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No matter how members of the “new” (as they bill themselves) Republican party try to promote it, the September 22-24 Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island was expected to fall far short of the mark when compared to past similar biennial events. Missing this time around will be the major contenders in the presidential primary race, and the list of  speakers read more like a list of second-string (if not lower) figures from the far right. Think Kari Lake, Trump acolyte and failed 2022 Arizona gubernatorial candidate who is still insisting that she really won. That’s if she shows. Word is, Lake was supposed to attend the last biennial Mackinac Conference, but bailed when she wasn’t paid. Heading into the conference weekend, the only presidential hopeful who had agreed to appear is upstart Vivek Ramaswamy, whose wife is from Michigan. Also expected to be in short supply were the traditional Republicans of the party as opposed to the MAGA wing which has become the dominant force since Kristina Karamo was elected as state party chairperson. Already feeling like they are not welcome at party gatherings, we encountered a number of traditional Republicans who are simply skipping the event, although there was speculation that former House member and now U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rogers may attend the island event. And a few days ahead of  the conference it was announced that northern Michigan house member Neil Friske would be speaking at the event. We asked a number of Republicans if they planned to attend. As one former legislator said to us, “Are you seriously asking me that?”  At a fundraiser for the Republican Senate caucus last week in Birmingham, one participant told us that of the six GOP senators at the event, not one planned on heading to the island.



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