair, setting off a firefight for control of the MIGOP

There are few assassination techniques quite so effective as the double tap.

For those of you unschooled in the dark arts, this requires getting up close and personal with the target and delivering two quick shots to the back of the head. This is much easier if the target knows you ... and trusts you.

So, some of us at the Multi-Lakes Conservation Association on Jan. 6 found it curious that we heard only single shots being fired on the gun range that shared a wall with the meeting room where Michigan Republican Party activists gathered behind closed doors to decide the fate of their leader. Nevertheless, by the time the shooting — and the shouting — was over, a metaphorical double tap had been delivered to the head of the state party. The would-be coup de grace came courtesy of Chairwoman Kristina Karamo's own hand-picked lieutenants, who fired shots heard 'round the state.

MIGOP chair Kristina Karamo speaks to reporters before former President Donald Trump speaks at Drake Enterprise in Clinton Township on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
MIGOP chair Kristina Karamo speaks to reporters before former President Donald Trump speaks at Drake Enterprise in Clinton Township on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

The irony of Republicans overthrowing a Trump loyalist on the same date that, three years ago, Trump loyalists tried to prevent what they considered the overthrow of Trump, was not lost on some of us literally and figuratively standing out in the cold. What may have been lost on the would-be assassins is that when you set out to kill the king — or, in this case, the queen — you better finish the job.

Hours after the putative purge of Karamo, general counsel Dan Hartman and a couple of the top GOP officials who had not already defected, the party's official communications email account referred to the Republican revolutionaries as a "rogue cabal of anti-grassroots establishment operatives." Not to be outdone, Hartman, who, depending on whom you believe, is the party's current or former top lawyer, posted a video after the confab in Commerce Township in which he called it "an illegal meeting" involving "an organized group of usurpers."

Michigan Republican Party state committee member Darlene Doetzel, who rushed from Shelby Township to Commerce Township to support Karamo.

"Let's call it what it is," she told reporters huddling outside the gun range. "They're all white in there. ... This is racial."

If you're looking for a measure of how divided state Republicans are these days, accusing each other of racism is a pretty good yardstick.

Karamo, by the way, is Black.

MIGOP, which is what the party calls itself, is in the red.

The reason most of Karamo's critics say they want her gone is because she has shown no talent for raising the green.

But she sure can raise a ruckus!

Michigan Republicans counting on the Republican National Committee to confirm Karamo's ouster were sorely disappointed when there was still no word from Washington by Friday.

Supporters of Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo protest Saturday outside of a meeting of state committee members considering Karamo's ouster on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024.
Supporters of Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo protest Saturday outside of a meeting of state committee members considering Karamo's ouster on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024.

On Saturday, one week after Karamo's critics claimed they canned her in a 40-5 vote, Karamo announced that she had been reaffirmed as chair in a 59-1 vote after a state committee meeting that was scheduled to take place in Houghton Lake.

"This is a happy day of remembrance," Karamo was quoted in an email MIGOP sent out Saturday afternoon, "because it represents a renewed unification of spirit and purpose within the Michigan Republican Party."

Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe the state GOP these days, the only ones that clearly don't apply are any variation of "unity."

And, right on cue, less than a half-hour after the Karamo email, a group called "Save Michigan," announced that, no, Karamo really is out, and it has scheduled an election for a new chair for next Saturday in Lansing.

If the liberal use of italics in that last sentence didn't convey just how wacky things are getting for Michigan Republicans these days, perhaps it will help to reflect on how we got here — and where we're headed.

The cure may be worse than the disease

If Karamo is looking for a motto to define her tenure as MIGOP chair, she might settle on: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

I was at the MIGOP convention in February where Karamo's messianic zeal helped her defeat rivals who had more money, more coordination and even more support from Donald Trump in the race for party chair. The challenges then, as now, were uniting the party, growing the party and raising money. Conventioneers cheered her faith-heavy, populist pitch, as well as her disdain for the deep-pocketed businesspeople and families who have traditionally provided the bulk of the state party's resources. Among the amenities these benefactors provided over the years is the party's Lansing headquarters, which Karamo declined to move into but is now trying to gain control of to help stave off financial disaster.

The party's summer leadership conference on Mackinac Island, traditionally a fundraising event that attracts prominent Republicans with national profiles, instead featured an actor who once played Jesus and who charged MIGOP $110,000 to attend, putting further strain on the party's finances.

Karamo addressed concerns about the Mackinac event in October when she attended a meeting of the Macomb County Republican Party. She said GOP presidential candidates were invited, but were told not to attend (Vivek Ramaswamy was the sole exception).

"This whole deep-state thing is real," Karamo said, without elaborating.

While I have had no luck over the past year or so getting Karamo to respond to my requests for an interview — including my latest request, sent Tuesday — she was cool and calm as she addressed every question asked during that October grilling in Shelby Township.

"The goal of this party is not to become a country club, it's to save our country," Karamo said, as many in the blue-collar crowd nodded in approval.

In a bit of foreshadowing, she later said: "If we all go down in flames, so be it."

To accusations she has become insular as criticism and the party's problems mounted, she replied: "I am, because I get stabbed in the back."

Nevertheless, Karamo stayed after the meeting adjourned and spoke to everyone — including me — who lined up. When a supporter inquired about the party's debt, Karamo accused her predecessor Ron Weiser of being in cahoots with the party's bank, which she claimed didn't require collateral when it loaned MIGOP money.

She also told me $13,750 the party paid her in June was back pay. Campaign finance records I reviewed indicate Karamo did not receive her first paycheck until May, which was more than two months after she was elected chairwoman. I had recently written about her work history and speculated on what her annual salary might be. When I mentioned my column, she said she stopped taking full payment for her services after assessing the party's financial difficulties.

