Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mike Brown, right, watches and works...

Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mike Brown, right, watches and works on his cell phone from the floor of the Kansas House, March 15, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Two top Kansas Republican Party officials, including Brown, are facing calls to resign over a viral online video showing people at a fundraiser kicking and beating a mannequin with a mask of President Joe Biden, highlighting the GOP's deep divisions and problems with suburban voters. Credit: AP/John Hanna

TOPEKA, Kan. — Two top Kansas Republican Party officials are facing internal calls to resign over a viral online video showing people at a fundraiser kicking and beating a mannequin wearing a mask of Joe Biden, underscoring the national GOP’s deep divisions and its struggles to win over voters outside Donald Trump’s base.

Mike Brown, the Kansas GOP's state chair, and Maria Holiday, the leader of the party in Johnson County in the Kansas City area, distanced themselves from the display at a Friday evening fundraiser for the county party. In a Facebook post, the state GOP blamed an outside vendor who rented space at the event to promote a martial arts school.

Brown said in an email Tuesday that the state party wouldn't comment further. Holiday did not respond to a text message seeking an interview. The vendor has not been named.

The calls for their resignations started over the weekend with Brown's predecessor, Mike Kuckelman, a Kansas City attorney and frequent Brown critic, and quickly led to bipartisan condemnations amid widespread news coverage. The state GOP accused Kuckelman of creating “a false narrative" and dividing the party.

The conflict between Brown and Kuckelman reflects the split in the national GOP between former President Trump's most ardent, election conspiracy-promoting supporters and its more establishment wing, including former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. Kuckelman supported McDaniel's reelection in 2022, while Brown wanted her out. Trump now fully controls the RNC through hand-picked-leaders.

The dispute is also notable because the fundraiser was in Johnson County, the state's most populous, where 20% of Kansas voters live. The county, which includes Kansas City suburbs, has become bluer since Trump's election as president in 2016. It was key to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's victories in 2018 and 2022 and became an area where it was increasingly difficult for GOP statewide candidates to win.

“This disgusting visualization of violence went viral. This doesn’t just go away,” Kuckelman said during an interview Tuesday. “This does not help win independent and soft Republican voters.”

The Friday fundraiser featured 1970s rocker Ted Nugent, known for his backing of gun rights, hard-right political views and support for Trump, with tickets ranging from $90 for students to $300 for premier seats. The mannequin with the Biden mask also wore a “Let's Go Brandon” T-shirt, using a slogan that's become conservative code for a vulgar insult directed at the Democratic president.

The incident in Kansas also came after Trump's campaign rhetoric became more violent. Last fall, he suggested that shoplifters should be immediately shot. He called his opponents “lowlifes,” threatened news organizations and later told a crowd in Iowa that he wouldn't be a dictator “except for Day 1.”

Governor Kelly said video of the Biden effigy shows Americans need to “reverse course” and make political disagreements less contentious.

“It’s indicative of how low we’ve gone in political discourse,” she said in a brief interview at the Statehouse.

Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, condemned all political violence. He said it’s important for people to use good judgment at a time when elected officials in both parties have faced threats across the U.S. Last year, more than 100 Kansas legislators, including Hawkins, received threatening mail with white powder that turned out not to be dangerous.

“What may seem like a joke for many will be seen by some as an expansion of acceptable behavior with potentially tragic consequences,” Hawkins said in a statement Tuesday.

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, another Wichita-area Republican, added that “tasteless displays of violence” don't attract voters.

“We should be focused on promoting conservative ideas, electing Republicans, and defeating Joe Biden at the ballot box,” he said in a statement texted to The Associated Press.

In a Facebook post Monday evening, the Johnson County GOP described the Biden mask on the mannequin as only “a brief incident.”

“The mask was regrettable and removed," the statement said. “No one collected or solicited any funds or donations in exchange for hitting the training device.”

The Kansas GOP said in a statement over the weekend that no one from its staff attended the event, and called Kuckelman “a disgruntled former member of the state party."

“It’s unfortunate the events took place, and even more so the former state party member created a false narrative in order to spew rhetoric and capitalize on continued attempts to divide the party,” the statement said.

But Kuckelman said blaming the vendor is “disingenuous” because the party controlled the event and decided which venders were there. He recalled the furor in 2017 when comedian Kathy Griffin took part in a photoshoot that showed her holding up a fake bloody head that resembled Trump's.

“If this had happened when I was chair, if a vendor pulled a stunt like this, I would have immediately shut it down and had them escorted off the premises,” he said. “This is so far over the line, you can’t just say, ‘Stop.’”

NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Unearthing a suspect: The Gilgo Beach killings NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Unearthing a suspect: The Gilgo Beach killings NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Latest videos

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.