Karamo beats DePerno in Michigan GOP chair race, moving the party further right

The Republican lost her 2022 secretary of state race by 14 points

click to enlarge Republican nominee for Michigan secretary of state Kristina Karamo campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. - Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance
Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance
Republican nominee for Michigan secretary of state Kristina Karamo campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022.

She lost her 2022 race for Michigan Secretary of State by double digits, falsely asserted that the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection was a false flag operation and has connected Satan to everything from yoga to Beyoncé to churches that hang rainbow flags.

And now she’s the leader of the Michigan Republican Party.

Delegates at the Michigan GOP convention on Saturday took three ballots to elect Kristina Karamo to lead the party into the 2024 election, with the event wrapping just before 8 p.m. when attendees had to clear out of the Lansing Center.

The chair race came at a tumultuous time for the Michigan GOP after Democrats maintained all top executive posts, flipped the state House and Senate, won three out of four contested congressional races, won all statewide education posts and retained their majority on the state Supreme Court.

Following the calamitous 2022 election, Michigan Republican Party Chief of Staff Paul Cordes issued a memo blaming failed GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon for poor fundraising and a far-right campaign against abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. The memo also took swipes at former President Donald Trump. That resulted in another round of finger-pointing from Dixon and others, including former GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, who declined to run again this year.

The Michigan GOP Twitter account has been dark since Feb. 10.

Heading into the convention, the favorites were GOP former attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and was running alongside failed gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano, and Karamo, who made a strong appeal to the party’s grassroots base that she could make the changes necessary to lead the party forward.

Karamo, who lost by 14 points to Democratic incumbent Jocelyn Benson in November, made the pitch to delegates that her refusal to concede was an asset.

“Why would I concede to a fraudulent process?” Karamo said, according to Detroit Free Press reporting.

That appeal ultimately paid off with Karamo defeating DePerno 58 to 42% on the final ballot. In the second round, she and DePerno were the top vote-getters above Scott Greenlee, a longtime political operative who had support from the donor class.

Karamo’s win means that with Lavora Barnes’ reelection as chair of the Michigan Democratic Party last weekend, Black women are, for the first time ever, leading both of Michigan’s main political parties.

The Michigan Advance was one of the outlets denied media credentials to cover Saturday’s convention following a longstanding pattern. In August, the state GOP held a rally on the Capitol lawn, required media credentials and then tried to remove an Advance reporter and deny entrance to the public, despite holding the event on a taxpayer-funded space. Legal experts said that raised issues with the First Amendment.

While 11 candidates were listed on the convention’s agenda, only nine were in the hunt when the proceedings commenced after Macomb County Republican Chairman Mark Forton dropped out Saturday morning and endorsed Karamo. Former congressional candidate Lena Epstein dropped out on Wednesday and endorsed DePerno.

DePerno, who lost the AG race to Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel by 9 points last November, remains the subject of an investigation initiated by Nessel’s office into an alleged conspiracy to illegally obtain and tamper with voting tabulators.

Other candidates included Tuscola County GOP Chair Billy Putman; Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association President Mike Farage; Ravenna Village Trustee Kent Boersema; IT specialist JD Glaser; Kent County GOP activist Drew Born; and Scott Aughney, who ran for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Karamo, a one-time community college instructor, rose to prominence within the Republican Party for her devotion to the thoroughly disproven conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen. In fact, President Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes. She won Trump’s endorsement in that race.

While Karamo’s conspiracy-laden campaign for secretary of state failed to win over a majority of Michigan voters, it was embraced hardily by the far-right base of the party.

That same base made it clear it wanted new leadership after Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser and Maddock presided over the GOP’s historic losses in last November’s election. Maddock has been a staunch Trump ally.

Delegates on Saturday extended that message to the often-overlooked race for party youth chair, as they overwhelmingly voted for 20-year-old Rylee Linting to defeat Parker Shonts. Also 20, Shonts is Maddock’s son-in-law and was seen by many delegates as simply an extension of her within the party’s power structure.

Some Republicans and former leaders were vocal in their criticism of Karamo leading the party.

Republican former state Rep. Aaron Miller from Sturgis told the Detroit News that the Michigan Republican Party has “pretty well cemented” itself “as the party of election denying, conspiracy theories, tin hats and supporting Capitol riots,” adding, “I’ll pass. I’ll continue to write good people in on my election ballots. The sooner they can return to the party of sensibility and economic prosperity, the sooner they can start winning.”

Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who is now with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, tweeted something more acerbic.

“Pay attention, kids. The Michigan Republican Party chose the candidate Donald Trump, Kari Lake, and Mike Lindell thought was too fuc#ing crazy to support.”

Originally published by Michigan Advance. It is republished with permission.

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