The message from Team Karamo then and now is that critics are out to thwart their mission to shift the balance of power in the state Republican Party from the high-and-mighty to the rank-and-file. They have shown arguably more disdain for RINOs — which is short for "Republicans In Name Only," a pejorative generally used for moderates or anyone who accepts the irrefutable results of elections — than Democrats. While it's true RINOs take up a lot of room, Karamo and her dwindling cadre of supporters don't seem to care that the tent they pitched now has so much empty space they could accommodate a herd of hippos where the RINOs and a whole lot of other disillusioned elephants once stood.

Nevertheless, one of Karamo's aides proudly proclaimed on that October night in Shelby Township that MIGOP now stands for "principle before money without compromise."

That's a noble, if unrealistic, notion for a party desperate to restore the majorities in the state House and Senate that it lost in 2022. It takes money — big money — to win. Karamo & Co. know this, but they believe the key to victory is purging Republicans who aren't pure enough. In their book, as in the Good Book, cleanliness is next to godliness. And they believe they are on a divine mission to save democracy, as the Karamo aide made clear when he told the Macomb County Republicans: "We must elect constitutionalists to save our children from tyranny."

This kind of rhetoric concerns onetime Karamo supporters, who have begun to rethink the wisdom of running off the RINOs (and their checkbooks). They also believe the stakes are high and the end is nigh — they're just worried Karamo's 10 months on the job may have moved the date of the apocalypse up to Nov. 5.

Ready ... Aim ... Crossfire!

With his red "TRUMP WAS RIGHT" ball cap pulled down to his eyebrows, Warren Carpenter flashed an impish grin on Jan. 6 as he offered candid assessments of what's next for MIGOP. It's very late in the election cycle, but he tells me Republicans can still rally.

"I think we've got a lot of time with the right new chair," said the Oakland County Republican activist who became so disillusioned with Karamo that he went from supporter to leader of the effort to oust her.

The question now is who has the power to declare whether the post of chair is bare.

With the RNC keeping its peace, Carpenter has said he will ask a judge to decide.

In the meantime, candidates are sizing up their chances.

Sources tell me Tudor Dixon, the 2022 Republican candidate for governor, is contacting potential supporters. Failed University of Michigan Board of Regents and congressional candidate Lena Epstein also is believed to be interested. Save Michigan listed her as one of the three candidates expected to compete for the job next Saturday in Lansing.

Gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and Lt. Gov. candidate Shane Hernandez wave at supporters after delegate votes were being reported during the MIGOP State Nominating Convention at the Lansing Center in Lansing on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022.
Gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and Lt. Gov. candidate Shane Hernandez wave at supporters after delegate votes were being reported during the MIGOP State Nominating Convention at the Lansing Center in Lansing on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022.

One of the other candidates Save Michigan listed, Oakland County Republican Party Chairman Vance Patrick, was seen as a leading contender after the Commerce Township coup. But after the chaos that ensued, I'd be surprised to see him do more than allow his name to be put forward.

The third candidate Save Michigan mentioned is former congressman Pete Hoekstra, who was Michigan co-chair of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and later served as Trump's ambassador to the Netherlands.

Pete Hoekstra.
Pete Hoekstra.

Hoekstra grew up in west Michigan and worked as an executive for furniture maker Herman Miller before unseating longtime incumbent Republican congressman Guy Vander Jagt in 1992. In 2010, he finished second to Rick Snyder in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. In 2012, he lost to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Hoekstra is seen as someone who can quickly help get MIGOP's finances in order. He said unifying Republicans is the party's biggest challenge and the money matters can be worked out.

"I've talked to other people who have been involved in financing the party before," Hoekstra told me Wednesday, adding that, under the right circumstances, "they're interested in coming back."

Hoekstra said he didn't run for party chair last February because he didn't think he could win. On Saturday, even after a week filled with dueling claims and enough crossfire to make at least one candidate duck for cover, Hoekstra confirmed to me that he's still in the race.

Despite the drama, this could still be a big year for Republicans in Michigan. Former governor Rick Snyder is reportedly raising loads of bread to help retake the state House, where Democrats have held a slim majority. Polls show President Joe Biden vulnerable to a Trump Restoration. And Democrats retiring or pursuing other opportunities are leaving two U.S. House seats in competitive districts and a U.S. Senate seat up for grabs.

Hoekstra believes national Republican Party funders could spend heavily in Michigan, if only the MIGOP wasn't such a mess.

"We've got to get our act together and we've got to convince outside groups that ... investing in Michigan is a good investment," he said.

A prolonged struggle for control of the party won't help repair the perceived damage Karamo has done. She has made it clear she will not step aside. She is, in every sense, a true believer. And state Republican Party chair is the best job she's ever had. If MIGOP somehow finds enough money to pay her the $130,000 or so she's entitled to as poobah of the pachyderms, it also will be her most lucrative gig.

Karamo appeared on Fox 2's "Let It Rip" days before the Jan. 6 meeting and said: "If I am lawfully removed, absolutely I will go away. But that's the problem. They have not followed the process."

Since she still refuses to concede the 2022 race for Michigan Secretary of State that she lost by 14 percentage points, and buoyed by Saturday's 59-1 vote, Karamo is poised to prove what every hunter already knows: There's nothing more dangerous than wounded prey.

M.L. Elrick is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and host of the ML's Soul of Detroit podcast. Contact him at or follow him on X at @elrick, Facebook at ML Elrick and Instagram at ml_elrick.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan Republicans aim to take out their chair, setting off firefight