- Kristina Karamo elected Michigan GOP chair
- The Oak Park activist refused to concede her 2022 loss, as grassroots wing takes over party
- She defeated Trump-endorsed candidate Matthew DePerno
LANSING — Election denier Kristina Karamo will lead the Michigan GOP for the next two years after delegates on Saturday elected her state party chair in a contentious convention vote.
Karamo’s victory signals the completion of a years-long grassroots takeover of the Michigan GOP, which is now dominated by a new wave of activists who were inspired to join the party by former President Donald Trump.
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But the convention vote at the Lansing Center also highlighted growing grassroots frustration with endorsements by Trump, who backed attorney and fellow election denier Matthew DePerno over Karamo.
By a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, she prevailed in the third round of voting over DePerno, who lost his November campaign for attorney general.
Karamo ascended over eight other candidates in all, taking over a wounded party that is essentially broke and still reeling from a series of 2022 election losses, including her own 14-percentage point defeat to Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last fall.
In a brief victory speech, Karamo predicted the party will “win in 2024” as Republicans seek to reclaim the White House, an open U.S. Senate seat and the Michigan House after Democrats won full control of the Legislature for the first time in 40 years.
“We cannot wait to get work done as one Michigan Republican Party,” she said. “And we are going to beat the Democrats.”
Many traditional Republicans, frustrated by the direction of the state party, opted to sit out the convention. Those who did attend largely backed Scott Greenlee, a longtime party activist and consultant who had promised to try and bring together the donor class and grassroots. He finished third.
With Karamo’s election, some veteran Republicans predicted the party will become increasingly “irrelevant” in future elections as big-money donors fund their own preferred candidates outside the party apparatus.
“Institutionally, the Republican Party at the county level and state level is dead,” said Dennis Lennox, a longtime GOP consultant.
“The people in the asylum have taken control of the institution. Most of the people here don’t want to win elections. They have no idea how to win elections. They’ve never talked to an undecided voter, let alone a Democrat.”
About 2,000 delegates voted at the convention, which was marked by some conspicuous absences. Outgoing chair Ron Weiser, a mega donor who had pumped millions of dollars of his own money into the party, did not attend. Nor did any congressional Republicans.
Karamo’s election caps a swift rise in politics for the Oak Park activist, who previously worked as a community college instructor and hosted a Christian podcast where she claimed sex could lead to “demonic possession” and compared abortion to “child sacrifice.”
She became a GOP favorite in 2020 after working as an election challenger at the TCF Center in Detroit, where she claimed to have witnessed election fraud. Those unsubstantiated claims made her a star in the grassroots, and state party delegates selected her as the party’s secretary of state nominee in 2022.
In her campaign for state party chair, Karamo promised to continue focusing on “election integrity” and said there is no room in party leadership for “anyone who does not treat systemic election corruption commensurate with the state and national security threat it is.”
In a convention speech ahead of the Saturday vote, Karamo touted her refusal to concede her 2020 loss to Benson, the incumbent Democrat won re-election by more than 615,000 votes.
“Why would I concede to a fraudulent process?” Karamo asked to applause, repeating election conspiracy theories as she urged delegates to support her hardline approach to transforming the Michigan GOP.
“Our party is dying,” she said. “Look around the room.”
Karamo survived a marathon 10-hour convention slowed by the Michigan GOP decision to ditch electronic voting tabulators to instead hand count all ballots. Voting was delayed by several hours after activists proposed amending the hand count rules to allow for more direct observation by delegates, arguing that the process eventually used was “corruptible.”
Trump had thrown his full weight behind DePerno, hosting a “tele-rally” with his preferred candidate for Michigan GOP chair, recording a video message to delegates and drafting a letter urging them to vote for the Kalamazoo-area attorney.
DePerno was also backed by other “MAGA” movement leaders like former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and My Pillow Guy CEO Mike Lindell. The latter joined him at the Saturday convention.
But several grassroots activists who spoke with Bridge said they had grown disillusioned by Trump’s endorsements in Michigan after the former president last year tipped the state’s gubernatorial primary by backing Tudor Dixon.
Trump is “the greatest president that we’ve had in my lifetime, but I don’t agree with his endorsement of DePerno at all,” Beth McIntyre, an Oakland County delegate, said before the convention vote.
She backed Karamo, calling her“the most ethical candidate” in the race. “And that’s what I want in Michigan: Someone who’s ethical, strong and can get the party back with faith behind it.”
Several traditional Republicans had backed Greenlee, arguing he was the only candidate capable of uniting longtime donors and newer grassroots delegates.
Greenlee is the “only one that can do anything for the party,” state Rep. John Roth, R-Interlochen, said before the vote. “That’s the only chance. The fundraising of most of the candidates is not good.”
The loss is especially stinging for DePerno, an attorney whose ongoing quest to prove that fraud cost Trump the 2020 election has landed him in hot water. A special prosecutor is investigating DePerno and others accused of tampering with voting machines used in that contest.
Some delegates were disillusioned by the day-long drama and ongoing GOP in-fighting,
“Maybe this is just the way it is, but it seems like the party’s adrift,” said Michael Polish, a Republican delegate from Oakland County and the 11th Congressional District.
The candidate attacks, sent via text message, were “disgusting” and made “me wish they never had my phone number,” Polish told Bridge. “What I could never figure out is how the Democrats do everything in lockstep, and it seems the Republicans are just really fractured.”