LANSING, MI — A leading voice in the Michigan GOP has sought to move the party past claims that the presidential election was “stolen” from Donald Trump, acknowledging there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
On Wednesday, he abruptly resigned.
Former Michigan GOP executive director Jason Roe was the most outspoken senior official within the state party when it came to denouncing election conspiracy theories and pushing back against the former president. Roe resigned without giving a reason Wednesday.
Despite party Chairman Ron Weiser dismissing the speculation, Debra Ell, a grassroots organizer who has been collecting signatures to censure Roe, told MLive on Wednesday that she believes he was fired.
“He had no choice,” Ell said. “This is the beginning of the RINO hunt.”
Eight months after the November election, as some state Republican officials are finally acknowledging the reality that President Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate, Republicans are dealing with internal disagreements about whether to back Trump’s baseless claims that fraud in Antrim and Wayne counties helped Biden win Michigan.
Efforts to remove members of the party who “betray” the former president and his false claims are ramping up.
Many Republicans have been willing to listen to the lies that have been proliferated since before November’s election. But since the release of an election report by Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee, Senate Republicans and most House members are moving forward.
The shift in rhetoric has created a fracture between Republicans in office and local parties still peddling misinformation to their grassroots base.
Amid tension, election reform serves as uniting force among Republicans
In an interview with MLive on Friday, July 9, just days before his resignation, Roe said he thinks those losing grasp with reality have fallen victim to the explosion of information on the internet. Roe said he sees the internet acting as an accelerant, where views from outside the mainstream travel much more easily given the nature of social media.
“I think a lot of the controversy comes from where people are getting their news and where their opinions are reinforced by like-minded people, and that’s infected on both sides — it’s not unique to Republicans and it’s not unique to Democrats. People are self-selecting media that reinforces the worldview and gives them a little more of a righteous attitude about their worldview,” Roe said.
Roe is adamant that changes to the election process is the issue that will bring Republicans of all kinds back together.
“For those who don’t believe there was systemic fraud, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t failings within the system,” Roe said Friday. “We have a situation in which, nearly half of Michigan voters lack confidence in the integrity of our elections. That is an untenable situation.”
For Republicans, changes to the election process, regardless of whether one believes that widespread fraud in the 2020 election is the catalyst for it, have become one of the greatest areas of agreement.
“I understand the left wants to politicize election reform and turn it into a larger proxy battle between right and wrong. It really shouldn’t be that controversial,” Roe said. “If we don’t reassure them that their vote will be counted, and that they can trust the integrity of the system, every election with an unsatisfying outcome will be controversial.”
While Roe insisted that it doesn’t matter why voters feel that way, those on the left see the inability of GOP officials to distance themselves from Trump as what’s mostly to blame for many voters still believing that the election was stolen.
“Until Donald Trump stops spreading lies about the election, it’s going to be very difficult to heal and move forward,” said Sam Inglot, a spokesperson with Progress Michigan, a progressive group in Lansing. “He’s still making these claims and there are still people in office who describe themselves as pro-Trump. That’s still a box that needs to be checked for Republicans in Michigan because we see what happens to those that don’t.”
Michigan Republicans who have pushed back against false claims made by the former president have been labeled by conservative organizers as “RINOs,” an acronym for “Republicans In Name Only.”
U.S. Reps. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids, Fred Upton of St. Joseph, former U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake have all been censured by county parties after speaking out against Trump.
Lies continue to spread within county parties
Progress Michigan released a report last week that found a majority of county Republican parties in Michigan are still making false election claims through social media.
The report, titled, “THE BIG LIE: How Michigan Republican County Parties are still hanging onto the myth of election fraud,” contains screenshots of Facebook posts made by county parties that allude to the election being stolen.
The crux of the report is that a majority of Republicans have not moved on from the idea that Donald Trump was cheated out of the 2020 election, despite there being no evidence to support the claim.
The report claims that conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud are “absolutely still a driving force for Michigan Republicans.”
“Generally speaking, I don’t know why a liberal activist group would have credible insight on Republican grassroots,” said Abby Walls, a Senate GOP spokesperson. “The Senate is focused on unity and bringing people together, not push-around partisan reports such as this intended to divide.”
In total, the report found that 98% of active Michigan Republican County Party Facebook pages or groups have posted election misinformation since November, which includes 72 existing Michigan Republican County Party Facebook pages or groups. Eleven of them have posted about the election being stolen, election fraud or the need for an election audit within the last two months, according to the report.
