Commentary

The battle to head the Republican National Committee is a sign of the party’s disarray

The battle to head the Republican National Committee is a sign of the party’s disarray
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Some prizes are hardly worth winning. Being the chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) falls into that category. After a disastrous showing in the midterms, the party is looking for a scapegoat, and at least some Republicans believe they have found the perfect one in Ronna McDaniel.

McDaniel is currently head of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Handpicked by Donald Trump in 2017, McDaniel displayed the appropriate level of obsequiousness, going so far as to shorten her name at her boss’s request (McDaniel was previously known as Ronna Romney McDaniel; Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) is her uncle).

McDaniel largely toed the Trump line. Under her watch, the RNC issued a statement calling the violent January 6 insurrection “legitimate political discourse.” She’s also presided over a string of underperformances, including the loss of the party majority in the House in 2018, the loss of the Senate and White House in 2020 and a pitifully narrow House victory in 2022.

But in a surprise twist, the assault on McDaniel doesn’t come from establishment Republicans trying to rid the party of Trump and his drag on the party’s electoral chances. It comes from the extreme right wing of the party.

To evangelicals and the far right, McDaniel has always been suspiciously squishy, especially on LGBTQ+ issues. She’s hung around with Log Cabin Republicans, made a feeble (and derided) attempt at a Pride tweet, and even tried outreach to LGBTQ+ voters (for which she had to apologize).

Even though Trump has endorsed her, McDaniel is locked in a nasty battle to win re-election thanks to a challenge from Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committee member from California. McDaniel insists she has more than enough votes to win, but Dhillon argues that a lot can happen between now and when the ballots are cast on Jan. 27.

The main argument against McDaniel is the party’s losing streak. Of course, McDaniel wasn’t really responsible for the party’s poor showing in the midterms. There’s plenty of blame to go around for that, starting with the man who put her in charge. The entire party conspired to blow every advantage it had during the election cycle. 

The other argument against McDaniel is about the way the RNC spends donor money. There’s a steady string of complaints about the RNC’s high-flying ways.

Tucker Carlson, who is a friend of Dhillon’s, has made it clear he’s no fan of McDaniel’s. “You’re flying on private planes with the money that, like, sweet, terrified Republican voters have sent to you from the middle of the country,” Carlson said on his show, summing up the case against her. “And you’re losing elections. No. If you win elections, well, we can talk about it. If you’re losing, get out. We cannot reward incompetence.”

Dhillon would be much more in line with Carlson’s way of thinking. She began her career as a Republican running for office in San Francisco, running against such gay candidates as Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno. At the time of her race against Leno, in 2012, she said that, as a Sikh, she didn’t recognize marriage equality but believed that same-sex couples should get the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. Republicans should not be “harping on social issues,” she said back then.

Times have changed.

Last April, Dhillon, who is an attorney, begged for money to file a lawsuit against two California teachers she said “indoctrinated” a sixth-grader into being transgender and bisexual. That’s the kind of grandstanding that gets you adulatory coverage on Fox News, where Dhillon accused the teachers of “predatory” behavior and talked about how students were “targeted” to attend the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

Dhillon has her own connection to Trump as well. She served as an election lawyer for him, and Trump has said how much he likes her.

Of course, the battle for the chair of the RNC is really about a battle for the direction of the party itself. The problem is that the party doesn’t know what direction it wants to head. Does it want to be a Trumpist party or an ultra-Trumpist party? Essentially, that’s the same direction. It’s the one the party has been on for the past six years, which has led to all the losses. Whether it’s McDaniel or Dhillon, the problem will still be the same.

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