The Republican National Committee had some level of involvement in a plan to implement a change to the nomination process that critics argue benefits former President Donald Trump, Michigan’s Republican Party chair tells ABC News.
Michigan Republican Party officials voted behind closed doors Saturday evening to pass a "resolution of intent" that would dole out just 16 of Michigan’s 55 delegates on primary election night, with the remaining 39 delegates chosen through caucuses four days later, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by ABC News -- a process that could benefit Trump by limiting selection of the lion’s share of delegates to an especially involved group of caucus-goers that is expected to be friendly to the former president.
State party Chair Kristina Karamo, who secured Trump’s backing in her unsuccessful run for secretary of state in 2022, said national party leaders played a role proposing the split track in Michigan’s presidential nomination contest.
"We worked with the entire RNC team, RNC legal, so this was not some cockamamie plan that we just came up with on our own," Karamo said.
"We talked to the RNC, you know, leadership team to make sure that this was a proper well-thought-out process," she added.
Pressed on whether she spoke about the proposal specifically with RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, who was Michigan party chair during Trump’s rise in 2016, Karamo said, "I did talk to her. Yes, of course."
When reached for comment, the RNC directed ABC News to its delegate selection plan guidelines.
"Every state has until October 1st to let the RNC know what their plan is for electing, selecting, allocating, and binding delegates. We look forward to reviewing each state and territory’s plans," said Emma Vaughn, a committee spokesperson.
But until that date, the proposal is just a wishlist -- and an RNC official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the process freely, emphasized to ABC News that nothing is finalized until the broader committee reviews and approves each state’s invidious delegate selection plan by the coming December.
The RNC official also said that its conversations with the Michigan GOP focused on guidance regarding rules and process rather than substance and language of Karamo’s specific plan -- the sort of guidance the national party offers each state party as it begins to formulate its path forward for delegate selection.
Critics warn that the retooled delegate selection plan may be tipping the scales toward Trump.
"It only limits participation to previously elected precinct delegates," Michael Schostak, a former vice chair of the state party, told ABC News. "The precinct delegates are overwhelmingly Trump supporters."
A source familiar with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson tells ABC News his campaign has not been contacted by the Michigan Republican Party, despite multiple failed attempts by the campaign to discuss the proposed change.
Karamo's ties to Trump may hurt her ability to convince some Republican candidates and voters that the change was made impartially.
"I think it does have that potential," Jonathan Hanson, a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, said. "It adds to the suspicion that the deck is being stacked a little bit."
Businessman and 2024 Republican candidate for president Steve Laffey says the Michigan state party’s decision "defies logic" and is "rigged."
"To select 70% of delegates at caucus meetings, instead of based on a primary vote, defies logic," Laffey told ABC News. "It's no secret that Donald Trump is extremely popular among local party officials in Michigan. This is just another blatant move to try and prevent the will of the people."
Still, Laffey says he has no intention of reaching out to Michigan party officials to voice his concerns, opting instead to focus efforts on a "fair and open primary process."
In the closed-door meeting where the plan was proposed, state party members were sold the new process as something that the RNC had already blessed, according to Schostak, who was not in the room but was briefed afterward.
Those who objected to the plan did so because the resolution was reportedly "sprung” on the state committee members just a few days before their meeting, Schostak said.
"There were some people thinking, 'Well, why are we rushing to do this? Let's keep talking about this and try to, you know, find a better compromise,'" he added.
"Part of the concern is that the delegates are in the tank for Trump. And so any of the other candidates are gonna say, ‘Well, we're not going to waste our time and money coming to Michigan to campaign,’" he said.
The pro-Trump faction has defeated the anti-Trump side in "pretty bitter fights" over local Republican party leadership roles, Hanson said.
"There's good reason to believe that yes, indeed, having delegates be sent to these regional caucuses from county party organizations would be quite favorable towards Trump," he said.
Dennis Lennox, a Michigan Republican strategist, finds the decision, and Karamo herself, troubling.
"Kristina Karamo is the last person that any credible or serious Republican should listen to," said Lennox.
He further argues that if the plan passes, it would disenfranchise the million or so Michigan voters who vote in the primary, since their preferences may not be reflected by the far smaller group able to participate in the caucus.
"It’s a little bit ironic for a political party, with so many of its members obsessed with what they believe to have been a stolen or rigged election to be passing a proposal that would create the ultimate rigged or stolen election," said Lennox.
Lennox, who worked on several presidential campaigns, says consequences will reverberate down-ballot. He believes there will be a lawsuit from "interested parties" as well as inevitable intra-party disputes at the nominating convention in Milwaukee next year if the RNC gives the state party's plan their blessing.
He's less sold, however, that the plan sets up an easily glide path for Trump.
"I think the people who are doing it think it will, but I would caution people who say that. ... Historically, the most entrenched party person benefits, and I think if you look at this year, I do think we have the makings for this race to go all the way to the convention," said Lennox.
The party said it pursued this change because the Democratic-led legislature, at the recommendation of President Joe Biden, passed a bill earlier this year that moved the state's primary up in the calendar. The Feb. 27 date the legislature approved conflicted with RNC rules that bar state parties from holding a nominating contest prior to March 1, except for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
"It prevented Michigan from receiving a penalty and I would be derelict in my duty if I didn't do everything in my power to protect the voice of Michigan Republicans," Karamo said.
Coordination among campaigns and state and national party officials can prove critical. RNC rules require state parties' nomination proposals to be submitted by Oct. 1 for a seal of approval, something Karamo said she's confident she'll get after working in tandem with the national party.
"This is something the RNC worked with us on, so it wouldn't make sense for them to work with us to create this process and turn around and reject the process they worked on," Karamo said.
A Trump campaign spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
ABC’s Libby Cathey, Gabriella Abdul-Hakim and Soo Rin Kim contributed to this report.