Finley: R.I.P., Michigan GOP

1 month ago The Detroit News

Finley: R.I.P., Michigan GOP

Michigan Republicans staged a spectacular demolition derby Saturday, scattering the wreckage of their party across the floor of the Lansing Center.

When it was over, half or more of them walked out of the hall angry and believing they’d been robbed, the chronic condition of Republicans today. And yet, despite the destruction they had wrought, most were also convinced beyond all reason they were marching off on a righteous crusade to take back Michigan and America.

Bless their hearts. They have no idea what they’ve done.

In electing Kristina Karamo as party chair, they’ve solidified Democratic control of this state for years to come.

Before the vote, businessman Kevin Rinke, the failed 2022 GOP gubernatorial hopeful, said if anyone except political consultant and establishment favorite Scott Greenlee was elected chair, “we lose in ’24, and ‘26 is at risk.”

That’s an optimistic forecast. The state GOP is flat broke, so busted it may not be able to hold its biennial gathering this fall on Mackinac Island.

With Karamo as chair, the doors of the well-heeled donors will be closed, not to mention their checkbooks. She couldn’t raise money for her own disastrous secretary of state campaign last fall, how can she expect to fundraise for the party? And how can she promote candidates when she only rarely talks to the press?

Respectable businesspeople who have always bankrolled the party want nothing to do with Karamo, who embodies the paranoia and bitterness of the GOP base. They can’t afford the hit to their reputation. 

Ironically, in picking Karamo over Greenlee and Trump-endorsed Matt DePerno, the delegates rejected not only the party establishment but also the Trump wing. Now there’s no place to go for money.

With their decision, these delegates have killed the Michigan Republican Party as a political home for principled conservatives hoping to mount a counter-offensive to ruinous progressive policies. It is officially a fringe outfit.

Though she didn’t get his stamp, Karamo has been a loyal Trumpster and will be susceptible to pressure to run the party for his benefit.

Here’s how that will happen: Trump supporters will attempt to switch from a statewide open primary for awarding its presidential nominating delegates next spring to a closed caucus more favorable to the former president. That’s the biggest worry of outgoing party chair Ron Weiser.

“There will be a movement to have it done by convention,” says Weiser, who skipped Saturday’s debacle. “That’s not the way democracy works. Voters should nominate a president, not insiders.”

But these Republicans don’t trust democratic elections, even the ones they conduct themselves.

The day began with challenges to the voting procedures the state committee had put in place weeks ago. 

Compare it to an argument between the Amish and Mennonites over whether it’s OK to use buttons instead of wooden pegs to fasten their clothing. The party had already decided to use paper ballots rather than electronic tabulators because of suspicion that such modern — and time-saving — technology could be manipulated to skew the results.

An amendment to speed the process with the assistance of flash drives and laptops was voted down.

“Flash drives and laptops,” a delegate told the crowd, were what motivated them into politics in the first place. So, the three rounds of balloting dragged on for hours.

Attendance was noticeably devoid of the members who ran these affairs in the past. The battle between the grassroots and the establishment was clearly won by the rank-and-file.

“A lot of people are burned out,” says delegate Frank Mamat, a West Bloomfield attorney who worked in the Reagan White House. “I had to think twice before I came here. But I felt I had no right to complain if I didn’t show up.”

Mamat, who is Jewish, looked over the crowd, and observed, “I’m afraid we’re playing to caricature. Everyone here is old and white.” And, apparently, Christian.

Jesus was everyone’s running mate. Ethnic Chair Bernadette Smith told the delegates, “We must put our faith in our heavenly father.” Prayer circles formed in hallways. A nominator for Karamo, while questioning the faith of other contenders, noted he prayed with her backstage and found her to be “the real deal.”

Though Karamo became the party’s first African American chair, the delegate body had its usual lack of diversity. But that wasn’t the most glaring shortfall of the gathering. It was a serious lack of comprehension that this brand of Republicanism is out of touch with mainstream America.

“We’re veering way too far to the right,” says Elaine Kowall, a former state lawmaker from White Lake, who says she heard that message over and over while knocking on doors for Republicans last fall. “The extremism is turning people off.”

The Michigan Republican Party will not become less extreme under Karamo, who dwells on the very far right.

As a result, a party that has already become unacceptable to moderate voters will become unappealing even to conservatives.

“It will be an enormous challenge to unite the party and reengage donors,” says delegate Michael Schostak, a Bloomfield Township trustee.

He should have said impossible. This party is over.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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Watch Finley on DPTV’s “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays.
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