Lansing — The Michigan Republican convention set for Saturday is shaping up to be a show of unity, a vast change from prior years when grassroots activists challenged state party leaders and almost replaced them.
The same scenario loomed when former state party chairman and GOP fundraiser Ron Weiser challenged conservative activist Scott Hagerstrom, President Donald Trump’s former Michigan campaign director, for state party leader after Ronna Romney McDaniel was tapped by Trump to lead the Republican National Committee.
But a convention fight was avoided when the president endorsed Weiser, one of two Michigan mega donors who raised money for the Trump Victory Fund that aided Trump and other federal and state GOP candidates. Hagerstrom bowed out of the race.
So Saturday’s gathering of about 3,000 party members at the Lansing Center will reflect far more tranquility than at past conventions. Former Party Chairman Bobby Shostak was almost defeated in February 2013 by Lapeer-area lawyer Todd Courser, who was elected state representative but later forced to resign over a sex scandal.
Among the speakers will be Romney McDaniel, Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
“It’s been a long time since our party has been so unified, whether it’s over local races or state rep races or whatever,” said Dan McMaster, a partner at political consultant and strategy firm, Grassroots Midwest. “Everyone’s just coming to come because we have the White House. ... I don’t see or feel or hear any kind of tension about anything.”
Bay County Republican Chairman Brandon DeFrain said the county representatives going to the convention this year constitutes “probably the closest we’ve been to a full delegation ... in a while.” At the same time, DeFrain said people in Bay County are more interested in learning about the party, even union members, in part because of Trump.
“I see people from all sides of the aisle wanting to come together,” he said. “They definitely were captivated by his message. It just hasn’t died down since the election.”
The unity is the result of Trump’s unexpected victory in Michigan, the first time a Republican had captured the state in a presidential election since 1988. Despite predictions of losses, the GOP held on to its 63-47 majority in the state House, maintained a 9-5 edge in the U.S. House, solidified its 5-2 hold on the Michigan Supreme Court while gaining a few statewide education seats.
Weiser, a former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia for President George W. Bush, becomes chairman again as the party has been rallying behind Trump, whose executive actions have come as a surprise relief for some Michigan Republicans who say they’re used to other politicians not fulfilling campaign promises.
Top state Republican strategists and a handful of county chairs say they’re enthused by Trump’s first couple weeks in office even after opposition and protests arose to the president’s cabinet picks and executive actions, including a temporary travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“I’m supportive of the president, and I think the president has to make the decisions for what’s best to do for the country,” said Weiser, who chaired the state party in 2009-10 when it flipped more Democratic legislative seats than in any election during the prior 60 years.
“… the opposition had their opportunity at the ballot box to speak, and the president was elected under the rules that we have and all the things that he’s doing now are things he said he was going to do. So it shouldn’t be any surprise to anybody.”
“... And he’s keeping his election promises, and I think people like that.”
GOP consultant Stu Sandler and Schostak, a developer and political consultant, said there just isn’t much tension within the party.
GOP leaders in some of the counties that flipped from blue to red in 2016 say they have more delegates who signed up for the convention than ever.
In Shiawassee County, one of 12 counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016, GOP chairwoman Mary Nordbeck said there is growing interest in the convention. Sixteen Republicans are going this year, up from seven last year, she said.
“I think they’re excited because what I heard in the past is whatever way Shiawassee goes, that’s how the state goes,” Nordbeck said. “I think people are just excited because we have hopefully a good president in office and things are gonna start turning around.”
Macomb County Republican Chairman John Wolfsberger boasted that he now has “about 10 times as many volunteers” after the 2016 election than after 2012 to help with county party issues.
Inflammatory statements and controversy surrounding some executive orders have not dissuaded supporters in Macomb, Wolfsberger said.
“I think this goes well beyond the normal honeymoon period kind of attitude,” he said. “And, in fact, I’m hearing from a lot of people who said they didn’t vote for Trump, and now that they see what he’s doing they regret having not voted for him.”