Dec 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The RNC's lopsided power struggle

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Ronna McDaniel is set to glide to a fourth term as chair of the Republican National Committee next month — an unprecedented vote of confidence for a leader who has thus far failed to preside over a single positive election cycle.

Why it matters: With a civil war engulfing the GOP ahead of the 2024 presidential election, the RNC's membership is doubling down on a Trump-allied chair with serious fundraising prowess — but a dismal record when it comes to winning.

The big picture: Since McDaniel's election in 2017, the party has suffered through a Democratic landslide in 2018, former President Trump's defeat and a Democratic Senate takeover in 2020, and a "red wave" that failed to materialize in 2022.

  • The Texas GOP's executive committee voted unanimously this weekend to call for McDaniel to be replaced as RNC chair but did not endorse a challenger.
  • "If she were an SEC football coach, she would have been out a long time ago," conservative commentator Erick Erickson told Axios.

What's happening: Despite these intensifying calls for GOP recriminations, more than 100 of the RNC's 168 members sent a letter last month expressing support for McDaniel and praising her for making the RNC "a stronger and more effective force for our cause."

  • Even after Republicans' final loss in the Georgia Senate runoff and new challenges announced by other pro-Trump figures, California attorney Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, none of the letter's signatories have publicly changed their position.
  • Instead, the letter was re-circulated earlier this month with a handful of additional endorsers, a spokesperson with the chairwoman's re-elect told Axios, making it clear McDaniel still has the 85 votes necessary to prevail.
  • The RNC "is an incumbent protection program," former RNC communications director and chief strategist Sean Spicer told Axios of the January elections, emphasizing how difficult it is to unseat a current chair.

The intrigue: McDaniel’s campaign has stressed the RNC’s commitment to neutrality in presidential primaries, but Republicans have questioned whether she will be able to appear impartial on the 2024 field given her ties to Trump, who helped install her as RNC chair in 2017.

  • "I don't like this," McDaniel said on "Fox Business" on Monday when pressed on whether Trump bears responsibility for the GOP's midterm performance. "I'm not into the blame game right now."
  • Internal emails obtained by Politico revealed horror by some RNC members at Trump's dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes. McDaniel issued a statement condemning "white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry" but made no mention of Trump.

What we're hearing: A number of RNC members were expecting, and some even hoping, McDaniel would depart the committee and pave the way for a new leader to take over, multiple sources tell Axios.

  • Those internal dynamics, in part, prompted retiring Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) to consider challenging her after his strong but unsuccessful performance in New York's gubernatorial race.
  • While Zeldin ultimately chose not to run — calling McDaniel's re-election "pre-baked by design" — he stressed in a statement last week that "change is desperately needed" as 2024 approaches.

The other side: "Just like the RNC, Chairwoman McDaniel’s decision to run for re-election was member driven," Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for McDaniel's re-elect, said.

  • "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," Vaughn added.

Reality check: The RNC's 168 members aren't representative of the broader GOP — or even conservative public opinion, Axios' Josh Kraushaar writes.

  • Winning the RNC chairmanship is about catering to the interests and whims of at least 85 members — all of whom have agendas that go beyond simply advancing the interests of the Republican Party.
  • "What I hear from not just RNC members, but from elected officials, is that the RNC doesn't matter anymore," Erickson told Axios, noting the committee's main priority in the Trump era is fundraising for presidential campaigns.
  • "The Republican Governors Association, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee matter way more than the RNC. There's no reason to spend capital trying to boot [McDaniel] out when it's not really a relevant factor at this point."
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