Michigan GOP, executive director who criticized Trump part ways

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Republican Party Executive Director Jason Roe said he has resigned, the latest development in a string of controversies embroiling the state GOP over former President Donald Trump.

Roe, a longtime political consultant who had been targeted by devout Trump supporters within the party for past comments critical of the ex-president, confirmed his resignation on Wednesday. Businessman Ron Weiser, who won a race to be the chairman of the Michigan GOP in early February, hired Roe for the leadership job.

"I have resigned my position as executive director and the reasons will remain between me and Chairman Weiser," Roe said in a text message. "We've built an amazing team and I know they will be very successful in 2022. I look forward to helping any way I can."

Jason Roe

In his own Wednesday afternoon statement, Weiser didn't address what caused the split.

"Jason did a tremendous job putting together a team and getting us ready for 2022," Weiser said. "Building on the legacy of his father, Jerry, Jason served the Michigan Republican Party with great dedication and exceptional talent. We wish him nothing but the best and know he will be an asset to Republicans in Michigan and all over the country this cycle and for years to come."

Roe's resignation, which came Tuesday, is the latest example of the turbulence facing the Michigan GOP as members have attempted to regroup from Trump's loss in 2020. The former president publicly has criticized Republican lawmakers in the state, while the party is experiencing a high-profile campaign finance probe.

Jason's father, Jerry Roe, had previously served as executive director of the Michigan GOP.

In recent months, some Republican activists called for Jason Roe's censure and firing over previous remarks he made about Trump. During an appearance on the Michigan Information & Research Services podcast in May, Roe said Trump "was seemingly doing everything he could to lose a winnable race" in 2020. He also indicated on the podcast the party should move on from "complaining about how the election loss happened."

Last year, Roe told Politico that the election wasn't stolen but Trump "blew it."

Roe has worked as a political and communications strategist for nearly 30 years, according to his business's website. In 2007, he was deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Ahead of Roe's resignation, Michigan GOP leadership had grown frustrated with the way the executive director conducted himself at party headquarters and toward the grassroots, according to two Republican sources with knowledge of the situation. The conflict that led to the split wasn't sudden, they said.

Also on Tuesday, Roe retweeted a post from John Truscott, CEO of the public relations firm Truscott Rossman, that praised Tony Daunt, a Republican member of the Board of State Canvassers who slammed Trump. Daunt described the former president as a "malignancy" during a Tuesday morning canvassers meeting.

Daunt "calls it as he sees it" and is "a really good guy," Truscott's tweet said.

It's unclear if Roe retweeted the message before or after he left his position as executive director of the party.

For multiple weeks, Roe had been responding to media requests on behalf of the party after former communications director Ted Goodman departed. Goodman left on good terms for a new opportunity. The party then tapped former Detroit News columnist Kaitlyn Buss for the position. Buss said she left after two days.

The party is facing ongoing inquiries about $200,000 payments to a former secretary of state candidate who abruptly left a 2018 race and tension about the future influence of Trump and how to handle unproven claims, levied by some party members, about fraud in the 2020 election.

In May, a group of Republicans gathered outside party headquarters to call for Roe's censure over his past comments critical of Trump. Debra Ell, a precinct delegate from Frankenmuth and the organizer of the rally, said the majority of the party remains loyal to Trump and believes there was fraud in the 2020 election. 

"This isn't division," Ell said. "We are the party."

In a Wednesday statement, Ell said she believes Roe was fired instead of choosing to resign.

"This is just (the) beginning of the RINO hunt," she added, referring to "Republicans in name only."

In early June, Roe told reporters the state GOP will remain focused on the upcoming 2022 election instead of pushing for an audit of former Trump's loss last year, which the former president has been pushing for.

Weiser's leadership team had initially featured representatives from competing wings of the GOP with Roe, who has been critical of Trump, as executive director and Meshawn Maddock, a pro-Trump activist, as the co-chair.

Ten days after Roe's comments about an audit, Maddock appeared at a rally in front of the state Capitol, where Trump supporters urged lawmakers to require an audit.

"This is a job for the Legislature. It's not the party's responsibility," Maddock said when asked if she supports an audit in her role with the state party.

Last week, her husband, state Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, issued a call for a forensic audit on social media.

Michigan Democratic Party spokeswoman Rodericka Applewhaite said the GOP "is set on kicking out anyone who doesn’t pass every extreme litmus test."

"Here lies any grip on reality that the MIGOP might have still had," Applewhaite said. "Those that have attempted to right the ship and focus on the facts — whether it be about 2020 or if COVID-19 is real — have met the same end as Jason Roe."

Roe's departure also comes as the Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office reviews Weiser's use of party funds in a 2018 deal that required a secretary of state candidate to abruptly end his campaign.

Earlier this month, the Michigan Republican Party revealed it had agreed to pay a $200,000 penalty to resolve a campaign finance complaint focused on the situation through an arrangement with the office of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

The state Bureau of Elections found "there may be reason to believe" the $200,000 in payments to former secretary of state candidate Stan Grot violated campaign finance law.

The payments came to light in February when then-Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox publicly accused Weiser of orchestrating a "secret deal" with Grot, the Shelby Township clerk, to get him to drop out of the party's nomination race for secretary of state so a different GOP candidate could win.


Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.