Once again, Republicans are responding to historically bad losses in 2020 and now 2022 in states like Michigan by electing state party leaders who are vowing to overturn election results and to nullify any future Democratic candidate wins in 2024 and beyond.
Jon Smith, a local leader in rural Michigan of America First, a far-right Republican faction that denies the results of the 2020 election, wants to shift the entire party to the right - even if it means short-term losses at the ballot box. "We need to redefine what it means to be a Republican," he said in an interview.
In pursuit of that aim, Smith and other hardliners deployed armed guards to bar moderate delegates from a county meeting last August, threatening to bring criminal trespassing charges against them, according to an email to the moderates seen by Reuters.
Smith, who is running for party chair in his congressional district, also helped persuade state party officials to exclude moderates from his county from a vote on Saturday to choose the leaders who will steer Michigan Republicans into the 2024 elections.
Far-right Republican groups are making inroads across the state, according to Reuters' interviews with two dozen party leaders, grassroots members and political experts, sidelining moderate voices, risking relationships with major donors and complicating the state party's efforts to rebuild after their worst election results since 1984.
America First Republicans now control local party leadership in more than half of Michigan's 83 counties, a senior party official estimated, paving the way for an important victory on Saturday when an election denier is expected to be elected to state party chair.
Critics say the Republican Party's continued lurch to the right after midterm losses of candidates backed by former President Donald Trump could imperil its chances in a state that will likely prove critical to control of the White House and Congress in 2024, with one of Michigan's Senate seats in play.
The local skirmishes mirror Republican infighting in other swing states and in Congress, where Kevin McCarthy made important concessions to hardline lawmakers to win election as speaker of the House of Representatives last month.
"What's going on in Michigan is a microcosm of what is going on with the Republican Party nationally," said Michael Traugott, a professor at the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan.