Ronna McDaniel seeks to fend off RNC leadership challenge


Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is facing her clearest leadership challenge to date in the wake of her party’s disappointing midterm election results.

Much of the finger-pointing has been directed at McDaniel, who as RNC chairwoman has overseen election cycles where the party lost the House in 2018, lost the White House and Senate in 2020 and then failed to retake the Senate this past November and captured a more modest House majority than expected.

Still, McDaniel has racked up endorsements for another term from a majority of RNC members, as well as former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Blake Masters, who lost his Senate bid in Arizona last month.

The process of choosing an RNC leader is designed to insulate an incumbent from an outside challenge, former party officials said, making it unlikely the organization will move on from McDaniel before 2024. But that hasn’t squashed dissent among some Republicans.

The dynamic was laid out in a letter from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who fielded calls to challenge McDaniel for RNC chair after his unsuccessful campaign for New York governor drew praise from Republicans and may have helped the party make gains down ballot.

“Change is desperately needed, and there are many leaders, myself included, ready and willing to step up to ensure our party retools and transforms as critical elections fast approach, namely the 2024 Presidential and Congressional races,” Zeldin wrote last week in announcing he would not run against McDaniel.

“However, the issue is Chairwoman McDaniel’s re-election appears to already be pre-baked, as if the disappointing results of every election during her tenure … do not and should not even matter,” Zeldin added.

McDaniel has led the RNC since after the 2016 election, when Priebus left the position to serve as White House chief of staff. Former President Trump was a strong supporter of McDaniel.

But with Trump no longer in the White House and Republicans licking their wounds from November’s underwhelming showing, there have been more calls for McDaniel’s ouster.

The executive committee of the Arizona GOP last week unanimously passed a resolution calling for McDaniel to resign. The Texas GOP followed suit this week, passing a resolution saying “the grassroots have lost faith in Chairman McDaniel and the RNC” and calling for new leadership. 

Zeldin declined to say he would run against McDaniel, but made clear in his letter that he felt she should step aside and let new leadership revamp the RNC.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney with ties to Trump and a California RNC member, has announced a challenge to McDaniel and has been a regular guest on Fox News in recent days. Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow who has spread conspiracies about the 2020 election being rigged, has also said he plans to run for chairman.

McDaniel’s critics argue the election results under her watch are reason enough to need a change. They specifically argue the party needs to invest more in early voting, get more involved in candidate recruitment and better message what Republicans stand for in contrast to Democrats.

But the process of electing the head of the RNC makes it exceedingly difficult for an outsider to break through, and McDaniel appears to already have the votes necessary to win another term.

There are 168 members of the national committee — three from each state and territory. To win reelection, McDaniel needs a simple majority. For a challenger to even get on the ballot against her, they need the support of two RNC members from at least three different states.

An endorsement letter circulated last week contained the signatures of 107 RNC members backing McDaniel to stay on as chair, well more than the 84 she would need to win reelection at the party’s January meetings.

“The RNC campaign is about locking down the votes of 168 people, and those people are not beholden to a Republican senator or governor or member of Congress in that state,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesperson for the organization. “They belong specifically to the RNC, and she’s played that inside game very well.”

McDaniel’s defenders argue she has invested in the party to improve its on-the-ground operations, opened community centers to expand voter outreach, pushed back on the Presidential Debate Commission, supported election integrity efforts and lawsuits to throw out certain ballots and enforce voting rules, and worked on fundraising to boost candidates nationwide. 

“Support for the Chairwoman has only grown since her announcement and she looks forward to speaking with each and every member to discuss how the party can continue building upon our investments and make the necessary improvements to compete and win in 2024,” Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for McDaniel’s reelection, said in a statement.

Some Republicans downplayed McDaniel’s role in the midterm results, instead pointing to issues like candidate quality. And there are those who think Trump — who has waded into primary races and discouraged his supporters from using mail ballots — should shoulder more of the blame.

Sean Spicer, a former RNC communications director and chief strategist who worked in the Trump White House, noted that candidates like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) and statewide candidates in Georgia performed well and easily won their races last month, even as Senate candidates in those states struggled.

“They played on the same field on the same day, and they won. Is that a function of the party, or is that a function of the candidate?” Spicer said. 

McDaniel has in recent days defended her record while acknowledging the need for improvements in some areas.

She argued the RNC’s efforts under her leadership have led to an increasingly diverse array of candidates and helped foster strong Election Day turnout that helped Republicans flip House seats in Florida, North Carolina and California this cycle.

And without naming Trump, she lamented that some in the party had advocated against voting by mail. 

“We have had consistent leadership for six years. I have brought a lot of change to the RNC. And we’re going to continue to do that,” McDaniel said Monday on Fox Business Network. “But you have got to keep that going if we’re going to be successful in 2024. And that’s what I intend to do.”

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