Republicans in Michigan on Saturday selected Trump loyalist Kristina Karamo as their next state chair, elevating an election denier to a critical leadership role in a sign of the growing clout of far-right and grassroots members over the party in the battleground state.
The election of Karamo could complicate the party’s ability to raise money ahead of the 2024 elections, when Michigan will likely play an important role in who controls the White House and the U.S. Senate.
Some top donors have said they would not financially back the party directly under the leadership of a chair who uses divisive rhetoric or promotes election lies.
“The election baggage is going to make it hard to move the party forward,” said John Clark, a professor of political science at Western Michigan University.
While Karamo has been a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, the former president had endorsed attorney Matthew DePerno in the race. In the third round of voting, Karamo garnered 58 percent of the delegate votes, to DePerno’s 42 percent.
As state chair, Karamo will face the challenge of uniting a party that has split into warring factions, with so-called America First Republicans taking control of local leadership positions from more moderate members in more than half of the state’s counties, a senior state party official told Reuters.
“We cannot wait to get work done as one Michigan Republican Party,” said Karamo, a local Republican activist who ran an unsuccessful campaign for secretary of state in 2022. “We are going to beat the Democrats in 24.”
Both DePerno and Karamo had risen to prominence in Michigan by promoting conspiracy theories in support of Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.
The state party chair’s main responsibilities include guiding the party’s messaging and raising millions of dollars to help fund mass mailing campaigns and support candidates.
Karamo, a former community college instructor, has inspired a loyal following among grassroots members, partly due to her continued focus on relitigating her and the party’s election losses. She has yet to concede he loss to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who won November’s election by 14 points.
Karamo has said she wants to focus on recruiting young members to the party, including from communities which are usually Democratic strongholds, as well as creating a new fundraising model that does not rely on big donors she says she does not trust.