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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

At Michigan Republican caucuses Trump's popularity and party divisions both on display

District 7 delegates seated in rows of chairs in a ballroom during the Michigan GOP convention, Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Al Goldis
District 7 delegates convene during the Michigan Republican Party convention on Saturday in Grand Rapids. The state party used a hybrid primary-caucus system this year.

The Michigan Republican Party — or most of it — held its party caucuses in Grand Rapids on Saturday.

The caucuses showcased the popularity of former President Donald Trump, who won all of the delegates at stake. They also highlighted ongoing divisions within the state Republican party after a legal battle over who’s in charge.

Bridge Michigan deputy editor and politics reporter Jonathan Oosting reported on the caucuses and he joined Michigan Public's Morning Edition host Doug Tribou.

Doug Tribou: Two courts have ruled that former Congressman Pete Hoekstra is the official chair of the party, confirming that former chair Kristina Karamo’s removal was binding.

There was still some dissension Saturday with alternate meetings and people barred from participating. Walk us through how all of that played out in Grand Rapids.

Jonathan Oosting: Prior to these court rulings, both the former chair, Kristina Karamo, and the current chair, Pete Hoekstra, had called for separate presidential caucus meetings in Grand Rapids and Detroit. The Karamo meeting was supposed to be in Detroit, but after the courts ruled last week, that meeting was eventually canceled. Now, because of that though, some counties had not sent their delegate slates to Pete Hoekstra.

These counties were loyal to Kristina Karamo, so didn't want to participate in Hoekstra's convention, and they weren't going to be seated, most likely, at Hoekstra's convention. So a couple congressional district chairs in the 1st Congressional District and the 4th, decided to hold their own meetings separately in Houghton Lake and Battle Creek, respectively. And they did meet with a lot of delegates.

However, those meetings seemingly are not going to be recognized as legitimate by pretty much anyone. The Republican National Committee, in addition to the courts, and former President Trump, have all sided with Pete Hoekstra in this battle. So a symbolic gesture, perhaps, but probably not one that's going to have great significance for the presidential nomination process.

"[R]egardless of how popular [Trump] is with the general Republican electorate, he is still very, very popular with the the folks that actually are part of the apparatus of the Michigan Republican Party."
Bridge Michigan reporter Jonathan Oosting on Trump's strength in the caucus format

DT: Jonathan, you were in Grand Rapids. There was also a situation where some people showed up and could not fully participate. Tell us about that.

JO: That's right. So some delegates from counties whose county chair had not submitted their slate of delegates to Pete Hoekstra for his convention, did show up in an attempt to try and participate anyways. Hoekstra had said the night before the convention that he was going to try and find some sort of a compromise to let folks participate, but he wasn't able to, because of party rules.

And he basically left it up to each district meeting and, he said those districts can decide on their own if they want to vote to allow these delegates to participate. Some did. Some did not.

I was in the first congressional district meeting where, a group of Republicans from Charlevoix made the three-hour drive down to Grand Rapids and, their fellow delegates in the first Congressional district voted to not allow them to participate, so definitely some folks who got sidelined in this process.

DT: Republicans used a split primary and caucus system this year, in part in response to Democrats moving up their presidential primary. There were 16 delegates at stake in Tuesday's primary, and Trump won 12 of them. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley won four, but Trump swept the caucuses and the 39 delegates at play. What does all that mean for Michigan at the Republican National Convention?

JO: Well, it means Trump's primary win is magnified even more. Folks I talked to always suspected that this caucus-style system was going to be beneficial to Trump because regardless of how popular he is with the general Republican electorate, he is still very, very popular with the the folks that actually are part of the apparatus of the Michigan Republican Party.

He walks away from the state with not just 12 of 16 delegates from the primary, but total now 51 of 55 total delegates from Michigan, so, you know, a really, dominating delegate haul in the end.

DT: Jonathan, state political parties do much more than support their presidential candidate every four years. There will be a lot of races on the ballot in November. How could that tension from the leadership dispute that we were just discussing affect the party operations in this election year?

JO: Well, seemingly, Pete Hoekstra taking over the party is good news for the quote-unquote, establishment Republicans or elected officials in the state who are going to be running for reelection or trying to retake the state House, for instance.

I talked to House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) on Saturday. He is now supporting Hoekstra as chair. But he had been building a fundraising apparatus for House Republicans, essentially assuming he was going to get no help from the state party this year under Kristina Karamo. I mean, one of the concerns with her administration had been that she was struggling to raise money to support candidates.

So, Matt Hall said, essentially now we've got our own apparatus already set up to raise these funds. Having support from the state party is just going to be icing on the cake.

Further reading: "Donald Trump dominates Michigan GOP caucuses, builds on delegate lead" by Jonathan Oosting for Bridge Michigan

Editor's note: Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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