America First Delegates Take Over Michigan GOP, Still Face Challenges From Establishment

The Michigan Republican state convention on August 27, 2022

The Michigan Republican Convention on Saturday was supposed to be about just one thing: confirming the Governor candidate Tudor Dixon’s choice for Lieutenant Governor. Instead, the ongoing battles between the state’s establishment and grassroots were busy starting little convention fires.

Tudor Dixon chose former State Representative Shane Hernandez to be her Lieutenant Governor on Friday August 19th, and needed the convention’s delegates to ratify her choice at the state convention on the 27th. At the end of the state convention, Hernandez won a commanding 78% of the delegates. Hernandez only needed over half to prevent other nominations from the assembled Republican delegates from being considered.

Former Michigan State Rep. Shane Hernandez, left.

The only serious hiccup in the convention was the replacement of Macomb County precinct delegates recognized for the convention, who were coming from two competing factions. The delay caused by that procedure caused a convention that was planned to be over by noon to last until nearly 5pm.

Hernandez was chosen after other names had been floated over the past two weeks, including RINO Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, DeVos donation gatekeeper and former House Speaker Jace Bolger, former Congressman Mike Bishop, former Congresswoman Candice Miller, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, among others. Left-wing protesters outside mocked Hernandez for being Dixon’s last-place choice.

A left-wing clown outside the Lansing Center holds a sign saying “Shane Hernandez – little miss last minute choice for Lt. Governor”

For Hernandez to get to 78%, it took a Trump endorsement, a week-long charm offensive by Hernandez, and a significant misrepresentation of Hernandez’s actual record to make it more palatable to the new pro-Trump America-First precinct delegates from across the state elected on August 2nd.

The Dixon team were mostly worried about the convention going off-track because of a contested Lieutenant Governor race due to former Governor candidate Ralph Rebant’s declared candidacy for the position, and rumors that two other losing candidates in the Governor’s race were interested in the position and working delegates behind the scenes: Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley. Also, perennial candidate Lena Epstein was considered a dark horse among potential delegate-inspired nominations for Lt. Governor. These candidates would be forcing their way onto the ticket via the delegates, a maneuver last tried by delegates pushing Wes Nakagiri over Brian Calley at the 2014 convention. Team Dixon were also concerned about the County infighting in Macomb becoming a contentious issue slowing down the convention.

About two weeks prior, on August 11, County Conventions were held in Michigan’s 83 counties. Those conventions, filled with newly-elected precinct delegates from the August 2nd primary, elected a smaller delegation of delegates from within their ranks to send to state convention, these are called ‘elevated delegates.’

But the establishment was alarmed at what they were seeing: America First candidates, many first-time precinct delegates, were filling the ranks and taking over their County parties. The establishment, through NeverTrump megafunders like Betsy DeVos, had hired staff and spent considerable funds to elect moderate and anti-Trump precinct delegates from across the state. But they couldn’t find enough moderates and people who believed the 2020 election was ‘the most secure in history’ to run and win. Even though they spent hundreds of thousands on staff and mailers to elect RINO-friendly precinct delegates, they were losing key County races.

Some of their recruited delegates were even caught on social media bragging about voting for Gretchen Whitmer and with pictures of the expensive mailers sent to recruit moderates in the 6,000 delegate races around the state. Over 2,000 voting delegates were present at the Lansing Center in the state capital for the Michigan state convention.

The establishment’s short-term goal was to unseat Attorney General nominee Matt DePerno from his April win over their preferred candidate Tom Leonard. There were several schemes for accomplishing this anti-DePerno goal, one of which was getting DePerno’s law license revoked. Failing that, they were trying to get the delegates necessary to switch out DePerno for Leonard, or in the alternative, Rep. Ryan Berman. Berman had been calling Republican District Chairs to try and get them to agree to this plan, but none would. The secondary DeVos goal was to take back state party from any resistance to their plans, and to set up a rumored U.S. Senate run for Betsy DeVos in two years.

The DeVos home base is in Grand Rapids, which is within Kent County. The DeVos family lavishly funds the Kent County GOP, so that they can afford staff and office space, a rarity among County parties. A few months earlier, their handpicked leader Rob VanHeulen narrowly survived a challenge to his leadership by a 72-66 margin. They should have known trouble was brewing but they thought they had won and beaten back the grassroots.

