With their party out of power, some Republicans in the state are worried that the former president could cost Michigan its status as a swing state.
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Former President Donald J. Trump’s attacks on liberals and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a rival for the Republican nomination in 2024, drew the most applause at his speech on Sunday in Michigan.
In front of a sold-out crowd on Sunday evening in Novi, Mich., former President Donald J. Trump lamented the decline of the automobile industry under Democratic rule and said he “stood up to China” to save thousands of manufacturing jobs.
It was a speech he might have given in 2020. But then the script changed. In his first campaign visit to the state this year, Mr. Trump paired rants about free trade and manufacturing with culture-war jabs against liberals and criticism of his main Republican rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
The latter remarks received the most raucous applause at the Oakland County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, which was giving Mr. Trump its man of the decade award.
Statewide, however, the Republican Party is at a crossroads, with internal disputes among Trump-aligned factions whose candidates have faced a series of losses in recent years and an establishment wing that has all but lost any semblance of power.
Mr. Trump’s full-throated embrace of election denialism and a crusade against “wokeism,” echoed by his most ardent supporters, have left some Michigan Republicans wondering about his chances in a general election — and if there is any possibility of stopping his candidacy before then.
Though Mr. Trump won Michigan in his 2016 presidential bid, Republicans have struggled to garner statewide voter support since. They lost the governorship to Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in 2018, and then faced another major loss in 2020 when Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the White House.
But 2022 may have stung the most: For the first time in 40 years, Michigan Republicans lost control of both State Legislature chambers and failed to recapture the governorship, putting them out of power entirely. That year featured a wide array of candidates backed by Mr. Trump, many of whom embraced false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and subsequently lost their races.
Oakland County underscores the party’s tumultuous past few years: Still G.O.P.-controlled in 2016, the region in the Detroit suburbs, home to the state’s largest population of Republicans, is now controlled by Democrats.
Establishment Republicans have raised concerns that Mr. Trump himself is to blame for sustained losses, and that Michigan will slowly lose its swing-state status with his loyalists at the helm. Kristina Karamo, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2022 and made voter fraud and election denial central to her campaign, won control of the state party apparatus in February.
“Donald Trump decapitated the entire Republican establishment in Michigan,” said Jason Roe, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who plans to support another candidate in the growing Republican primary field for president.
“The reality is that other than Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, all he’s done is lose,” Mr. Roe added. “So at some point, conservative voters in America have to decide if they want to be loyal to Donald Trump or if they care about the future of our country.”
ImageParty officials said more than 2,500 people were on hand for the event.Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images
That perceived choice, however, was a nonstarter in Novi on Sunday, where dinner attendees paid at least $250 for a ticket. Organizers said over 2,500 people packed the Suburban Collection Showplace.
In an hourlong speech, Mr. Trump frequently attacked Mr. Biden, looking past the primaries and ahead to a possible general election rematch. He criticized the president for what he called a “maniacal push” for electrical vehicles that would lead to the “decimation” of the state’s auto industry.
But he also continued what is now a yearslong tirade about voting security. In attendance was Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer known for carrying out frivolous lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, who received a standing ovation when acknowledged by Mr. Trump.
And the former president received significant crowd approval when he said he would sign an executive order to cut funding from schools that support critical race theory and “transgenderism.”
Rather than fault Mr. Trump for recent losses, many pointed the blame back on party officials, if they acknowledged that Republicans had lost their elections at all.
“It needs a little bit more leadership. I think they seem to sway sometimes, and I don’t like that,” said Lisa Mackey of Plymouth, Mich. “We all have to work together, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, but I think sometimes they’re not looking out for our best interests.”
Mr. Trump praised Ms. Karamo, saying that she was a “hard worker who’s working very hard to keep this an honest election.” And some attendees, like Monica Job of Armada, Mich., offered their praise as well: “When she lost and then ran for the state party, that showed she’s not a quitter,” Ms. Job said.
Doubts that the state party leadership can steer Republicans to victory in 2024 have become increasingly widespread — party activists are discussing how to generate funding outside the party apparatus, said Jamie Roe, a Republican strategist in the state, who is unrelated to Jason Roe.
“I don’t think they’re communicating very effectively with the broad base of the party,” he said. “I just think that we have opportunity, and I’m praying that we don’t forgo those opportunities.”
Anjali Huynh covers politics for The Times. @anjalihuynh
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