Michigan’s Republicans are known in 2023 for throwing punches, denying the factual reality of elections they lost, obsequiousness to former President Donald Trump, going mostly broke financially, outraging most of the party’s long-time supporters, and dumping all over the history of its former leaders, which means trashing some of the greatest statesmen in Michigan history.
So to welcome those Republicans … um … brave enough, maybe … to show up to the party’s biennial Mackinac Island meeting last weekend, state GOP Chairwoman Kristina Karamo chose this interesting quote from 19th century composer Gustav Mahler:
“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
This reporter is willing to bet cash money that 90% of the Republican attendees to the Mackinac conference had never heard a single note of Mahler’s music; I have a hard time imagining this gang of GOPers punching it out in the Grand Hotel’s Audubon Bar over whether Mahler’s 5th or 9th Symphony is the better piece of music.
I suspect Ms. Karamo used the quote to show that while Mahler’s music was derided during his life, history recognizes him as a genius.
So Karamo could argue, while the Michigan Republican Party is now viewed as an incompetent joke — by all political observers regularly breathing oxygen – history will prove today’s GOP was correct. Republicans can go on losing elections and influence, but history will show that like Mahler — and not like, say, the Ford Edsel — they were right.
Kristina Karamo’s Michigan GOP believes in uniparties, conspiracies and losing elections
Karamo and the GOP’s remaining acolytes wandering the island last weekend — the party hasn’t released official attendance numbers, but reports from the island suggest a significantly smaller crop of Republicans than in previous years — claim that their party is the party of the Constitution. They’re not trying to win elections so Republicans can, you know, win, and run government, they have to win elections to protect our children.
We’re real conservatives, Karamo insisted in a bizarre video on X (Twitter, whatever) not “Grey Poupon” Republicans (presumably this means folks like Dick and Betsy DeVos, you know, the donors who helped keep the party solvent). Why, in the old days, Karama says, with zero evidence, Republicans and Democrats conspired behind Michiganders’ backs to agree on policies that hurt and betrayed us. Michigan was being run by a Democrat/Republican Uniparty. A uniparty.
Uniparty, huh? Well, that will come as a hell of a shock to former Govs. John Engler and Rick Snyder, and all the Republicans who have ever run the Legislature and the attorney general’s office and the Secretary of State’s office. It will definitely come as a shock to Michigan Democrats, whose only power was, um, for a long time, complaining about Republicans. Remembering all the times then-Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer yowled about Republicans running over Democrats and the state, I can only imagine now-Gov. Whitmer, staggered by Karamo’s assertion, crying out, “You mean we were really running the show!? Why did no one tell me?!”
No, Kristina, there was no “uniparty.” Suggesting there was is nonsensical. So nonsensical that it is only one of the reasons why the DeVoses and other top Republican backers have washed their hands of the state GOP administration. Their money is going to individual candidates in select races for 2024, sources assure us, which will damage GOP efforts to win elections across the state.
Are Karamo’s Michigan Republicans just autocrats?
Can Karamo actually believe Democrats conspired with Republicans to enact the state’s now-ended Right-to-Work laws?
Democrats had essentially nothing to do with so many positions enacted in those years: limitations on abortion rights, like waiting periods; on easing numerous regulatory rules; revamping revenue sharing to local governments, which affected lots of communities; enacting charter school legislation; weakening some environmental protections; enacting dozens of tax cuts, whether needed or not. Those were all Republican actions, and they comported with conservative beliefs.
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What do Michigan Republicans run now? Their mouths. Statewide, they run nothing in government. They have made themselves operationally irrelevant.
I’m sorry, but it is impossible to honestly accept their claims. They consider themselves constitutionalists? How? By insisting Trump won, despite all certified evidence to the contrary, and by effectively endorsing the attempted coup of Jan. 6, 2021? What part of the Constitution covers coups?
Protect our kids? From what? Lack of health care? Violence from rampant gun use? Poorly performing schools in some districts? Outright poverty? Environmental collapse?
Oh, we’re protecting them from drag queens. From books describing reality in this world. Of course, once more let loose the dogs of war against “grooming.” Poverty, disease, gun violence, that’s okay, but gotta save the kids from RuPaul.
And what constitutes their sense of conservatism?
One conservative I spoke with recently described a conservative as one who believes in tradition and structured, limited government, but is open to argument and can be convinced they should change their view by a predominance of evidence.
To that chap, a lifelong Republican, today’s Republican “conservatives” are autocrats. A conservative should never use power to punish those who disagree with him or her. These “Republicans,” he said, will threaten and punish those who disagree with them.
Is conservatism no longer respectful disagreement? Is it now demanding violent conformity? This reporter has already spoken of the increasing appeal to violence from all sides. But thus far only one party seems to publicly condone the idea.
And now, a word from Kari Lake
Proof? Failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was a headline attraction at the GOP Mackinac meeting. Not long ago, after Trump was indicted for concealing federal records, Lake said: “If you wanna get to President Trump, you’re gonna have to go through me, and you’re gonna have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And most of us are card carrying members of the NRA. That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”
(Other headliners included GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who spoke to a theater with a lot of empty seats, and Jim Caviezel, the star of “The Passion of the Christ” and right-wing cinema sensation “The Sound of Freedom.”)
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The party’s devolution into an autocratic mess is why an untold number of Republicans no longer vote Republican. If they didn’t sit out the election, they voted for President Joe Biden in 2020. They are not crazy about Biden, would rather the Dems nominate someone else. But if in 2024 the choice is between Trump and Biden, most will probably hold their nose and vote for Biden, again, to save the nation from Trump.
These classic Republicans played a major role in ensuring Democrats now run the state. A year ago, this reporter was at a dinner for the Citizens Research Council, sitting at a table occupied entirely by top — classic — Republicans: A former GOP member of Congress, a former GOP Speaker of the Michigan House, several former state department directors, several top former aides to Engler and Snyder. Not a single one was voting for a single Republican running for office in Michigan in 2022. Thousands of other classic Republicans joined them.
Michigan GOP is gearing up for a 2024 battle
The meeting on Mackinac Island didn’t recognize that reality. No, the island’s “kinda Republicans” will, in their own way preserve Mahler’s fire, insist they are the only safeguard against a national collapse into Communist-driven societal depravity and evil, and send their supporters forth to fight the great battle coming in 2024.
And it will be a battle. The new Republicans may lose, but they will fight ferociously, and anyone opposed to the threat of growing autocracy in America cannot ignore that fact. The new Republicans are angry, driven by an addicting disbelief, and if Jan. 6 is any reminder, willing to take all steps fair and foul to win.
Which brings us back to Mahler.
Mahler also said, “I don’t let myself get carried away by my ideas. I abandon 19 out of 20 of them everyday.”
All mature, intelligent folks should exercise that concept.
We can hope at least some of the “kinda Republicans” on Mackinac Island will abandon their worst ideas in favor of preserving our state and country’s democratic republic.
Okay, I wouldn’t put money on that happening, but It would strike a major chord of hope.
John Lindstrom is a Detroit Free Press contributing columnist. He has covered Michigan politics for 50 years. He retired as publisher of Gongwer, a Lansing news service, in 2019. Submit a letter to the editor at freep.com/letters.