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For The Week Of September 19, 2021 Through September 25, 2021

Power Of Trump Endorsement Set To Be Tested

By Zachary Gorchow
Executive Editor and Publisher
Posted: September 21, 2021 9:25 AM

The elected and institutional Republican establishment is watching as the activist wing of the party builds toward a moment a decade in the making, near total control of the Michigan Republican Party apparatus.

Starting in 2013, when Bobby Schostak barely held off Todd Courser for state party chair, the activist wing of the party has slowly built its power base among the delegates who control state party conventions. They suffered a setback in 2014 when the institutional wing of the party outmaneuvered them in precinct delegate elections and were able to stack the convention pool with supporters who would defend then-Lt. Governor Brian Calley against an uprising in the base.

Once Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, the shift has grown more and more pronounced, from Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement getting roundly booed at the 2018 convention to Ron Weiser deciding that in order to reclaim the chair's position he had to cut a deal with the leader of the activist wing, Meshawn Maddock, to serve as his co-chair, after the 2020 elections.

Now coming into the 2022 elections, the activist wing is in position to do something they have struggled to do in the past, win the biggest prizes the convention has available: the secretary of state and attorney general nominations. The winners will take on Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Their efforts got turbocharged this month when President Donald Trump endorsed Kristina Karamo for secretary of state and Matt DePerno for attorney general. Far from the traditional conservatives out of the elected, business or government wings the convention has nominated in the past for these positions (Tom Leonard, Mary Treder Lang, Ruth Johnson, Bill Schuette, Terri Land, Mike Cox, John Smietanka, Candice Miller), Ms. Karamo and Mr. DePerno come straight out of the party's insurgent wing.

Both have been at the forefront of falsely insisting, all evidence to the contrary, that fraud occurred in the 2020 election. Ms. Karamo is a new face to the party. Mr. DePerno has loomed as a distant but nettlesome figure for years in the party, representing Mr. Courser in his legal problems. They filed a groundless lawsuit against The Detroit News, and Mr. DePerno's antics resulted in a judge ordering him and Mr. Courser to pay $79,701.63 in sanctions to the newspaper, eventually settling for $20,000.

Mr. DePerno has remained a leader of the conspiracy fringe, throwing figurative Molotov cocktails at Antrim County election officials who made an honest mistake in how they programmed election equipment that incorrectly showed now-President Joe Biden beating Mr. Trump in the solidly Republican County. The problem was caught and corrected and has been found by multiple inquiries to have been an isolated mistake, not the fraud conspiracy Mr. DePerno and others continue to claim.

Can anyone defeat Ms. Karamo or Mr. DePerno at a Republican convention stocked with the most ardent Trump supporters in the state?

Someone has to first step forward and so far, no one has.

On the attorney general side, one promising potential candidate – former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider – already has said he will not run. Many Republicans are hoping, to put it mildly, that former House Speaker Tom Leonard, the party's 2018 attorney general nominee, will give it another go. He has not said what he will do but there is some optimism he will run.

Should Mr. Leonard run, it will prove a valuable test of where the core of Michigan Republican activists stands. He is a staunch conservative. He was a Trump nominee for U.S. attorney in the western district of Michigan. There's no room to his right, except perhaps on the 2020 election. He has not yet weighed in on the fraud conspiracy theories. If Mr. Leonard runs against Mr. DePerno, he will have to answer that question head on at some point.

Then it will be up to the activists, who backed Mr. Leonard by a good margin at the 2018 convention against a quality challenger, to decide whether he or Mr. DePerno would best represent the party against Ms. Nessel.

On the secretary of state side, Republicans have a problem. None of the county clerks are likely to go near the race, having taken enormous heat over their disavowal of conspiracy theories surrounding the election. Elected officials like Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), a former township clerk, also are passing. Now anyone who has pondered the race has to confront challenging Mr. Trump's preferred candidate.

All this said, neither Mr. DePerno nor Ms. Karamo has any experience at winning a convention campaign, of the blocking and tackling needed to get delegates who support them elected to the state convention from each county convention and then make sure they show up at the state convention. This is something the Republican establishment knows how to do.

Right now, it's unclear who, if anyone, can benefit from that advantage. It's also unclear whether that tactical edge will carry the day or if Mr. Trump's sway will prove too much this time.

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