A once normally quiet and private affair to elect a party chair has turned into a public political sprawl, placing some of most prominent Republican leaders on opposite sides of the race. The latest election for Republican National Committee chair pits its longtime leader, Ronna McDaniel, against another Trump supporter and RNC California Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon.
At issue is which direction the party will move going into the 2024 elections after disappointing results from the past few election cycles when the party lost the White House and didn’t win as many seats in Congress as projected.
On the surface, the two leading contenders – McDaniel and Dhillon – endorse many of the same populist, Trumpian values that have directed much of the Republican Party apparatus in recent years. But many political observers are closely following the race. The chair sets the tone for the party primaries and wields other influence in the party.
McDaniel, who is seeking a fourth two-year term, was unopposed in her previous bids for chair. Now, however, she is facing stiff competition from several candidates including Dhillon, a conservative lawyer and lifelong Republican who has served as California’s national committeewoman since 2016. The law firm she founded, Dhillon Law Group, represented former president Donald Trump in the legal proceedings with porn star Stormy Daniels and later in his interactions with the House Jan. 6 committee.
Calling the 2022 midterm election results “catastrophic” for the party, Dhillon said in a statement, “I’m here to offer this party an alternative. I’m here to redefine what this party sees as victory.”
She added that for her, victory “needs to be about winning the most elections, battling back the cultural marxists in our country and taking back all of the hills that we have meekly sacrificed.”
Republican voters have also indicated their desire for new leadership: A January survey conducted by conservative polling firm The Trafalgar Group indicated that 86% of GOP voters supported Dhillon. The general public, however, will not get to cast ballots on Friday.
Rather, only 168 RNC members, selected from the 50 states and various territories, can vote in this race, which will take place at the winter meeting in Dana Point, Calif. Each of the U.S. 50 states and territories send three representatives comprising the 168 Republicans who get to vote, notes The Washington Post.
McDaniel, however, is confident her own track record will help her win. On a podcast earlier this month, McDaniel cited her time working on campaigns and serving as the chair of the Michigan Republican Party that led to Trump’s historic win in the state during the 2016 presidential election.
“My opponent has never run a state party. She has never run a campaign,” McDaniel said. “It’s easy to say all these things from the outside, but when you’ve never done that, it’s really hard to run a national party in a year like this. This is not the time to be changing and putting it in the hands of someone who’s never done those things ever before.”
The race between McDaniel and Dhillon has grown contentious and is again casting a harsh spotlight on the failures of the Republican Party during the most recent midterms. RNC committee members have received emails from voters and officials criticizing and blaming them for the party’s poor showing, as the party in the White House often takes heavy losses in Congress in the midterms.
According to CNN, Dhillon has also come under anonymous email attacks over her legal fees from her time working with Trump. Some have also tried to turn off conservative Christian RNC members in the Alabama Republican Party by pointing to Dhillon’s Sikh faith.
Bill Palatucci, an RNC committeeman from New Jersey, disagreed with the characterization of this being a heated election, believing it’s “no different than any other race.”
Palatucci said in an interview with Medill News Service that he has “reservations about both candidates,” but would not be voting for McDaniel.
“I believe Ronna McDaniel, who I think is a good person [and] we’ve had very cordial conversations over the years, has simply been the master of a sinking ship,” Palatucci said.
McDaniel is also on the defensive in the race after several state Republican Parties –– like those in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana and Texas –– voted “no confidence” in McDaniel.
Some Republicans in Florida moved to hold a similar vote earlier this month, but it didn’t not reach the required minimum number of supporters to conduct an official vote.
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) spoke out on Thursday in support of Dhillon during an interview with conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, calling for “fresh thinking” in the RNC.
Citing the “substandard” past few elections, DeSantis said, “I think we need a change. I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC.” He went on to compliment Dhillon’s ideas.
Other states like Nebraska, Washington and Arkansas have endorsed Dhillon.
Some members, however, stood by McDaniel despite their state’s vote.
Committeewoman Toni Anne Dashiell from Texas confirmed her continued support for McDaniel in an op-ed published by conservative outlet The Daily Caller.
“The Republican Party works best when our leaders listen and embrace the grassroots to grow our party and turn out the vote for Republican candidates across the ticket,” Dashiell wrote. “Without [McDaniel’s] leadership, we would not be seeing the gains we have worked so hard to achieve.”
Similar to the voting process for speaker of the House, a candidate has to receive a majority of the vote to be elected chair. Multiple rounds of voting can take place if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes cast. If all 168 representatives vote or don’t abstain, a candidate will need at least 85 votes.
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is also among those officially running for chair, but most see the contest as between McDaniel and Dhillon.
According to Politico, Caroline Wren, who is running Dhillon’s campaign for the chairmanship, said Wednesday night that Dhillon “needs to sway at least 12 more people.”
Former state senator from Ohio and now an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University, Capri Cafaro, believes that incumbency will be the biggest challenge for both Dhillon and McDaniel.
As the incumbent, McDaniel has a record that “folks might want to challenge,” Cafaro said, who is a Democrat.
But while Dhillon might have the advantage of pointing out issues from McDaniel’s leadership, she might not have the incumbent’s infrastructure.
“Anytime that a party’s ever lost, you’re going to get people that are going to point fingers. I think that’s ultimately what’s happening here, and that’s how you draw a challenge,” Cafaro said. “But it also seems that there’s enough people that are not bothered enough by the most recent elections that they are willing to bail on Ronna McDaniel, either.”