Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)
Updated, 8:30 a.m., 8/23/22, and 1:57 p.m., 8/23/2022
With the Michigan Republican convention just days away, former GOP gubernatorial candidates continue to lob criticism at a Michigan Republican Party facing infighting — including Ryan Kelley, who on Saturday called for an overhaul of the state’s GOP leadership and said he’s considering a bid for party chair.
“People have asked me if I would look at the Michigan GOP chair position,” Kelley, a real estate broker from Allendale who placed fourth in the Aug. 2 primary, said during the “Call to Action” conference organized by Church Militant, a right-wing Catholic organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels as a hate group, in Detroit this past weekend. “Right now, we have globalists that are running the Michigan GOP that are not interested in voting the Republican agenda.”
“Globalist” has become a favorite term among right-wing politicians and media, with former President Donald Trump routinely employing it, despite the fact that the word is rooted in anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt explained that the slur is “a reference to Jewish people who are seen as having allegiances not to their countries of origin like the United States, but to some global conspiracy.”
To use the term “globalist” is “disturbing,” Greenblatt said, adding that public officials “literally parrot this term which is rooted in prejudice.”
During the weekend-long event from Church Militant, which describes itself as a group that “does battle against sin, the devil and the demonic rulers of the darkness of this world,” Kelley said “we need to change this [Michigan Republican] party.”
Kelley was joined at the Church Militant event by GOP Secretary of State and QAnon-connected candidate Kristina Karamo, who, like Kelley, consistently promotes the lie that Trump won the 2020 election. Karamo has also pushed the conspiracy theory that the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, was a false flag operation.
Ron Weiser, who is Jewish, currently chairs the state GOP with Meshawn Maddock as co-chair. Maddock, who is married to state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), is an ardent supporter of Trump and was one of 16 fake Republican electors who sought to overturn the 2020 election results.
Like Kelley and Karamo, the Maddocks and Weiser have been vocal proponents of the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen.
A spokesperson for the Michigan GOP did not respond to a request for comment.
When reached by text on Monday, Kelley — who has never publicly conceded the election and has baselessly insisted there were “oddities” in it — did not elaborate on what his specific complaints are regarding the party’s GOP leadership.
“If I take on the MIGOP chair it’s too early to determine what specifically I will change for the better,” Kelley wrote in a text.
Kelley’s comments come as the Michigan Republican Party has further erupted into infighting as its convention in Lansing nears this weekend, when delegates will approve the candidate for lieutenant governor.
Typically, delegates back the lieutenant governor tapped by the gubernatorial candidate — currently Tudor Dixon — but there has been backlash against both Dixon’s candidacy and her announcement on Friday that she selected former state Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) as her running mate.
Throughout the primary, and in the weeks following the Aug. 2 election, Dixon’s Republican challengers have lambasted her as the “establishment” candidate because she has been backed by the billionaire DeVos family – political power brokers in West Michigan that include Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Dixon secured an endorsement from Trump just before landing her victory in the primary.
Dixon will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8.
Criticism for Dixon is not relegated solely to her previous opponents. On Monday, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who was one of five GOP gubernatorial candidates kicked off the ballot over forged petition signatures, told Hour Detroit that he’s not supporting Dixon.
“At this point, I’m not supporting Tudor Dixon, and I’m not supporting Governor Whitmer,” Craig said, later telling the Detroit News he would back U.S. Taxpayers nominee Donna Brandenburg, who also sought the GOP nomination and was kicked off the ballot.
After Dixon announced her pick for lieutenant governor, Garrett Soldano, who placed third in Michigan’s gubernatorial primary, said Friday he was considering a run for the job. On Monday afternoon, Soldano abruptly announced on Twitter that he would not make a bid for the position.
Shortly after, the Rev. Ralph Rebandt, who landed fifth place in the primary, announced Monday evening that he will make a bid for lieutenant governor.
“After thoughtful consideration and prayer I accept the request and support from delegates, county chairs, and citizens to run for the nomination of Lieutenant Governor of Michigan at the August 27 Republican Convention,” Rebandt wrote in a press release.
Rebandt went on to say that “regardless of the outcome” of this weekend’s GOP convention, he “will wholly and completely support the Tudor Dixon ticket on the November ballot and will work to secure a Republican victory.”
Trump issued a statement after Rebandt’s release that he backs Hernandez.
During the Church Militant event on Saturday, Kelley said he’s also toying with the idea of running for U.S. Senate in 2024.
“I need to see the direction God wants for me, and potentially that means maybe running for U.S. Senate in 2024 because Debbie Stabenow’s seat is going to be up,” Kelley said, referring to the Democratic senator from Michigan.
“I bet you [Stabenow] retires and [U.S. Transportation Secretary] Pete Buttigieg runs for that seat as well,” Kelley said. “Why else do you think he moved to Michigan? Pete Buttigieg vs. Ryan Kelley; Ryan Kelley will become our next senator.”
Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, purchased a home in Traverse City a couple years ago, and Buttigieg recently announced he is changing his primary residence from Indiana to Michigan and will vote in Michigan’s midterm elections.
The day after the Church Militant discussion, Kelley spoke with Soldano in a wide-ranging interview that included Kelley saying he is largely focusing his political efforts on fighting two initiatives expected to be on the November ballot: the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative, which would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution, and the Promote the Vote initiative, which would expand voting access in the state.
On Aug. 8, Kelley registered his ballot question committee, named “Unborn Equity and Voting Integrity.” Kelley announced the creation of the committee in a Facebook Live video last week; in his interviews with Soldano and Church Militant this weekend he repeatedly plugged the committee and urged people to donate to it.
“My main focus is defeating the extreme and radical ballot proposals this November,” Kelley wrote in a text to the Advance on Monday.
In his discussion with Soldano, Kelley said he plans to target “Whitmer voters and the Democrats that are pro-choice” in an effort to fight the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative.
“We need a TV commercial of, you know, someone from Detroit, right?” Kelley told Soldano. “Maybe a Black lady from Detroit that says, ‘You know, I’m pro-choice and for a woman’s right to choose, but these proposals, they just go way too far.”
Michigan has a 1931 abortion ban on the books that does not have exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health that Kelley supports. A doctor or pregnant person self-adminstering medication abortion could be charged with a felony with a possible penalty of up to four years in prison.
There is currently an injunction preventing the law from being in effect while court cases wind their way through the courts. Michigan’s GOP-controlled Legislature has intervened arguing to keep the law in place.
Public opinion doesn’t appear to be on Kelley’s side. A recent Data for Progress poll reported 80% of Michiganders said the government “should not have a say in personal matters like a person’s sexual preference or gender identity.”
That’s consistent with earlier surveys, like an August 2020 poll done by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling that found 77% of Michigan voters agree that any decision about pregnancy should be made by the pregnant person.
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