Donald Trump is going all-in for Michigan GOP candidates who endorse the 'big lie'

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In his post-presidency, Trump's main agenda seems to be relitigating the 2020 election.

On Saturday, former President Donald Trump held a "Save America" rally in Washington Township, Michigan, to stump for two down-ballot Republican candidates in the battleground state: Matthew DePerno, who is running for attorney general, and Kristina Karamo, who is running for secretary of state.

Both candidates have falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged, repeating Trump's so-called "big lie" that the election was stolen from him.

"Remember," Trump told supporters at the rally, "this is not just about 2022, this is about making sure Michigan is not rigged and stolen in 2024."  

Neither DePerno nor Karamo has held elected office before. 

Trump's preferred candidate for secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, was unknown in political circles before the 2020 election. After the 2020 election, she joined a crowd of Trump supporters at the TCF Center (now called Huntington Place) in downtown Detroit that disrupted the counting of absentee ballots that was taking place there. Karamo claimed that she witnessed votes being switched illegally from Trump to Biden. Experts say her claim stemmed from a lack of understanding of election procedures.

Karamo, a part-time community college instructor and a former O'Reilly Auto parts merchandiser, is a self-described "Christian apologist," among whose beliefs are the ideas that public schools are "indoctrination camps" and the "normalization of Marxism in our culture is our biggest threat … it encompasses everything that is anti-Christ."

In 2021, Karamo attended a QAnon conference in Las Vegas alongside many other Republican lawmakers and candidates. She has since denied she was aware of the conspiracy theory's ties to the event, which was organized by high-profile QAnon figure John Sabal, who goes by the name "QAnon John" on social media.

DePerno's is a somewhat more familiar name to Michiganders, after he became known for his claims of fraud in the 2020 election. On a page of his website titled "Dominion Voting System Corruption Uncovered," DePerno claims, "We have the proof that voting machines used in the 2020 elections can be compromised and votes easily transferred from one candidate to another." In a press release on the same site, DePerno says a Michigan Senate Oversight Committee report on the November 2020 election in the state amounts to "obfuscation" and "intimidation of political opponents" and states that the Michigan Senate is "attempting to cover up evidence of election fraud in the November 2020 general election." 

In March of this year, Trump hosted a fundraiser for DePerno at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Largo, that was also attended by Kristina Karamo.

DePerno and Karamo are just two of the down-ballot candidates Trump has endorsed this year.

Trump endorsed Angela Rigas for a seat in the Michigan House. At a "MAGA mixer" in January, she told the crowd that the Jan. 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol was a "highlight of my life."

Trump has also thrown his support behind state Senate candidate Mike Detmer, who is a defender of the Proud Boys hate group. "I haven't seen anything to suggest that they're a white-supremacist hate group. But I'm also looking at the source of who's labeled them, and they're not squeaky clean either," Detmer said.

Trump also endorsed Michigan state Senate candidate John James, who rejected the outcome of the 2020 election in his state and lobbied unsuccessfully for a full audit of the results in Wayne County, home to Detroit. 

The rally highlighted Trump's ongoing obsession with his loss in 2020 and repeated bogus claims of "election fraud," a claim often disproven that has nonetheless become a litmus test for Republican candidates running up and down the ballot this year.

In his post-presidency, Trump's main agenda seems to be relitigating the 2020 election, despite the fact that there is no mechanism or legal precedent for "decertifying" an election in the United States.   

DePerno came to prominence in 2021 for the lawsuit his firm filed against Antrim County, Michigan, where there had been some fairly minor irregularities in the voting system. The errors were caught, corrected, and did not reverse Trump's loss.

DePerno continued to insist on voter fraud, prompting a hand audit by election officials and an investigation by the Michigan Senate's Oversight Committee. The committee found no evidence of fraud but did criticize DePerno for filing a frivolous lawsuit: "The Committee closely followed Mr. DePerno's efforts and can confidently conclude they are demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions." 

Nevertheless, DePerno has said he would arrest current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel if he is elected. 

DePerno has also been accused of financial impropriety. He was sued by the law firm he had worked for in 2006, with the accusation that he "committed fraud, deceit and dishonesty with regards to bogus billing, duplicate billing and write offs, in addition to other wrongful acts." In 2021 he was forced to pay $20,000 to the Detroit News in connection with the settlement of a lawsuit he had filed against the paper on behalf of client Todd Courser, a former Republican state representative. More recently, a Republican rival for the secretary of state nomination, Tom Leonard, has raised questions about what had happened to $400,000 raised by the Election Fraud Defense Fund that DePerno managed.

Trump's actions in support of Republican candidates in Michigan mirror his playbook in other states for unseating lawmakers he considers to have betrayed him, such as Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who resisted Trump's calls to overturn the 2020 election results in his state. 

On April 11, County Republican parties in Michigan will select delegates to the state party's convention in Grand Rapids on April 23, at which candidates in some races will receive their party's endorsement. Republican primaries for other positions will be held on Aug. 2.  

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.