Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Michigan Gets Crazy

A fight for the future of the Macomb County GOP.
by Jim Swift
April 13, 2022
Michigan Gets Crazy
(Composite / Photos: Shutterstock)

Michigan Republicans are at war . . . with each other. A GOP candidate for Michigan attorney general, Matt DePerno, encouraged Trump supporters to storm the county conventions in order to prevent not-sufficiently-pro-Trump Republicans from taking over.

So storm they did in Macomb County, where incumbent Mark Forton faced a challenge from Sterling Heights City Councilman Eric Castiglia.

Macomb is one of the state’s largest counties and is the bedrock of Trump Republicanism, having helped deliver the Wolverine State to him in 2016. Trump was in Macomb on his rally tour earlier this month.

Who is Mark Forton and why was MAGA Michigan so worked up about him? In a way, Forton was a Trumper before it was cool. More than twenty years ago he ran the Macomb County Republican party. But when Michigan Republicans went full RINO during the Spencer Abraham years, Forton quit his job in the auto industry to run against Debbie Stabenow for a Senate seat on the Reform party ticket. He got 0.6 percent of the vote.

This was in 2000. You may recall that Trump flirted with running for president in 2000 under the Reform party banner. And his (and Forton’s) views on trade and globalism in the wake of NAFTA were catnip to the mercantilist Republican working class in Michigan.

As Trump took over the GOP in 2016, Mark Forton moved back his old job running the Macomb County GOP.

Naturally, Forton is an election truther. But he’s much more than that, he’s also focused on supporting candidates who believe the Big Lie and want to do something about it. People like Jacky Eubanks, known for crying at an “election integrity” rally. Last November, Forton went on One America News with a message for the Michigan legislature, saying: “If I’m a wacko, then prove it. Do a full forensic audit in Michigan and show the world how stupid Macomb County is.” President Trump liked one such appearance so much that he called Forton. A forensic audit failed to find any of the interference Forton kept talking about.

Some Macomb County Republicans felt that Forton was, in fact, a wacko. And a figure so ridiculous that he would hurt the party’s chances in a winnable state. So they recruited Castiglia to run against him.

At the county GOP election Monday night, held in a big hotel ballroom with an estimated 600-plus in attendance, the riser with a table on it looked like an altar. Complete with a black “TRUMP WON” flag (in the place you might normally feature the party logo). The room was so packed, the party ran out of nametags and credentials, tearing off sheets of paper and hand-writing press passes.

The Detroit News reports there was a bar open. You can probably guess what happened next.

The disruption was constant. Calls for people to sit down and shut up, allegations of being either RINOs or communists. An air horn was employed. A number of fuck-yous were exchanged.

As the cherry on top, Mellissa Carone was at the meeting. If you don’t remember her as Rudy Giuliani’s utterly batty star witness, then you might recall her from Saturday Night Live. Forton made the genius decision to bring this very fine lady up to help count the votes.

Livestreaming the meeting on his account was a Forton supporter, shouting, booing, and jeering as the crowd argued whether Forton should continue speaking. (Forton is known for his videos, which he posts on Facebook, and of course, Rumble.)

It seemed Forton knew the writing was on the wall, as he tried to list off his accomplishments as chairman. He was booed, saying “we could do this until two o’clock in the morning” and later daring the crowd to have him arrested rather than leave the stage.

In the end, the votes weren’t there. The brave MAGA Patriot lost by 25.

After the defeat, Forton’s livestream kept going. There were demands the new board members support an audit, but it wasn’t clear about which election, the one Trump lost two years ago or the one Forton lost minutes earlier. There were accusations that the anti-Fortonites were either part of the New World Order or worked for the FBI.

The “Trump Won” flag came down as the reign of Mark Forton came to an end. For a moment, it looked like the Republican party was charting a course into the post-Trump future right there, in Macomb County.

Somebody folded the flag and the new party chair, the normie Republican Eric Castiglia, took charge of the meeting. At which point a number of people in the crowd began chanting “Lock him up!”

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.