Michigan's GOP primaries have become a test of who is most 'cravenly loyal' to Donald Trump, one conservative strategist said.
The Michigan Republican Party is seeing a purge of state GOP officials and members who are perceived as not sufficiently loyal to former President Donald Trump and his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was "rigged" against him. Trump lost Michigan to President Joe Biden by a margin of 154,000 votes.
As the Michigan GOP arranges itself ahead of the primaries this August, it is facing a stark identity crisis. Having undergone a bruising season of conventions, the party now appears to be splitting along the lines of a MAGA faction and a more traditional Republican faction. Similar fissures have been cracking wide open in Republican primary races across the country ahead of this fall's midterm elections.
Last November, Trump called for a wholesale replacement of the Michigan legislature, which he considered disloyal to him. That call to action has resulted in an explosion of Republican primary challengers in the Midwestern battleground state. In 2018, just 20% of Republican lawmakers in Michigan faced challenges from within their own party. This year that number has tripled, to 67%.
Two of Trump's most fervent backers in the Michigan Republican Party are Meshawn and Matt Maddock. Meshawn Maddock is a former stay-at-home mom who became the co-chair of the Michigan GOP after the 2020 election. Matt Maddock is a Republican state representative and a bail bondsman. Both attended the Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., that preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Meshawn Maddock, for her part, arranged transportation for Michigan Republicans to attend the "Stop the Steal" rally where Trump supporters called for Congress to overturn Biden's victory. The Maddocks also went to the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, to present a slate of false Republican electors who had signed fake affidavits in an attempt to reverse Michigan's election results.
The couple has been instrumental in advising Trump on which candidates to endorse in the state's Republican primary contests, most of whom are election deniers. Most prominent among these are Matt DePerno, a lawyer from Kalamazoo, and Kristina Karamo, a community college instructor. Neither DePerno nor Karamo has experience in public office, and both are fervent promoters of the "rigged election" conspiracy.
Earlier this week, Matt Maddock was ousted from the House Republican caucus — after which he claimed to have his "best fundraising day." House speaker Jason Wentworth has not yet given a reason, but others in the party claimed that he broke the caucus rules regarding circulating sensitive information. The Detroit Free Press reported that he leaked information on incumbents to would-be challengers in a violation of protocol.
GOP strategist Jaime Roe told the Detroit Free Press, "You can pick sides in primaries for open seats, you can compete for leadership posts, but you don't recruit opponents against caucus members."
The rift in the party is now reflected in its fundraising. As reported yesterday in the New York Times, major party donors have been redirecting their funds from the increasingly Trump-dominated party to individual candidates. Jeffrey Cappo, an auto dealership magnate, who has in the past donated generously to the party, did not appear on the donor rolls in 2021. "Our political state," he told the Times, "is more dysfunctional than it has ever been."
Tony Daunt, a longtime conservative strategist, quit the state party committee altogether, telling the Times that the primaries have become a test of who is most "cravenly loyal" to Trump, who he called a "deranged narcissist" and an "undisciplined loser."
Daunt has close ties to Dick and Betsy DeVos, who served as secretary of education under Trump. The DeVoses are longtime Michigan Republican donors through their Freedom Fund political action committee. Betsy DeVos resigned her post after the deadly riots on Jan. 6, 2021, and the Times reported that some inside the DeVos network are "frustrated" with the direction the party is taking.
State Republican party finances have reportedly dwindled recently to the extent that Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser is bankrolling the party with his personal wealth.
Michigan Republicans are no longer hiding their frustration with the intraparty fighting.
"We need to work together to beat the Democrats, but grassroots loyalty to Trump has been ignored in the last two years," Eric Castiglia, of the Macomb County Republican Party, told the American Independent Foundation.
He added: "The battle's just started. The war is yet to come."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.