So when America First patriots led by Tim Walenga beat VanHeulen and took control of the Kent County GOP for the convention delegates, VanHeulen left the stage openly sobbing according to witnesses and Kent GOP staffer Mike Sullivan took a laptop with all the necessary organizational records with him, and some of the megafunders of liberal Republicans in Michigan who were present, Terri Lynn Land and Betsy DeVos, both angrily stormed out of the building. One activist who was there described Betsy DeVos leaving as though she was “Helen of Troy exiting the battlefield in disgust.”

One moderate delegate who was there said to the Gateway Pundit, “These America First insurgents are taking over in Kent, but the building is owned by the Secchia family. Terri Lynn Land and Betsy DeVos won’t keep funding this County if they keep it up. They’re going to inherit an empty shell. Just because they have the numbers doesn’t mean they have the money, and that’s what is splitting up right now in the Michigan Republican Party: the liberal money from the pro-Trump voters.”

NeverTrumper Betsy DeVos

One America First activist also present in Kent County, Mike Farage, followed Betsy DeVos into the parking structure and confronted her, according to three people who were witnesses, Farage told her that she was a “f****** b****” in a poignant comment that represents the ongoing insurgency by the grassroots against the party’s left-wing financiers. Farage at the time worked for Michigan’s Americans for Prosperity, funded by Betsy DeVos and within a week Farage’s employment there was terminated.

Farage doesn’t dispute that this happened, but at state convention says that all he desires is political “unity” with Dixon, Hernandez, and even Betsy.

Kent County America First Activist Mike Farage

The August 2nd primary was a defeat for many Trump-endorsed candidates for the legislature, and the establishment rightly thought they had prevailed by taking out Trump-endorsed candidates Jacky Eubanks, Kevin Rathbun, Mick Bricker, Jon Rocha, and Mike Detmer. The establishment routed their anti-Trump money through a variety of organizations like Freedom Fund, Americans for Prosperity, Consumers Energy, and the House Republican Campaign Committee. But the establishment’s biggest coup was getting Trump to endorse Tudor Dixon in the contested Republican primary for Governor.

RINO Mike Shirkey was even taunting pro-Trump activists afterwards telling them that “their North Star must now be lost” as a result.

Betsy DeVos had to tell some impressive lies in a handwritten groveling letter to Trump practically begging him for the endorsement, and Trump endorsed and pushed Dixon up from a 15% average to a 40% plurality in the primary.

Many of the new delegates said they were motivated to run by a combination of sources. Some pointed to Steve Bannon’s “War Room,” others mentioned Charlie Kirk’s “Turning Point USA” group, others like Clinton County’s new America First leader Steve Willis said Glenn Beck’s admonishment to get more involved in the party pushed him to get involved. Still others said political issues like Critical Race Theory in the schools, the stolen 2020 election, and the generally bad direction of the country motivated them to ‘do something’ and get involved by running for delegate.

Tamara Tizedes, from Brighton, pictured below, was a first-time alternate delegate with her husband. She noted that she and her husband go to the Gateway Pundit “for all their news.” They were write-in winners as delegates, motivated to do so “because we love our country and we’re God-fearing American patriots, we understand now we can’t just sit on the sidelines. We can’t do that anymore, we can feel it.” Tizedes said she was motivated by fraud in the 2020 election and CRT in the schools. She added, “this is good versus evil. This isn’t like anything we’ve ever faced, this is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.”

New delegate Tamara Tizedes

The convention started to loud boos for Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser. Weiser is seen by delegates as part of the old-guard megafunders of the Party. Several delegates noted concern that Weiser is on the board of the Atlantic Council, a group of globalists. Some in state party have attempted to say that this is because there’s a similarly-named wealthy Ron Weiser. The Gateway Pundit called the Atlantic Council and confirmed that, contrary to the statements by those connected to state party, it is the same Ron Weiser.

The boos for Weiser were contrasted with the entire room erupting in applause for Attorney General nominee Matt DePerno as he announced the nomination for Lieutenant Governor candidate Shane Hernandez. Kristina Karamo, the Secretary of State candidate, also received loud support from delegates and Karamo stayed noticeably quiet about the Hernandez nomination prior to his victory.

MRP General Counsel John Inhulsen, left, and Party Chairman Ron Weiser, right.

