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GOP still has to manage and romance Tea Party as LG challenge fizzles

Update: 1:25 PM, Monday, May 5th, 2014


Well, blow the “trumpet of shame” on us. Right after we predicted here that the prospective challengers to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley would fall short, Wes Nakagiri goes and turns in 33 signatures from the ranks of Michigan Republican State Central Committee to get his name placed in consideration at the party’s summer convention. The rules require at least three signatures from committee members in at least three congressional districts. It appears Nakagiri’s crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, but the Michigan GOP’s policy committee still has to affirm the signatures. That could happen at its July meeting, if not sooner. Calley’s still the odds-on favorite to win re-nomination.



We’ve talked quite a bit already about the friction within the Michigan Republican Party between the GOP establishment and its perpetually perturbed Tea Party wing. The Tea Party’s restless longings are coalescing lately around the possibility of toppling Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley from the ticket.

It almost happened four years ago as many in the Tea Party deemed Republican nominee-for- governor Rick Snyder as insufficiently conservative, and tried to put one of their own on the ticket in place of One Tough Nerd’s choice, then-state Representative Calley. And when that effort failed (but not by much), they felt robbed.

“In politics, you know, they do whatever it takes! They scratch! They claw! They bite!” said one angry delegate to the 2010 GOP summer convention.Tea Partiers now harbor some hopes of pulling it off this year as a payback for the Medicaid expansion, Common Core, the autism insurance mandate and other Snyder administration initiatives.

But Lieutenant Gov. Calley seems to have warded off that challenge – for the moment.

The Snyder administration has spent much of the past three and a half years burnishing Calley’s conservative cred – presenting him as the one who’s pushing the administration rightward. That was the theme last fall at the Michigan Republican Leadership conference on Mackinac Island. And Calley insisted on the Michigan Public Television show “Off The Record” that his job was to be the Snyder administration’s resident conservative.


“I’m a voice on the inside that the governor listens to that comes from the right side of the political spectrum,” he said.

But really, that public relations push is not why he’s dodged the challenge this time. It’s because Republicans changed the rules. The Michigan GOP leadership has had enough of their conventions turning into brawls that toppled other party officers and almost cost state Republican Chairman Bobby Schostak his job.


So now prospective challengers have to get four signatures of Republican congressional district chairs to put their names into nomination at the party’s convention. Neither Wes Nakagiri nor Todd Courser were able to pull that off before last week’s deadline.

They can still try to get the Michigan Republican State Committee to allow another name or two to be put up for nomination. That’s got to happen before July 25th, and we think it’s clear the direction that’s taking.


And so, apparently, can Todd Courser. He decided his efforts were better spent running for the state House of Representatives. Of course, he can lose his primary in early August and then still try to storm the castle at the Republicans’ summer convention. But that would require, essentially, a takeover – the Tea Party would have to get a super-majority to the summer convention.

The next stage plays out on Tuesday, which is the deadline for candidates to file for precinct delegate. They’ll be elected in August. Precinct delegates will go to county conventions to choose delegates to the state Republican convention, who will vote on a slate of candidates for the November ballot. (Snyder is unchallenged on the August primary ballot, but the rest of the statewide candidates are convention-nominated.)


Which is why Calley has been busy recruiting people to run for precinct delegate. Team Snyder-Calley has also hired a political consulting firm that’s known for managing state conventions.

A big loud convention challenge, even if it fails, would still present an optics problem, tarnishing the image that Gov. Snyder prefers of a smooth, competent, no-drama chief executive.


There’s also party unity. How might Tea Partiers react if they feel like they and their candidates were disrespected at the convention, denied a real opportunity. Might they stay home? Choose a third party? That’s certainly the wishful thinking on the part of Democrats and their nominee, Mark Schauer, who are really going to need every advantage they can get if they’re going to pull off an upset in the governor’s race. (We’ve talked before about the Democrats’ big challenge in this election cycle, which is getting their voters to turn out on Election Day.)

Also, Tea Partiers could turn their anger to other parts of the ballot, raise a little havoc over some of the other convention nominations – Secretary of State, Attorney General, the state Supreme Court, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, the University of Michigan Board of Regents, the Wayne State University Board of Governors, and the Michigan State Board of Education. 


Intra-party rage could be a wild card in those nomination fights, and, for Republicans, a needless distraction heading into the fall elections. So after Tuesday’s precinct delegate filings, we’ll hopefully have a sense of how big this fight might get as Republicans simultaneously try to manage and romance their Tea Party.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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