Friday’s secret ballot for the next Republican National Committee (RNC) chair marks the final chapter in a bitter feud between former President Trump’s allies and within a party reeling from disappointing elections.
Incumbent Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is fielding off challenges from Harmeet Dhillon, a former legal adviser to Trump’s 2020 campaign and RNC committee member, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a staunch supporter of the former president. McDaniel herself was tapped by Trump in 2016 to helm the RNC.
The intraparty battle comes amid growing calls for new leadership, after Republicans failed to win the House in 2018, lost the presidency and both chambers of Congress in 2020, and lost their Senate majority while winning fewer-than-expected House seats in 2022.
The dust is also still settling from Republicans airing out their tensions in a 15-round vote to elect House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) earlier this month.
Nevertheless, McDaniel said in an interview with Semafor last week that she’s confident she has “well enough support to win” her fourth term.
Here are five things to know about the RNC chair election happening this week:
The race is contentious
McDaniel, who began her first term after then-RNC Chairman Reince Priebus became chief of staff for the Trump administration, has fiercely defended her tenure despite Republicans’ lackluster election performances and a number of no confidence votes.
Her challengers also come from within Trump’s ranks. Dhillon represented the former president during the Jan. 6 select committee probe that tried to subpoena him, and Lindell is a prominent Trump supporter and denier of the 2020 presidential election results.
In addition to calling for new leadership, some Republicans have said the party needs to better communicate its policy agenda and be more involved in candidate recruitment.
Others criticize McDaniel for hiring current and former Trump advisers to work for the party, and for involving the RNC in Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election, The Washington Post noted.
In her interview with Semafor, McDaniel said of the last midterm election results, “I’m not the coach. I don’t pick the players, the voters do. I don’t call the plays, the candidates pick their own plays.”
“I think there’s a tendency to scapegoat or ignore the wins,” the RNC chairwoman said to the news outlet. “I mean, we defied history in 2018, picking up three Senate seats in a midterm year. We picked up 15 seats in 2020 in the House, which was unprecedented, and then this year, winning back the House.”
RNC committee members will have a packed schedule
RNC committee members will be meeting this week in Dana Point, Calif., which include candidate forums on Wednesday and Thursday. McDaniel needs the votes from a simple majority of 168 RNC members to win.
Several letters have circulated over the last few months with more than 100 RNC members publicly supporting McDaniel, while Dhillon’s website for her campaign for RNC chair shows 28 endorsements from state chairs and RNC committee members. Her website specifies that it’s a “partial list.”
McDaniel is likely to win
McDaniel is likely to win, as those circulated letters suggest the RNC chair has more than the simple majority of votes needed to secure another two-year term. Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who lost to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) by single digits in the New York gubernatorial race, decided not to run against McDaniel, claiming in a statement in December that her “re-election appears to already be pre-baked.”
Incumbency is a major advantage for any candidate running for reelection, and this is no different for McDaniel. Still, Fox News noted that it’s the first time in more than a decade that the organization will see a contested race for its top spot.
Trump not publicly weighing in
One notable voice missing in the RNC leadership race is Trump, though those with direct knowledge told The Associated Press that the former president would be willing to publicly back her but that McDaniel has reportedly requested he not wade into the election.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also avoided wading into the race.
But that hasn’t stopped others from doing so, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) who is endorsing Dhillon. Several other state Republican groups have also weighed in, including the Alabama Republican Party, which said it would not be backing the incumbent while a resolution was passed by the Texas GOP last month signaling that members wanted McDaniel replaced.
Meanwhile, a letter obtained by The Hill earlier this month indicated that more than 150 Republican donors backed McDaniel in the RNC chair election.
Another example of a divided GOP
While McDaniel is likely to win, the race is yet another highly visible division within the party ahead of an important 2024 presidential election.
Earlier this month, House Republicans held 15 votes for the Speakership as a group of holdout Republicans sought for concessions from now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The multiple votes showed rifts within the party, given that not all Republicans were united in backing McCarthy as the House’s top leader.
The RNC election also comes as Republicans tread lightly on saying who they’ll support for the GOP presidential nominee. Though those divisions are not necessarily new — there will almost always be defectors within a party when choosing a presidential nominee — Republicans will be forced to decide whether to back Trump in another White House bid or choose someone new.
And after the November midterms, some Republicans suggested that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who won by a resounding 19 points in his race, was the party’s new standard-bearer.