On the theme of ‘unity’, RINO Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told the Gateway Pundit that “If we don’t ignore our differences, we acknowledge our differences when we subordinate them to a grander and greater cause. And if we continue to focus on our differences only and not the ultimate goals, then we’re screwed. And so my goal is to leave here today acknowledging differences and what we’re going through but we gotta have a bigger goal to achieve for the Michigan Republican Party.”

As soon as Shirkey finished this quote, America First Patriot Jon Smith, former Chairman of the Hillsdale County GOP walked up. When the Gateway Pundit asked to interview the two together, representing competing interests right now within the Party seeking unity, Shirkey then told the Pundit that he’d never be seen associating with, or talking with, “that piece of sh**” pointing to Hillsdale’s Jon Smith.

Hillsdale GOP Chair Jon Smith, in purple, center, and Smith’s antagonist Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, right.

Several Counties appear to be splitting apart between the America First and more establishment forces, including Kent County, Hillsdale County, Macomb County, and Shiawassee County.

Former Michigan Governor John Engler, walking up to Shirkey, then told the Gateway Pundit, “Jockeying for position in those little county leadership races, they’re at least 100% united that the next Governor shouldn’t be Gretchen Whitmer.” Shirkey could then be overheard whispering to former Governor Engler over the noise in the convention hall not to give any more detailed quotes to the Gateway Pundit.

Former Michigan Governor John Engler then reached to either check the status of, or take away Hillsdale GOP’s Jon Smith’s credentials, and Smith swatted him back telling him that he was going to “beat his a**” if he ever touched him again.

Shirkey and establishment forces took out America First Patriot Jon Smith months earlier as the leader of the Hillsdale County GOP by having a friendly clerk invalidate all of Smith’s recruited precinct delegates on the last day of filing, ensuring that none of them would be on the ballot. The offending discrepancy was that the delegate candidate’s signature was dated, but the notary, who signed at the same time as the delegate, did not separately put a second date on the document. That technicality flaw was enough to flip control of what Engler called the ‘little county leadership races’ in Hillsdale County from America First control back to establishment control.

And it was those ‘little county leadership races’ that was, besides the Hernandez nomination, the highlight of the convention. A group of America First activists sought to seat the delegation of precinct delegates from Macomb County that were in what most called the “Forton Faction” of Macomb. Macomb is Michigan’s third-largest County. Mark Forton has been a leader among a group of generally pro-Trump activists in Macomb, but his detractors complain that he spends more time on social media than recruiting candidates, and awkwardly withdrew his endorsement of Matt DePerno for confusing reasons. Forton has also been prone to a variety of conspiracy theories and mired in personality disputes with other County and state leaders.

Another Macomb leader, Eric Castiglia, challenged Forton for leadership of Macomb County and Castiglia prevailed. But Castiglia was confused that the byzantine rules and procedures for control only allow a County GOP Chair to be replaced at one specific meeting every two years. When Castiglia beat Forton, it was only properly for control of one meeting, not for control of the group as a whole. This confusion was settled in court, but Castiglia formed a second group, which the Michigan Republican Party then recognized as the legitimate Republican County entity for Macomb County.

So when duly elected precinct delegates met in Macomb County in mid-August, some of them went to Forton’s event, and some went to Castiglia’s event. Both factions were comprised of validly elected delegates, but only Castiglia’s was granted official recognition by state party.

At the state convention, then, the Forton faction moved to replace the slate of Castiglia delegates. The pro-Forton faction was led by Phil O’Halleran, Kristen Lee, Braden Giacobazzi, among others.

Kristen Lee coordinates the floor strategy to replace the Castiglia Macomb delegates with Forton delegates, along with Phil O’Halleran, left, and Braden Giacobazzi, behind her.

The Gateway Pundit took video of the key moment when the pro-Forton faction made their successful motion to replace the Castiglia group:

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The pro-Forton motion needed a major 75% to prevail, and received 80%. While this had only the limited affect of replacing the delegates for this one state convention, it signaled a rebuke of state party choosing one side over another, and inspires the Forton group to keep fighting for official recognition.

The Forton symbolic victory also showed the strength of a new group of America First delegates who took over in early August but are still figuring out how to organize and assert their numerical power.

