Republican divide over Trump curdles into bitter leadership vote
Republican officials will confront the existential dilemma facing the party as they gather this week in California: whether to stick with the current leadership even as Donald Trump seeks to extend his reign over the GOP after a series of electoral losses.
On Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, the Republican National Committee is scheduled to elect its next chair in an election that pits Ronna McDaniel, former president Trump’s handpicked choice to lead the RNC in 2016, against Harmeet Dhillon, a California attorney and RNC member who is urging fundamental changes in how it spends money and operates.
The outcome of the battle will dictate the direction of the party with the White House at stake in 2024 and echoes the GOP’s embarrassing and bitter vote to elect Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker.
McDaniel’s critics – who include some top business leaders and GOP donors – say the party needs new leadership after losing control of the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and White House and disappointing midterm election results in the past six years. The race has been bitter, with McDaniel, who is seeking a fourth term, accusing Dhillon of running a “scorched-Earth” campaign, and Dhillon complaining about attempts to weaponize her Sikh faith.
The RNC’s winter meeting in Dana Point, California, comes just three weeks after the GOP’s acerbic intraparty divisions captivated the country with the 15 ballots it took McCarthy to secure the gavel amid opposition from conservative dissidents.
McDaniel is expressing confidence that, unlike McCarthy, she can win on the first ballot. More than 100 of the 168 voting-eligible RNC members endorsed her reelection, she said, noting that she’s raised more than $1.5 billion and improved the party’s grass-roots outreach.
“We need to come together and offer Americans a positive vision of freedom, and opportunity for all,” McDaniel said in a statement. “If attacking one another is the priority, we are going to lose.”
But Dhillon is counting on the fact the election will be conducted by secret ballot to win over enough undecideds and those who publicly say they support McDaniel but privately want change.
“We have lost or underperformed in the last three election cycles at great expense to our country and to our party,” Dhillon said in a telephone interview. “We need to be much more clear and articulate for Republican and swing voters as to the differences between the two parties.”
Republican organizations in states including Alabama, Arizona and Texas have passed resolutions opposing McDaniel.
My Pillow Chief Executive Officer Mike Lindell is also running, but he’s not expected to get many votes.
Dhillon has criticized the RNC under McDaniel for its spending – especially on consultants who haven’t produced results – and called for an audit of RNC finances with competitive bidding for contracts. She’s also criticized the party’s reluctance to embrace early voting to better compete with Democrats.
Bill Palatucci, an RNC member from New Jersey and Trump critic who’s supporting Dhillon, said McDaniel still has an edge in the race but that Dhillon is peeling away support, adding, “It’s a small group, and people can change their minds at any time.”
Wealthy Republican donors also have taken sides: Uline Chief Executive and co-founder Richard Uihlein backs Dhillon, while his wife, Liz Uihlein, the Uline president and co-founder, is supporting McDaniel.
Dhillon released an endorsement letter this month from 20 GOP donors and officials who contend the party “cannot continue on our current trajectory.” Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus said in an open letter to RNC members that he’s backing Dhillon because “the RNC needs someone with her real-world experience, tenacity and toughness.”
In addition to the more than 100 GOP donors and business leaders who signed on to a letter endorsing McDaniel earlier this month, she also won the backing of billionaire Diane Hendricks, chairman and founder of ABC Supply, who said in a letter “it is critical that Ronna continue to lead our party.”
Trump has not endorsed in the race, saying he likes both McDaniel and Dhillon, who represented him before the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 insurrection. But Dhillon said she’s heard that members of Trump’s team have been privately telling members the former president backs McDaniel.
Neither candidate has sought Trump’s endorsement, they say, because the party must remain neutral in the GOP primary contest. McDaniel denied a Washington Post report that she has told members she can dissuade Trump from launching a third-party bid if he doesn’t win the nomination.
An RNC election audit of the Republicans’ disappointing 2022 midterm results remains in its “very early stages” and also will be discussed at the meeting, said Mississippi RNC Committeeman Henry Barbour, who’s helping lead the review.