Trump weighs in on Michigan GOP chair fracas, backs Hoekstra

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Former President Donald Trump − the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination who still wields enormous influence over the party − on Friday waded into the controversy over who the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party currently is, saying former congressman and ambassador Pete Hoekstra has his backing.

"I look forward to working with Ambassador Pete Hoekstra as Chairman of The Republican Party of Michigan," Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media platform. "He is a winner who was a GREAT Congressman from Michigan and, likewise, did a fantastic job as Ambassador to the Netherlands."

"Pete will make The Republican Party of Michigan GREAT AGAIN, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement to be its Chairman," the post continued.

The post never mentioned Kristina Karamo, who was elected chair last year and maintains she is still the GOP chairman after recent state committee elections she says were in violation of party rules. Trump endorsed Karamo, an election denier, in her unsuccessful race in 2022 for Michigan secretary of state but backed former state Attorney General nominee Matt DePerno for state party chair over Karamo in early 2023.

"Boom," political consultant John Yob posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, along with a photo of Trump's Truth Social post.

Trump's weighing in as to who should be the party chairman comes at a crucial time with both Karamo and Hoekstra, who was a key surrogate for Trump in the 2016 race in which he won Michigan, claiming to be chair. Hoekstra was voted in last weekend by a number of state central committee members following a vote Jan. 6 in which Karamo was removed.

Karamo has been under fire for what her critics say is a party that is in organizational and financial disarray headed into the 2024 campaign.

Karamo and her allies, however, have repeatedly insisted that the Jan. 6 meeting was called in violation of party rules and that the use of proxy votes at that meeting means the vote had no effect. Her chairmanship, she maintains, was also upheld by committee members voting at what she says was a properly called meeting Jan. 13.

But lawyers for the Republican National Committee this week sent a letter addressed to both Hoekstra and Karamo saying that while it wouldn't seat either of them − as is typically done for any state party chairman − as an RNC member at next week's winter meetings, that it appeared Karamo had been "properly removed."

That was an assertion that Karamo's allies virulently denied, saying the RNC letter had no legal force and that she remained the state party chair. On Friday, Jim Copas, executive director of the state party under Karamo, fired off a strongly worded letter to the RNC, saying "Your letter is not neutral and has caused damage by way of the innocent viewer as likely intended" and that he could "only conclude that the RNC intends to ignore the truth and the evidence and support Pete in his fake campaign" or is "mapping out an escape plan" in case the decision generates blowback.

Karamo also posted a video on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, calling the RNC letter an "overreach" and saying she is still the state party chair.

Reached Friday evening, Copas blasted Trump's decision to wade into the controversy on Hoekstra's behalf.

"It's none of Trump's business," he said. "Trump is also known for notoriously bad personnel picks. (Former Attorney General) Bill Barr, (former Vice President) Mike Pence, and, in Michigan, Matt DePerno (who Trump endorsed for state party chair last year.)"

"This is up to the delegates, not Trump, not Pete Hoekstra − it's that simple," Copas continued. "We'll see what the delegates think. He may have gone a long way toward losing Michigan and that's the truth."

The entrance of Trump into the question of who is party chair, however, could have enormous effects on the debate, even as Karamo and her allies fight in court with the Hoekstra faction to settle the question. Both Hoekstra and Karamo are allies of the former president, who, at this point, is widely expected to win Michigan's hybrid primary/convention nominating process to be held on Feb. 27 and March 2.

While the RNC has said it doesn't typically get involved in local leadership questions, Trump's support for Hoekstra could potentially weaken Karamo's standing with other state GOP members, given his influence over them and the grassroots activists who largely make up the party now.

Hoekstra told the Free Press that he believes it's only a question of time now before he is recognized as the state party's sole chairman, with the likely presidential nominee and former president supporting him and the RNC merely doing what he called "due diligence" to make sure the process removing her and electing him as proper.

"You would think in reasonable times that when the president has identified who he wants to lead the team in this state and the RNC has determined who is the person in that position legally, then the battle is over," he said.

"We very, very much appreciate it," Hoekstra said of the endorsement. "The job now is to go out and organize and win the state for the president. That's what we intend to do."

Contact Todd Spangler: Follow him on Twitter@tsspangler.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Trump weighs in on Michigan GOP chair fracas, backs Hoekstra