LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Republican Party ousted one of its state leaders Monday for her refusal to support presidential candidate Donald Trump, in a move that shone a brighter spotlight on party divisions over the controversial nominee.
Late Monday, party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, a niece of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, removed tea party activist Wendy Day of Howell as grassroots vice chair, a party officer post she was elected to at a state convention last year.
Day, a Michigan leader of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, has refused to back Trump and has criticized him in media interviews.
“Upon seeking advice from our legal counsel, and recognizing that our Grassroots Vice Chair is unable to fulfill the duties of her office, I am declaring the position … vacant,” McDaniel said in an email to state committee members.
“This has been one of the more difficult decisions I have made as chair,” McDaniel said. “Wendy is my friend. I want to thank Wendy for her service and leadership to our party and know that she will continue to be a strong leader in the Republican Party.”
The move stirred more controversy in a party already split over its presidential nominee.
McDaniel earlier gave Day a chance to fall in line with the GOP ticket over the weekend or resign. But Day told the Free Press on Monday she had no intention of stepping down.
“It is important for our party to represent all of the voices in our party, not just the loudest,” Day, of Howell, said in a letter emailed to McDaniel. “Therefore, I am not resigning.”
McDaniel then declared Day’s position vacant until the next state convention in February, using a power in the party bylaws that has never been used before, Michigan Republican Party spokeswoman Sarah Anderson said.
McDaniel sent a weekend email to state committee members alerting them to the fact Day was facing removal after receiving a complaint about Day from Matt Hall, a state committee member from western Michigan.
“Our bylaws dictate that if an elected officer of the party is not supporting our ticket, they be removed,” Anderson said Monday.
That’s especially important for a grassroots leader, and Day has compounded matters by speaking out against Trump in media interviews, she said.
“If somebody was very opposed to french fries and hated french fries, they can’t take a job at McDonald’s and refuse to sell french fries,” Anderson said.
Day’s ouster comes as Trump has slumped in the polls and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and other prominent Michigan Republicans — who are elected Republican officials, but not party officers who are subject to party rules — have denounced or otherwise distanced themselves from the New York real estate developer and businessman. Calley said he wouldn’t vote for Trump after the recent release of a videotape in which Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women by kissing and groping them without consent.
Anderson said Calley’s constituents are the people of Michigan, but Day’s are grassroots Republican Party members in Michigan.
Jeff Timmer, a Lansing-area political consultant who is a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, said McDaniel’s move is “a ridiculous distraction three weeks before the election.”
Timmer said he’s aware of the party bylaw, but removing Day is a mistake because it is “not focused on getting candidates elected” and avoiding what he fears could be a historic defeat.
But Randy Bishop, a tea party activist who is the Republican chairman in Antrim County, said McDaniel’s move was justified and necessary.
It would have been OK for Day to oppose Trump “if she would have kept quiet about it,” but Day went too far when she recently appeared on Let it Rip on WJBK-TV and spoke out against the nominee, Bishop said. Day should have done “the right thing and simply step down,” he said.
Day said in the email she can support neither Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, as a matter of conscience.
She said one of the ideas the party has stood for is “that women should be cherished and that morality and character matter.”
“While some may say that I am not supporting the party, that is simply not true,” Day said. “In fact, in looking long term, I am doing my best to try to protect what the party has stood for,” and encouraging Republicans to turn out on Nov. 8.
“We have never had an election like this,” Day said in the email to McDaniel. “Those who say that the normal rules don’t apply to this election are correct. We need to be honest about the number of people who are considering staying home on Nov. 8 — and we need to work to reach out to them without being bullies.”
McDaniel said in her weekend email to state committee members that “this has been a challenging election where there is a considerable amount of party division.” But “over the next 24 days, I would ask that we each let our purpose unite us, that we work together for our nominee Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton, and do the same for the remainder of our candidates up and down the ballot.”
McDaniel, who campaigned for Michigan native Mitt Romney, also has refused to endorse Trump and has harshly criticized him.
McDaniel said in her Monday email that “in coming to this decision, I applied the rule as if the nominee were Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rick Snyder, or any other Republican Party nominee.”
Critics have pointed out that when former Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema was being denounced by many inside and outside the party for anti-gay and anti-Muslim comments in 2014 and 2015, Michigan Republican leaders said there was no mechanism to remove him.
Anderson said that was different because Agema was elected to the Republican National Committee and was not a state party officer. This year, around the time Agema left his post, the state committee approved a new bylaw that could be used in the future to remove a Michigan representative to the RNC by a super-majority vote, she said.
Follow Paul Egan on Twitter: @paulegan4
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