Screenshots of posts made by county parties from Kalamazoo, Bay, Charlevoix, Emmet, Marquette, Washtenaw, Muskegon, Gladwin and Cheboygan counties are included in the report. County parties from Alcona, Gladwin and Hillsdale were identified by Progress Michigan as some of the most aggressive pushers of false election rhetoric.
Dozens of audits, recounts and court rulings haven’t been enough to convince Carrie Mullins, who chairs the Alcona County Republican party, that the election wasn’t stolen from Donald Trump.
“Personally, as Carrie Mullins, not speaking for the entire Alcona County Republicans, Biden did not win,” she said.
Mullins delved into several debunked conspiracy theories and admitted that while everyone in the county party may not have the same view, the Alcona County Republican Party has lost faith in Michigan elections.
“In order to ensure election integrity in the future, we need to find all of the holes and a fractional audit will not do that,” Mullins said. “The evidence has not been heard in any court or thoroughly investigated by the legislature — it’s all been a pony show. As is Ed McBroom’s report.”
The Senate Oversight Committee’s election report written by Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, investigated several popular conspiracy theories, and ultimately found that the 2020 general election, in which President Joe Biden won the state by 154,000 votes, was free of systemic fraud.
While there is nothing that would convince Mullins that Biden’s win was legitimate, she said that at this point, she doesn’t see an avenue for Trump to be “reinstalled.”
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who faces a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit over his claims of rigged election machines, has predicted Trump will be reinstated as president in August.
“The chance of Trump getting put back in office for the remainder of these four years is astronomical,” Mullins said.
“Yes, early on there was hope that all the fraud would be brought to light, that election results would be overturned and Trump would be put back in the White House. That ship has sailed,” she said.
There is no legal avenue to “reinstall” a president after losing an election.
Criticism of Trump continues to cause ‘fracture’ within Republicans
Mullins didn’t say whether any other members of the county party believe Biden’s win was legitimate, but said there are differences that are currently dividing individuals within local parties, the state party and elected officials.
The split isn’t whether some Republicans believe Biden’s win was legitimate, but the assumption that those who want a full forensic audit are only interested in overturning the election, and those who don’t want one who think Trump blew it, she said.
Mullins said that Roe and others who criticize Trump, like U.S. representatives Meijer and Upton, are examples of the split between politicians and their grassroots base. To Mullins, unwavering support of the former president is a requirement to be viewed favorably among Republican voters.
“I think Jason Roe’s removal/resignation from the party is indicative of the party’s recognition that in order to unify Republicans, you can’t diss Trump,” she said. “No matter how you look at it, Donald J. Trump will always be a positive force for Republicans.”
Mullins doesn’t describe Roe as a ‘Never-Trumper,’ but said his comments left some Republicans in Michigan with a bad taste in their mouths.
“One could say, if you hate Trump, you ain’t a Republican. That’s the fracture,” she said.
Calls for election integrity a ‘wink and nod’ to conspiracy theories, Dems say
For Progress Michigan, the ongoing Republican push for election reform continues to drive mistrust around the election process and captures the same attitudes as those who claimed the election was illegitimate.
Former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who was named as an individual spreading “demonstrably false” election fraud theories in the Senate report, is also questioning the Republican-led effort for changes to election laws following the release of the Senate committee’s report which concluded there’s no evidence of voter fraud.
“Does it seem odd to you that the same people who stated there was no evidence of fraud are now championing the cause of statutory improvements to our election system?” Colbeck said in a blog post to his website.
Republican lawmakers pushing legislation to change election procedures despite acknowledging the election was free from systemic fraud is “giving a wink and a nod to those people who are making claims not rooted in reality,” Inglot said.
“You can say that you need (election reform) to win back trust, but why is that trust being dissolved? Because the de facto head of the Republican party for months even before the election started spreading misinformation and lies about how the election was going to go,” Inglot said.
From the beginning, both Republican and Democratic election officials have said that the November 2020 general election was secure, fair and accurate.
“We’re not completely out of the chapter that started in November when it was cries about fraud, a stolen election and stop the steal. That language has just sort of morphed into ‘election integrity,” Inglot said. “We need people like Ed McBroom, like Mike Shirkey, to stop running away from their base and instead run to it with the facts that the election was secure, fair and accurate.”
Without being active in denouncing conspiratorial rhetoric — which continues to come from Trump and even some lawmakers in Michigan — Inglot says Republican voters in Michigan won’t move on.
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