Before a sold-out crowd Sunday night in Novi, Michigan, former President Donald J. Trump lamented the decline of the auto industry under Democratic rule and said he « stood up to China » to save thousands of jobs work in the manufacturing sector.
It was a speech he could have made in 2020. But then the script changed. In his first campaign visit to the state this year, Mr. Trump paired free trade and manufacturing rants with culture war jabs at liberals and criticism of his main Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
These latest remarks received the raucous applause at the Oakland County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, which presented Trump with its Man of the Decade award.
Across the state, however, the Republican Party is at a crossroads, with internal disputes between Trump-aligned factions whose candidates have suffered a string of losses in recent years, and a wing of the establishment that has all but lost any semblance of candies.
Mr. Trump’s all-out embrace of election denial and a crusade against « wokeism, » echoed by his most ardent supporters, has left some Michigan Republicans questioning his chances in a general election — and if there is any chance to stop his candidacy sooner Then.
Although Mr. Trump won Michigan in his 2016 presidential bid, Republicans have since struggled to gain voter support across the state. They lost the governorship to Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in 2018, and then faced another major loss in 2020 when Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the White House.
But 2022 may have hit harder: For the first time in 40 years, Michigan Republicans lost control of both houses of the state legislature and failed to regain the governorship, putting them out of power entirely. That year featured a wide array of candidates supported by Mr. Trump, many of whom embraced false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and subsequently lost their races.
Oakland County underscores the party’s tumultuous past years: Still controlled by the GOP in 2016, the region in suburban Detroit, home to the largest population of Republicans in the state, is now controlled by Democrats.
Establishment Republicans have raised concerns that Trump himself is responsible for the losses incurred and that Michigan will slowly lose its status as a swing state with its loyalists at the helm. Kristina Karamo, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2022 and has made vote fraud and voter denial the focus of her campaign, won control of the state party apparatus in February.
« Donald Trump beheaded the entire Republican establishment in Michigan, » said Jason Roe, a former Michigan Republican Party executive director who plans to back another candidate in the growing Republican presidential primary field.
« The reality is that other than Donald Trump’s surprise win in 2016, all he’s done is lose, » Roe added. « So, at some point, conservative voters in America have to decide if they want to be loyal to Donald Trump or if they care about the future of our country. »
That perceived pick, however, wasn’t a Sunday start in Novi, where dinner attendees paid at least $250 for a ticket. Organizers said more than 2,500 people filled the Suburban Collection Showplace.
In an hour-long speech, Mr. Trump frequently attacked Mr. Biden, looking beyond the primary and towards a possible general election rematch. He criticized the president for what he called a « maniacal push » for electric vehicles that would lead to the « decimation » of the state auto industry.
But he also continued what is now a year-long tirade about vote security. In attendance was Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former Trump attorney known for pursuing frivolous lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, who received a standing ovation when acknowledged by Trump.
And the former president received significant crowd approval when he said he would sign an executive order to cut funding to schools that advocate critical race theory and « transgenderism. »
Rather than blame Mr. Trump for the recent losses, many have blamed party officials for acknowledging that Republicans had lost the election.
“It takes a little more leadership. I think sometimes they seem to swing, and I don’t like that,” said Lisa Mackey of Plymouth, Michigan. “We all have to work together no matter which side of the fence you’re on, but I think sometimes they’re not looking out for our best interests. .
Mr. Trump praised Ms. Karamo, saying she was a « hard worker who is working very hard to keep this election honest. » And even some attendees, like Monica Job of Armada, Michigan, gave the praise: « When she lost and then ran for the State Party, she showed that she’s not giving up, » Ms. Job said.
Doubts that state party leadership can lead Republicans to victory in 2024 have become increasingly widespread: Party activists are debating ways to generate funding outside the party apparatus, said Jamie Roe, a Republican strategist in the state, that he is not related to Jason Roe.
« I don’t think they are communicating very effectively with the broad base of the party, » he said. « I just think we have an opportunity and please don’t pass up those opportunities. »