Ronna McDaniel beats California challenger to remain Republican National Committee chair
A feud over the Republican Party’s future and its recent lackluster performance at the ballot box was decided in favor of the status quo on Friday, with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel easily beating back an insurgent challenge from a prominent California conservative.
Harmeet Dhillon, a state party leader and San Francisco attorney whose clients include former President Trump, failed in her effort to oust McDaniel, losing a 111-51 vote at the party's winter meeting at a lush seaside resort in Dana Point.
"We've heard you, grassroots," McDaniel said after she won reelection, adding that the committee had also listened to the supporters of Dhillon and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who received 4 votes. "With us united and all of us going together, the Democrats are going to hear us in 2024."
Dhillon said afterward that although she was disappointed by the result, she hoped the party would take seriously the concerns of the grassroots activists who supported her bid.
"If we go back to our homes and ignore those messages, I think it's at our peril," she said Friday. "I'm committed to healing and coming together with folks, but at the end of the day, if our party is perceived as totally out of touch with the grassroots — which I think some may take away from this outcome — we have some work to do."
The RNC, an insular body that operates largely outside of public view, comprises 168 committee members from across the country who wield notable power in shaping the party's agenda.
The committee is also the official fundraising arm for national Republicans, though that role is now often usurped by well-funded independent political groups. In the 2020 presidential election, the RNC spent $834 million, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks electoral finances. The committee also makes key decisions, such as determining where to hold presidential nominating conventions and crafting the party's platform.
The battle between McDaniel and Dhillon, both vocal Trump supporters, did not reflect a divide over the former president, who has announced that he plans to run in 2024 and remains an influential force in Republican politics. Trump publicly remained neutral in the race between the two women, with whom he has close ties.
However, some of his top advisors including Kellyanne Conway were reportedly seen at the meeting urging committee members to support McDaniel. Country music star John Rich and unsuccessful Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake were among Dhillon's supporters at the meeting.
The leadership contest was largely a debate over the party’s future after its lackluster showing in recent elections — being routed in the 2018 midterms, losing the White House in 2020 and falling short of expectations in 2022, when most analysts predicted a "red wave."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely expected to run for president in 2024, pointed to those losses Thursday when he said he appreciated Dhillon's approach.
“I think we need a change, and I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC," he said on "The Charlie Kirk Show."
Laura Nakanelua, a committeewoman from Hawaii, said that was why she supported Dhillon's bid despite her fondness for McDaniel.
"We have fallen short over and over and over again," she said. "We're losing. We're not winning. We're going in the wrong direction."
She added that the decision to stick with McDaniel sends the wrong message about the party's priorities.
"We have continued to hear from voters, donors, grassroots people," Nakanelua said. "They have been consistent in saying, 'We're not happy with the direction you're going and we really want new leadership'.... My fear is that there will be consequences of us looking as though we turned a deaf ear."
McDaniel's supporters said it was unfair to blame the chairwoman for electoral losses since the RNC doesn't select candidates. They pointed to her achievements during her six-year tenure.
"I opted for Ronna because she has been successful. She's raised a billion and a half dollars," said Shawn Steel, a committee member from California, adding that McDaniel had also been influential in supporting GOP congressional candidates in California, notably his wife, Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach).
He said it was a difficult choice for him, however, because Dhillon was a good friend an a strong ally in the party.
"This is the greatest conflict I've ever had at the RNC. Nothing even close to it," Steel said.
The race had grown bitter in recent weeks, with allegations of backroom dealing over the awarding of lucrative RNC contracts and committee appointments, mudslinging about the character of the candidates' advisors, and ugly questions about Dhillon’s Sikh faith. Some committee members also expressed irritation over the influx and tone of emails from Dhillon's supporters.
The committee also passed several resolutions Friday, including one written by Steel that condemned antisemitism and antisemites, including white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.