Gov. Ron DeSantis waded into the election for RNC Chair on Thursday, scrambling the contest just hours before Friday’s vote.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waded into the election for Chair of the Republican National Committee on Thursday, scrambling the contest just hours before Friday’s vote.
- “I think we need to get new blood in the RNC,” DeSantis said before praising Harmeet Dhillon, the RNC member from California challenging RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, who is seeking a fourth two-year term.
- DeSantis linked his call for “new blood” with Republicans’ performance in recent cycles. ““We’ve had three substandard election cycles in a row: ‘18, ‘20, and ’22,” DeSantis said. “And I would say of all three of those, ‘22 was probably the worst. Given the political environment of a very unpopular president in Biden, huge majorities of the people think the country is going in the wrong direction — that is an environment that’s tailor-made to make big gains in the House and the Senate and in state houses all across the country. And yet that didn’t happen.”
- DeSantis’s intervention comes as the Florida governor weighs a 2024 presidential bid and the RNC appears to be backing away from former President Donald Trump. Just 4 RNC members have backed Trump, compared to 55 who either oppose him or want a contested presidential primary.
- The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will cast their votes for chair on Friday afternoon at the party’s winter meeting in California. McDaniel is seeking an “unprecedented” fourth term leading the committee. She has not presided over a successful electoral cycle for the party during her time as chair.
- RNC members will vote by secret ballot, and if no candidate secures a majority the last-finishing candidate will be eliminated. The process will repeat until a candidate wins a majority of the votes.
- McDaniel, the former Michigan GOP chair and niece of Sen. Mitt Romney, was thought to be the favorite for reelection before Dhillon began her “aggressive” challenge after the disappointing 2022 midterm elections.
- Trump is reportedly “privately backing McDaniel,” who he handpicked for the position at the beginning of his term in the White House.
- Dhillon has made the GOP’s poor electoral record in recent cycles the centerpiece of her insurgent bid. Dhillon has also pointed to alleged overspending on consultants and “frivolous expenditures that don’t win elections” and Democrats’ advantages with early and mail-in voting as reasons to make a change. McDaniel rejects these claims and argues that she built a party infrastructure that made 2022 “a better election than it would have otherwise been.”
- The race has been hallmarked by nasty personal attacks. Dhillon accused the RNC of dishing out “perks” to members in exchange for votes, a charge that was met with outrage from several RNC members. McDaniel supporters allegedly began a “whisper campaign” about Dhillon’s Sikh faith, which elicited its own backlash from members and led McDaniel to issue a statement condemning “religious bigotry in any form.”
- McDaniel forces have criticized Dhillon’s pledge to appoint MAGA Twitter influencer Scott Presler to a prominent position. Politico reported Presler resigned from his job with the Virginia GOP in 2016 after leaders confronted him for allegedly engaging in sexual activity inside an RNC office then posting explicit photos of the encounter on Craigslist.
- Although Trump is quietly backing McDaniel and DeSantis supports Dhillon, the race can’t easily be broken down along Trump/anti-Trump lines. McDaniel claims more than 100 RNC members are supporting her, including both Trump supporters and foes of the former president.
- Dhillon, who advised Trump’s campaign, is supported by ardent Trump backers like Charlie Kirk, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingram but has also appealed to Never Trumpers and Trump skeptics in a bid to assemble a coalition across the party’s feuding factions.
- Senate Republicans are largely staying out of the contest, although several senators who are staying neutral did tell Politico they did not think the RNC was “primarily accountable for the GOP’s election performances,” instead blaming Trump’s “outsized sway” over the party.
- There is a third candidate for RNC chair: Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow. Vice looked into his “quixotic bid” for RNC chair and found it to be a “real disaster.” Lindell claims he’s made it onto the ballot but appears to be running a shambolic “pseudo-campaign” (in the words of one RNC member) relying on “a bunch of boilerplate emails” and little else.
- Vanity Fair reported former President Donald Trump is believed to favor McDaniel, but he’s decided to stay out of the contest, unlike DeSantis. As Trump told a conservative podcast, “Let them fight it out.”
- Rachael Bade of Politico’s “Playbook Deep Dive” podcast flew to the RNC’s winter meeting to cover the race for RNC chair in person. Bade interviewed Bill Palatucci, a top Chris Christie ally and RNC member from New Jersey, who explained the stakes for 2024 behind the McDaniel-Dhillon race and how the chair election could influence the presidential race.
- The Washington Examiner reported Ronna McDaniel’s salary has “nearly doubled” during her six-year tenure as RNC Chair. McDaniel was paid $122,582 in 2017, and made $358,431 between Jan.-Nov. 2022 and she earned $410,640 in 2020, her highest yearly salary as chair. McDaniel’s compensation has soared despite presiding over three consecutive losing cycles for Republicans.
- National Review noted DeSantis is not the only prominent Republican calling for McDaniel’s ouster. Lee Zeldin, the GOP nominee for Governor of New York in 2022, called for McDaniel “step aside,” saying “Now is not the time to say we should just continue with more of the same.”
- Last week, the hosts of Ruthless Podcast interviewed both candidates for RNC chair. McDaniel and Dhillon both gave their pitches, and the interviews are worth the listen to hear the candidates make their case in their own words.
© Dominic Moore, 2023