This group had the control over convention and didn’t know how to wield it. Behind the scenes, the Dixon camp were aghast realizing that the convention could have named anyone they wanted to the Lt. Governor position. If crowd-favorite Matt DePerno had given them a name, Garrett Soldano, Ryan Kelley, anyone, they would have been the nominee. Instead, the Tudor camp insisted that DePerno play ball.

The various groups at convention wanted to first seat the Forton faction, but their second goal was to replace Chair Ron Weiser for the meeting. Their third goal was a paper ballot for the Lieutenant Governor race. When they were negotiating they didn’t know that State Party had previously decided to have a paper ballot for the Lt. Gov. race, and so they traded paper ballots for the Lt. Governor race in exchange for keeping Weiser in place. They wanted recognition for the leaders of their effort, but when they came out on stage no one in the crowd understood what was going on, so there was only scattered applause.

But DePerno was the king of the convention and everyone backstage knew it. Tudor Dixon was in a “complete panic” when they saw the delegate numbers and support for Macomb. The assembled delegates could have done anything they wanted and the DeVos-aligned consultants to Dixon knew it and were terrified of it. Tudor Dixon’s team is led by lead consultant James Blair from Virginia, formerly deputy Chief of Staff for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Dixon has also paid long-time Trump advisor Susie Wiles as well. The Dixon Campaign Manager is Trent Morse.

One faction of Macomb precinct delegates wait in the guest area, before they were successful in replacing another faction’s delegates.

This revolution in Michigan state party politics has been a long time coming. The warning signs have been showing in county conventions.

Just weeks earlier, at the Clinton County GOP convention right outside the Lansing capital to decide whom to send to state convention, the room was packed with America First patriots. The County party is led by Jenell Leonard, wife of former Attorney General candidate Tom Leonard who lost to Matt DePerno. The Leonard family are friends with all the major money families in Michigan, and were darlings primed for higher office. Tom Leonard was the past Speaker of the Michigan House and representative from Clinton County. Yet at his county convention it was clear that his time was up, and neither Tom or Jenell were even elevated as delegates or even alternate delegates to the state convention.

As they were counting votes at the August 11 Clinton County convention, where vote counters are called “tellers” in party nomenclature, Tom Leonard took out a laptop and offered to count all the votes on a software program he had developed. The America First tellers were aghast and loudly objected, causing Leonard not only to leave the room, but actually walk out of the convention altogether. Not only could Leonard not be elevated as a delegate, he couldn’t even be allowed to fairly count the votes.

As the Establishment lost Clinton and Kent Counties, they picked up Hillsdale County, and are fighting insurgencies in Macomb and possibly Shiawassee, among others.

Amidst these happenings at the state convention, a small group from Hillsdale sought to make an unapproved motion from the convention floor to censure RINO Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. Shirkey expanded Medicaid while in office, proposed giving in to Whitmer on repeated occasions such as raising the Michigan gas tax, state COVID shutdowns, mask mandates, among other moments where Shirkey gave into liberals.

The Shirkey censure group was led by State Representative Steve Carra.

Rep. Steve Carra making the motion to censure Senator Mike Shirkey

As soon as it was clear to the staff of the Michigan Republican Party what was happening, staff went out to mollify the unruly insurgents led by Rep. Carra.

Michigan Party Executive Director Paul Cordes came out to the group and promised them that a letter would be read at the end of the convention signaling that the America First Hillsdale GOP was the legitimate and effective group for Hillsdale County. This was of interest to the group because the establishment had recently taken control of Hillsdale County by forcing America First delegates off the ballot.

MRP Executive Director Paul Cordes, wearing an MIGOP shirt, center with hands outstretched, promising a legitimacy letter to the anti-Shirkey insurgents from Hillsdale County in exchange for not making a motion to censure Sen. Shirkey.

The anti-Shirkey insurgents took the deal and awaited their letter being read to the convention, a political win according to Jon Smith that was important to their future viability in the County.

Back on the main event of the day, the Lieutenant Governor challenge by Oakland Pastor Ralph Rebant was never a serious challenge to Hernandez becoming the Lieutenant Governor nominee. The real threat came from former Governor candidate Garrett Soldano, who was running a week prior to state convention, and bowed out within two days. At one point Soldano was looking for an excuse to bow out, trying to negotiate a bargain with the Michigan megamoney families behind Dixon where Soldano would bow out in exchange for them finally donating and financially supporting Matt DePerno.

