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Viral video of Biden effigy beating prompts calls for top Kansas Republican leaders to resign

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — 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 President Joe Biden, underscoring the national GOP’s deep divisions and problems winning over suburban voters.

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.

Neither Brown nor Holiday responded to text messages seeking interviews, and 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 Donald 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.”

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.

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.’”

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Associated Press writer Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.

John Hanna, The Associated Press


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