Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is bearing the brunt of her party’s frustrations, with conservative activists calling for her ouster and Donald Trump privately criticizing the organization’s handling of the debates and its election year priorities.
But party insiders say they still expect McDaniel to survive. Even her critics inside the committee say trying to replace her now would be too chaotic in the middle of a presidential election cycle.
“I think it would make some people happy — maybe a lot of people happy — but I think in the end it would probably be detrimental to the party to try to have her removed by vote,” said Oscar Brock, the GOP national committeeman from Tennessee. Brock, who was one of 55 RNC members who voted against McDaniel’s chair reelection in January, noted that it would take two-thirds of the 168 committee members to oust her from her post.
“Frankly,” he said, “I don’t think there’s any way in the world you can get a two-thirds vote to replace her.”
Lori Hinz, the North Dakota national committee woman who also opposed McDaniel’s reelection campaign, said she has been hearing from grassroots activists in her state that they’re unhappy with McDaniel’s leadership. But Hinz also acknowledged that it appears to be a losing battle.
“There is definitely frustration with repeated losses. I think everyone in the party feels that way,” Hinz said. But as for what the committee can do to turn things around? “That’s entirely up to Ronna. That’s her decision. She generally does not bend to outside sources very well.”
McDaniel’s fate at the RNC has long been a subject of fascination, in part because she is the longest serving chair in more than a century. She has survived frictions with Trump and poor election nights before. But the pile on she faces now is growing and threatens to add a layer of uncertainty to the GOP’s campaign operations, right as the general election season comes into focus.
While several presidential candidates have been upset with the thresholds the RNC set for debate qualifications — whether they were too high or too low — Trump and his allies have registered an entirely different set of complaints. The ex-president has pressed McDaniel to cancel the debates altogether and devote more resources to election integrity efforts, according to two people briefed on the conversations. Trump allies say the former president has been hearing complaints from donors in recent weeks about the committee, and one of those allies said he had “soured” on McDaniel’s performance.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not comment.
Other Republicans note that Trump and McDaniel speak frequently. And in a statement, an RNC spokesperson noted that the committee has filed over 70 “election integrity” lawsuits and has “Election Integrity directors” in 15 states.
“Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the entire Republican National Committee is laser-focused on beating Biden next fall,” said the spokesperson. “The RNC will continue to communicate with all campaigns and candidates as we look forward to putting our battle-tested infrastructure behind our Presidential nominee.”
The committee also sent along supportive statements of McDaniel from state party chairs in Nevada, Alabama, Iowa, California and North Carolina, as evidence of the depth of her backing.
"Having worked with Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel over the past two election cycles, I could not ask for a better partner to help us ensure historic up-and-down ballot Republican victories in Iowa,” said Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufman. “Without her support, Iowa and the Iowa Caucus would not be first in the nation. She has my full confidence as we head into the thick of caucus season.”
Trump could have avenues to make changes at the RNC, should he become the presumptive nominee. One option being floated in Trump’s orbit is to install a loyalist at the committee who would play a key role in overseeing the RNC’s operations. The Trump campaign has hinted that it plans to make changes at the committee should he win the primary, saying in a memo earlier this month that it would “refocus” the organization.
The former president is being egged on by conservative activists to do so. Dissatisfaction with McDaniel, in particular, has been driven by the conservative group Turning Point USA, whose founder, Charlie Kirk, urged Trump to push for a change of leadership at the committee.
“There is still time to correct course on many of the structural problems at the RNC,” Kirk said in a statement, “but we need to move fast.”
Kirk and Turning Point USA tried to unseat McDaniel in that last RNC election only to watch her coast to a fourth term. But in the aftermath of last week’s election losses in Virginia and Kentucky and Ohio, the simmering frustration with McDaniel has become far more pronounced.
The chair of the Virginia GOP, Rich Anderson, claimed the RNC denied his request for financial assistance. McDaniel maintains the RNC was told by Virginia officials in the summer they did not need the cash and said Republicans in the state were outspent on the issue of abortion.
Members of Congress have begun joining the chorus of critics, too. And on Wednesday, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign launched FireRonna.com, an online petition calling for her ouster. At the third primary debate, just days earlier, Ramaswamy had gone after McDaniel while on stage — a surprise attack he had brainstormed at home earlier that day with conservative commentator Benny Johnson, one of the top contributors to Turning Point USA.
“I think I should just say that, ‘Ronna McDaniel should resign, there needs to be some accountability, she should get up on stage right now. She’s here, Ronna come up here and resign,’” Ramaswamy said to Johnson, according to a video that Johnson posted to his social media feed.
McDaniel responded to Ramaswamy and criticisms of her on Sunday saying the “circular firing squad” of blame is “hurting” the GOP.
“I was disappointed [with Ramaswamy’s statement],” North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley said in a statement provided by the RNC. “What the RNC is trying to do is to give every one of these candidates an opportunity to communicate their message out to the American people.
Ramaswamy’s complaints may have been more personal and direct. But other candidates on the stage have been critical of the RNC for its criteria for getting on stage and its ban on participating in other non-GOP sanctioned debates. In an interview with POLITICO, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum criticized McDaniel and RNC debate chair David Bossie by name for trying to winnow the field before Iowa based on their debate rules.
"What's the purpose of trying to reduce competition?" Burgum said. He added: "This is a backroom, lick-your-finger, stick it in the air and come up with some arbitrary thing to try to nationalize the primaries."
McDaniel’s performance as chair has been a topic of conversation among southern RNC members gathered for a regional training this week at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. But nearly no one believes a majority, let alone two-thirds, of RNC members would be willing to hold a special vote to oust her a year before her term is up.
“Obviously, we would like to be winning more. I think that’s a collective agreement,” Brock said. “I don’t think there’s much of a collective appetite for replacing her this time.
“Laura Ingraham and those guys can say whatever they want, but you're not going to convince her to step down.”