To date no funds from the major GOP donor families have gone to DePerno, and Dixon and others have yet to formally endorse DePerno or Karamo. Dixon is generally seen as the choice of the establishment forces, and DePerno and Karamo were America First Patriots who won their convention races last April despite establishment opposition. It’s a divided statewide ticket divided between the pro-Trump patriots with the numbers and the establishment forces with the dollars.

During the convention Rebant was optimistic. He was hopeful that the Macomb delegate fight would aid his ultimate vote totals. Rebant noted that he never picked on Dixon on the campaign trail, and thought he could help Dixon flip Wayne County. “Our platform should propel candidates like me, so I don’t want to tear anyone down,” when asked about what set him apart from Hernandez.

Pastor Ralph Rebant, who was unsuccessful in the 8/2 Republican primary for Governor with 5%, and in the 8/27 party nominating convention with 22% of the delegate vote.

A poll by Michigan super-consultant John Yob showed only Soldano with the ability to beat Hernandez at state convention among delegates a week before the convention, prior to Trump’s endorsement.

Ultimately Soldano bowed out of the race, and then Trump endorsed Hernandez. DePerno then endorsed, as did a wide variety of grassroots leaders.

Hernandez wasn’t asked by activists why he passed increasing budgets his two years as the House Appropriations Chairman, cutting virtually nothing in the $70+ Billion state budget, nor was he asked for details on fighting Governor Whitmer on COVID shutdowns or other conservative claims which insiders say weren’t true in the slightest regard. Hernandez also wasn’t asked to explain his closeness to former Speaker Lee Chatfield, currently under state and federal investigation for a wide variety of crimes including embezzlement and sexual abuse.

Hernandez also escaped political liability for running the House Republican Campaign Committee, an account used to both protect liberal Republicans in the State House but also discretely to pick winners in primaries across the state to ensure they are as moderate as possible. The HRCC, as its known, not only spends millions in largely DeVos money, but also uses state legislative staff to walk, call, and campaign for preferred candidates in primaries. The HRCC system is one critical, perhaps the most critical safeguard, against America First conservatives successfully winning Republican primaries.

HRCC quietly works to defeat conservatives in primaries, and then selectively spends its establishment money in general elections only preferring candidates in tight races who align best with the RINO Lansing agenda. Hernandez led and steered this effort defeating America First conservatives for the past year.

Hernandez, through the HRCC account, spent significant sums opposing, for example, America First candidate Heather Cerone in her challenge to incumbent RINO Rep. Jack O’Malley, who was known to curse out election integrity patriots at public events. Gateway Pundit Publisher Jim Hoft endorsed Patriot Heather Cerone. Hernandez denied opposing Cerone in a phone call, and Cerone endorsed Hernandez for Lieutenant Governor.

The convention ended with a resounding mandate for Hernandez, and with as little drama as possible for the Tudor Dixon team going into the next 71 days working to overcome Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s nearly $10 million in her campaign account, and an estimated $40 million plus from outside left-wing groups waiting to spend supporting Whitmer.

As the convention was brought to a close by Attorney General candidate Matt DePerno, delegates expressed relief that the day was finally over. Many were talking about ‘unity for November’ but there was a distinct minority up front that were yelling about reading a document. It was the Hillsdale contingent insisting that their promised letter be read to the convention prior to everyone departing.

The meeting adjourned. The promised Hillsdale resolution was never read.

Michigan Governor nominee Tudor Dixon and Lt. Gov. nominee Shane Hernandez

Other Reporting:
* The MLive political kids interviewed their professor about the Republican convention to answer “what does it mean?”
* Bridge’s Jonathan Oosting gets almost everything wrong: calling 78% “over 80%” in his subheadline, and then lumping together every activist coalition, probably because he couldn’t be bothered to talk to any of them
* The Detroit News’ extreme-left disreputable Craig Mauger reports mostly the obvious happenings from the convention

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Jim Hoft is the founder and editor of The Gateway Pundit, one of the top conservative news outlets in America. Jim was awarded the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award in 2013 and is the proud recipient of the Breitbart Award for Excellence in Online Journalism from the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in May 2016. In 2023, The Gateway Pundit received the Most Trusted Print Media Award at the American Liberty Awards.

You can email Jim Hoft here, and read more of Jim Hoft's articles here.


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