(WXMI) — No moment has given a better peek behind the Republican Party curtain than a particularly awkward Capitol Hill press conference, held by House GOP leadership a few weeks back.
When asked if former President Donald Trump should speak at CPAC, the annual conference for the nation's conservative activists, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) replied definitively, “Yes, he should.”
The same question was then tossed to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), who gave a very different answer.
“I’ve been clear in my views about President Trump and to which the extent of his role in January 6; I don’t think he should play a role in the future of the party,” Cheney said.
McCarthy laughed it off, ending the press conference “on that high note.”
It happened just days before Trump delivered his CPAC closing speech, his first public address since leaving office. In the speech, Trump continued to falsely claim that the November election was stolen from him, but dispelled rumors that he was going to start a new political party.
“We have the Republican Party; it’s going to unite and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party,” Trump said to loud applause.
While teasing a potential 2024 run, Trump talked about unifying the Republican Party, but it appeared he meant around him, as he called out GOP members of Congress who voted to impeach him, listing their names one by one and telling his supporters, “Get rid of ‘em all.”
Trump ended up winning CPAC's straw poll, 55 percent saying they'd vote for him if the 2024 primary were held that day.
TRUMP'S LOCAL INFLUENCE
From establishing the "Office of the former president," to continuing to raise funds through his Save America PAC, it’s clear Trump wants to position the GOP as the party of Trump. So far, state and local parties in both red and swing states are hitching their wagon.
In Michigan alone, a number of county-level parties have censured Republicans like Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) for voting to impeach President Trump following the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The Michigan GOP is now being led by one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, Meshawn Maddock.
In a few short years, Maddock rode her position as a board member of 'Women for Trump’ to the top of Michigan Republican Politics. Maddock is now Michigan GOP's co-chair alongside longtime state Republican figure Ron Weiser, who's serving his third non-consecutive term.
Maddock didn’t respond to FOX 17’s request for an interview.
“She is the most powerful person in Michigan politics, and she's a downright kook,” Former Michigan GOP Executive Director Jeff Timmer said in an interview with FOX 17.
Timmer is a senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and says it's clear Maddock is the true leader of the party.
“She in 2016 was one of the early true believer disciples of Trump. Never been involved in the Republican Party before Donald Trump ran for office,” Timmer added. "The fact of the matter is the convention delegates, who control the apparatus of the Michigan Republican Party, are beholden to her and not to someone like Ron Weiser."
Ahead of her election, Maddock pushed false claims about the election and even organized buses of Trump supporters to head down to Washington D.C. for the January 6 ‘Stop the Steal' rally.
A day before the violent attack on the Capitol, she spoke to the crowd alongside her husband, Michigan State Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford).
Maddock has since publicly condemned the violence and said those who broke the law should be “held accountable.”
While Maddock once spoke for the Trump campaign, she’s now speaking for the Michigan GOP, a party that seemingly remains just as much Trump first as when he was still in office.
“You have a very Trump-supportive administration at the Michigan Republican Party, and in the Michigan House and Senate. You have the majority of those caucuses and the leaders who have closely aligned themselves with Donald Trump; I don't think there's any move away from Trump in the Michigan Republican Party,” Timmer added.
A LOSING ALLEGIANCE?
With midterm elections closely approaching, a Trumped-up Michigan GOP is concerning for some of the conservative champions in the state. “I believe [Trump] is not good for the party,” says Tony Daunt.
Daunt is the executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative advocacy organization, with ties to the DeVos family.
While he supported Trump in the November election, Daunt says that all changed in the days that followed.
“Not only President Trump but too many folks in leadership positions across the Republican Party here in Michigan and elsewhere simply refuse to stand up and speak the truth and say it's disappointing that the president lost, and all Republicans were certainly upset about that.” Daunt said. “The fact of the matter is the election was conducted in a fair manner.”
Though the “big lie” saying otherwise has permeated the GOP base. In the weeks that followed the November election, Michigan played host to several "stop the steal"-related protests from local Trump supporters.
“It has created a real problem for the party moving toward one that I hope can be addressed with honesty from leaders,” Daunt said.
If that doesn’t happen, Daunt says the evidence shows his party will lose elections.
“I don't want to see folks in our party look at these next couple of years as a purity test, that if you are not 100 percent pro-Trump, or if you at one point said a negative word about him or something he did or the way he acted, that there's a band of folks coming after you. I think that's destructive and unproductive,” Daunt said.
“Looking at the results of the last few years in terms of elections, I think the evidence bears out that that's not what people are looking for.”
GOP lawmakers who have spoken out against Trump and his efforts to undermine the election see the same thing.
“I would rather we have a party that's able to win competitive elections; I'd rather we have a party that's able to put forward solutions based on conservative principles. A party that's a party of ideas,” Rep. Peter Meijer told FOX 17.
“Frankly what we've gotten over the past four years has been the loss of the House, the loss of the White House and the loss of the Senate, and that was all before January 6. Don't count me as being optimistic if that's the direction the party goes in,” Meijer added.
MICHIGAN GOP'S FUTURE
With the 2022 midterm just around the corner, there’s still hope that there could be GOP unity if party leaders like Maddock focus their energy on things other than President Trump.
“I've known her for quite a few years; she's an incredibly hard worker. If that hard work, that work ethic is put towards useful ends of helping elect Republicans of all stripes, across the state, I think that will be a productive use of her efforts and her time,” Daunt added.
Maddock and other party leaders will be poised with facing not just House midterms but the gubernatorial race. Right now, no well-known Republican candidate has entered the race to go up against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The few Republican bids coming from more fringe candidates include Austin Chenge and Ryan Kelley, who are both pro-Trump extremists.
"I firmly believe that somebody who talks about kitchen-table issues, tells voters how they're going to help improve their lives and get out of the way so they can improve their lives themselves will be a successful candidate," Daunt said. "And we can take some of that populism-infused conservatism that Donald Trump kind of brought to the forefront. I think there's some, some potential for that and for recognizing the struggles of working-class folks in Michigan, and elsewhere."
Daunt believes bringing that focus back to the issues, could bring unity back to his party.
"The true opponents from a policy perspective, in what we think is best for this state moving forward, is between Republicans and Democrats."
After this story was published, Michigan GOP provided the following comment, "Despite the hopes and dreams of the pathetic Lincoln Project, Democrats, and some in the media, the new team at the Michigan Republican Party is off to a strong start as we work to defeat Gov. Whitmer, and the failed policies of the Democrat Party." - Meshawn Maddock, Co-Chair of the Michigan Republican Party.