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Trump World lands on Mackinac as Michigan GOP sets presidential caucus plan

Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo told critics to “pound sand” and refuted a rumor she would resign at the 2023 Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan GOP adopts rules to combine presidential primary with 13 caucuses, a plan that favors Trump loyalists 
  • Republicans plan to award 16 GOP delegates through a public primary, 39 delegates through closed caucus meetings
  • Rules vote capped Mackinac Island conference dominated by loyalists to former President Donald Trump

MACKINAC ISLAND – Michigan Republicans on Sunday finalized plans to combine the state’s traditional presidential primary with a hybrid caucus system that will give Donald Trump loyalists an outsized voice in selecting the party’s next presidential nominee. 

The key vote by the Michigan GOP’s state committee capped a Mackinac Island retreat led by first-term Chairwoman Kristina Karamo, who told critics to “pound sand” and used the biennial event to double down on conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, COVID-19 and even biological evolution.

Michigan GOP primary/caucus plan

With Democrats planning an early presidential primary that would violate Republican National Committee rules, the Michigan GOP created a hybrid system for selecting the party’s 2024 nominee. Here’s how it would work.

Feb. 15 — County conventions: Republican precinct delegates and elected officials will meet to choose members to send to congressional district caucuses.

Feb. 27 — Michigan primary: The state plans to conduct a primary election for both parties. Republicans will divide their 16 presidential delegates proportionally among candidates who receive at least 12.5 percent of the GOP primary vote.

March 2 — District convention: The Michigan GOP will hold a convention that will feature 13 separate congressional district caucus meetings. 

There, Republicans will debate and vote on presidential candidates, who could receive up to three delegates from each of the congressional districts, up to 39 total. 

The Michigan GOP's state committee will meet that night to finalize results and select local Republicans to serve as delegates to the Republican National Committee convention. 

July 15-18 — Republican National Convention: Michigan will send its delegates a national convention where Republicans will formally elect their presidential nominee.

Under rules amended and adopted Sunday, Republicans will hold closed congressional district caucus votes on March 2 to award 39 of Michigan’s 55 presidential delegates to next year’s national GOP nominating convention in Milwaukee. 


The other 16 delegates will be decided by voters in the Michigan primary under a hybrid system GOP officials developed after legislative Democrats voted to move the public election up to Feb. 27, an early date for the state that would violate Republican National Committee calendar rules. 

The new plan will allow Michigan to avoid national party delegate penalties that would diminish the state’s importance in the presidential nominating process, Republican National Committeeman Rob Steele told Bridge Michigan ahead of the Sunday vote.

“That’s a big deal,” Steele said at the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, where he announced the RNC’s executive committee had approved a required waiver to allow for Michigan’s hybrid plan. “Despite what people say, we definitely are a battleground.”

Critics contend the plan could alienate more than one million Republicans expected to vote in the presidential primary by giving most of the party’s nominating power to insiders who will participate in the district caucuses, which will be limited to previously elected GOP delegates. 

“It's always preferable, I think, to do a primary, because all the voters have their say,” acknowledged Mike Brown, a Michigan GOP state committee member and former gubernatorial candidate from Berrien County.

“But I think that this is the best we can do right now as a party because of the potential that the primary is going to be in February,” Brown told Bridge. 

The spring caucuses could be dominated by many of the same Michigan Republicans who flocked to the weekend retreat on Mackinac Island and reaffirmed their loyalty to Trump, who won a presidential straw poll with 72 percent of the vote, far ahead of Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis. 

The former president skipped the Michigan GOP’s island event but is scheduled to campaign in metro Detroit on Wednesday instead of competing in the second Republican presidential debate. 

“He is for us, not for the establishment, and that resonates with us,” said Ann Clark of Dearborn, who told Bridge she “woke up” three years ago to join the state party, which has been reshaped by grassroots activists as part of a pro-Trump populist movement.

The former president is facing criminal charges for allegedly falsifying business records, hoarding classified documents and trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who is also seeking re-election. 

But that has only strengthened her resolve to support Trump, Clark told Bridge, predicting he will win the GOP presidential primary and cruise to a “landslide” general election win over Biden. 

“The more they go after Trump, the more we know we’re on the right track,” she said. “We have to take Michigan back.”

Michigan Republicans gathered on Mackinac Island for a biennial leadership conference. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

A Karamo conference

The planned presidential caucuses will test the organizational strength of Karamo, whose seven-month tenure as Michigan GOP chair has so far been marked by controversial statements, party infighting and sluggish fundraising.

Under her leadership, this weekend’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference took on a different tone than previous years. 

Missing were the throngs of elected officials, establishment candidates, policy speeches, island fundraisers and corporate donors. Also largely missing: strategy talks about how to win key elections in 2024.

Those traditional conference staples were replaced by grassroots activists and speakers who railed against mainstream science, election security, global "totalitarianism" and moderate Republicans.

Only one presidential candidate campaigned at the island retreat: Ramaswamy, wealthy biotech engineer from Ohio, who wowed the crowd with a speech that one attendee called “very Trumpy.”

Karamo, a former Secretary of State candidate who refused to concede her 2022 election loss, used her own conference speeches to promote conservative Christianity and attack science, arguing that “Darwinian evolution is one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on mankind.”

Teaching evolution in public schools was “a necessary prerequisite” to “push a Godless society,” Karamo claimed, suggesting it was a precursor for the progressive push towards transgender rights that has spurred rancorous opposition from the right. 

Other speakers spread conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines and the 2020 election, including failed Arizona gubernatorial Kari Lake, who urged Michigan Republicans to withhold votes from any political candidates who do not unequivocally declare the contest was "stolen."

"If we don't stand up and do something about these elections, our grandkids will look at us and they'll be living in a communist country and saying, 'What did you do?'" Lake said in a Saturday evening keynote address.

While Karamo pulled off the conference, it was not without hiccups, including several impromptu and unannounced schedule changes and a no-show from filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who had been advertised as a keynote speaker. 

Karamo critics underwhelmed by the event execution were pushing to oust Karamo from her leadership post but acknowledged they do not currently have the votes to do so within the party’s state committee. 

"This has become a complete cult of personality," said Anne Delisle, chair of Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District Republican Party, who called Karamo a "beautiful person" but "not a great leader."

Karamo has alienated donors and abandoned a "big tent" philosophy that helped Michigan Republicans win elections in the past, Delisle said.  "And if Kristina can't do that, then she's not the right leader for the Michigan Republican Party."

Speaking to reporters Sunday after the conference, Karamo declined to discuss how the party paid for the event or why D’Souza canceled but said the Michigan GOP will not lose money on the conference. 

“There were folks who 100 percent wanted us to fail at this conference,” Karamo said, admonishing what she called a “political class” that fears her because she has sole allegiance to her “faith and the constitution.”

For many of the activists on the island, the jumbled schedule and smaller scale of the conference was of little concern. 

“I came because I support Kristina,” said Debra Ell of Saginaw County, who told Bridge she purchased early bird tickets to the event before any speakers were announced. 

“I know things aren't perfect, but we've lived what she's going through: When you break from the establishment they don't like you. So they're going to take the money away and take the people away and do everything they can to crush you.”

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