Michigan Republicans Hold Disputed Vote to Remove Party Leader

Simmering tensions within the Michigan Republican Party boiled over on Saturday, with some party officials voting to remove their embattled chairwoman, Kristina Karamo, in a contentious proceeding that she and other state Republicans argued was illegitimate.

The showdown, which occurred at a meeting held by a breakaway faction of the state party, now appears likely to wind up in court.

The effort to oust Ms. Karamo, who was not present for the meeting, is the latest clash in a party that has been marred by infighting and financial difficulties since Ms. Karamo took control of it in February, and is likely to further hamper Republican efforts in the critical swing state during the 2024 election cycle.

Ms. Karamo was part of a cohort of far-right activists who ascended to the top of state parties as former President Donald J. Trump and his grass-roots supporters raged against his 2020 election defeat.

The effort to remove her could signal a fraying of the loose coalition of conservative activists, who have been motivated by conspiracy theories about the electoral process and their unwavering support of Mr. Trump. Several county chairs who pushed for Ms. Karamo’s dismissal remain staunch supporters of the former president and of the false idea that the 2020 election was stolen.

Roughly 71 of the party’s 107 state committee members (including some who were represented by a proxy) attended the meeting in Commerce, Mich., on the outskirts of the Detroit suburbs, according to Bree Moeggenberg, a state party committee member and an organizer of the effort to oust Ms. Karamo.

Those involved in the effort first voted to change the bylaws to lower the threshold necessary to remove the chair. In the final vote, 88 percent voted to remove Ms. Karamo, according to Ms. Moeggenberg.

In an interview, Ms. Moeggenberg criticized what she described as a lack of transparency by Ms. Karamo and said that she had lost confidence in her leadership this summer after supporting her to lead the state party.

“She was NOT an effective leader that was capable of building a coalition of REPUBLICANS to GROW our voter base and WIN,” Ms. Moeggenberg said in a text message on Saturday after the vote.

Ms. Moeggenberg said that those who voted to oust Ms. Karamo recognized Malinda Pego, the current co-chair and a public critic of Ms. Karamo, as the interim chair.

In a statement, Ms. Karamo denounced the effort as a sham.

“It was an illegitimate meeting. Their performance has no legal standing,” Ms. Karamo said. “I am still chair of the Michigan Republican Party.”

A statement from the Michigan Republican Party blasted the vote as an “attempted coup” and pledged to hold those who participated “accountable to the fullest extent allowed under the rules of the Michigan Republican Party bylaws.”

The Republican National Committee did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Karamo faced headwinds almost immediately after her election as chairwoman in February. The Michigan Republican Party had already fractured between the more traditional, moderate, small-government wing, which dominated state politics for decades, and an ascendant grass-roots base loyal to Mr. Trump and driven by lies about the 2020 election.

After the party’s revered Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference was deemed a failure by some in the state party for lackluster attendance and low-profile speakers, a public effort to vote out Ms. Karamo began attracting support. By late November, major county party chairs, who were once part of the effort to elect Ms. Karamo, had turned against her.

Mark Forton, the chair of the Macomb County Republican Party, who had been a key force in Ms. Karamo’s rise, voted on Saturday to oust her, citing what he described as her moving to shift power away from county-level Republicans, as well as the party’s blurry finances.

“We have no idea the money coming in,” he said. “We have no idea the money coming out.”

While the infighting is likely to continue, members of Ms. Karamo’s inner circle have noted that it is taking a toll on the broader Republican efforts in the state.

“This farce is not legitimate,” Daniel Hartman, a lawyer for the Michigan Republican Party, said in a statement on Saturday afternoon, “but will catch news headlines and further divide the party.”

Ms. Karamo is the second Republican Party chair in a key state to face a revolt from G.O.P. leaders in recent weeks. In Florida, the party’s executive committee last month censured Christian Ziegler, the chairman, and stripped him of his duties and salary. It cited a criminal investigation into an accusation that he had sexually assaulted a woman.

Leading up to Saturday’s meeting in Michigan, Ms. Karamo and her team argued that the bylaws did not permit the meeting to be held, and that organizers had not submitted sufficient signatures to the party secretary to make the gathering official.

In a virtual town hall late on Friday night, Mr. Hartman, the lawyer for the Michigan G.O.P., vigorously defended Ms. Karamo and parried accusations of failure and impropriety among the Michigan Republican Party leadership. Throughout the three-and-a-half-hour gathering, he reiterated that the meeting seeking her ouster had run afoul of party rules.

“I want to be clear here: 2,500 delegates elected Kristina Karamo by about 13 points at a convention,” Mr. Hartman said. “The state committee, which is a representative group, does not get to easily thwart that.”

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