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GOP can’t just wish Agema away

What happens in politics when you want to get rid of someone and they just won’t quit? We are, of course, talking about Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema.

Agema consistently courts controversy and has done his party no favors with social media posts that go after Muslims, gays and African-Americans.

Republicans at a boiling point

There have been numerous calls – from both state and national party officials – for Agema’s resignation and just this week the Republican National Committee voted to censure him at their winter meeting in California.

But, they haven’t actually gotten rid of him. And that has led some to theorize that Republicans must not really want him gone. There’s been some breathless punditry suggesting that the GOP could ditch Agema, that is, if they really wanted to and sort of slyly implying some nefarious reasons behind it.

Now some of the aforementioned theories are rooted in uncomfortable realities for the GOP. The first is that Agema does actually speak for some in his party who have extreme views on race, ethnicity, homosexuality and/or the nature of Islam. And second, even some of those who don’t share his views have stomached them in the past for the sake of winning elections.

A distraction

Agema and his ilk (but mostly Agema) are no longer about political addition – attracting voters – but, rather, subtraction and distraction from what Republicans need to be talking about and doing to win. But, Republicans, of course, cannot simply tap their red, sparkly heels together and wish Agema away.

Furthermore, no matter what the pundits say, these episodes tend to get drawn out and become very messy. The rules are not clear on how to get rid of a party official elected by a convention of Michigan Republicans.

A lot of Michigan Republicans were hoping the National Republican Committee would somehow deal with Agema this week. The RNC, in the censure resolution, turned it back on the state party to try and finish the job.

All this goes to show there is no clear black letter authority for removing a state party official who has not been convicted of a crime.

Why would Agema go quietly?

No matter what the GOP does, for this operation to succeed, an ouster of Agema has to be swift and complete. A protracted fight over who has the authority to do what doesn’t accomplish that. It only sustains the controversy and adds an unwelcome dose of drama to the whole episode.

It’s unlikely Agema will go quietly. This isn’t the first time that he’s created controversy and refused to stepdown. Without his party position, he’s just another guy with an opinion and a Facebook page.

The in-crowd

The unofficial avenues that typically are used to silence or banish a character like Agema have failed. He’s already been marginalized by the party leadership. He’s not part of the planning councils. He’s not welcomed by party bigwigs on the dais or the campaign bus.

He’s been denounced by most of the state’s elected Republicans - the governor, attorney general, legislative leaders.

Agema seems to think he is saving the Republican Party from itself, or at least from its current crop of leaders. He has nothing to lose. Until now, there wasn’t a sense that a party official elected by a party convention would be so out there and so uncooperative, so unreachable that the rest of the Republican Party would be powerless to do something.

Meantime, a political party doesn’t typically want to be in the business of punishing people in their own party for what they say (there’s that whole First Amendment thing, after all); that can just open a great big ugly can of worms.

No matter what happens with Agema, don’t be surprised if Michigan Republicans update their rules soon to deal with removing a party official for the offense of just being too embarrassing.

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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