As GOP decides how closely to embrace Trump, Ronna McDaniel wins contentious election to stay party chair
The Republican National Committee re-elected chair Ronna McDaniel to a fourth term Friday, passing over challengers who wanted to move the party further to the right and forge a closer embrace of former President Donald Trump.
Defending her record in a earlier speech to RNC delegates, McDaniel declared victory by pledging to unify the party and claiming that "the Democrats are going to hear us in 2024."
McDaniel, first nominated for the job by Trump in late 2016, claimed victory from the 168-member committee in an election held in the shadow of the former president and his emerging 2024 presidential campaign.
The secret-ballot vote capped the RNC's three-day winter meeting at a beach resort in Dana Point, Calif.
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The challengers: Dhillon and Lindell
California attorney Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell – also Trump backers – challenged McDaniel by arguing that the party needs new leadership after losing the presidency and the U.S. Senate in the past two elections.
On Friday, pledging party unity, McDaniel called Dhillon and Lindell to the stage to thank them for the race.
"The Democrats are going to hear us in 2024," McDaniel told the cheering crowd
Trump had stayed neutral in the race, saying the candidates would have to fight it out among themselves.
McDaniel's fourth term – a record for the modern Republican Party – comes in the wake of Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election, losses by Trump candidates in the 2022 congressional races, and Trump's announcement that he will seek the presidency again in 2024.
Her win capped the most contentious RNC race in two decades.
Dhillon, a former official with the California Republican Party, was particularly aggressive in seeking votes and attacking McDaniel over the party's performance. She also racked up high profile endorsements, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – a potential 2024 presidential candidate himself – and Kari Lake, who lost last year's governor's race in Arizona.
"This is the first RNC race where every endorsement vote of a Republican group nationally demanded change," Dhillon tweeted before Friday's vote. "I am that change."
In an interview with conservative activist Charlie Kirk, DeSantis said: "I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC."
Sticking with McDaniel
Most of Dhillon's big-name endorsers were not members of the Republican National Committee, however.
Most of that group – the voters – stuck with McDaniel, who has won praise for working with state and local parties as well as rank-and-file Republicans.
McDaniel had more than 100 endorsements at the start of the race late last year, more that enough to prevail.
Lindell, an outspoken 2020 election denier, never seemed to get traction in the RNC race.
The secret-ballot election took place at a general session, but members did not have to disclose who they voted for.
The Trump factor
McDaniel begins her latest term leading a party with divisions over Trump and his 2024 campaign.
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In a survey of all 168 RNC members, The New York Times reported, "just four offered an unabashed endorsement of Mr. Trump’s 2024 campaign. Twenty said the former president should not be the party’s nominee. An additional 35 said they would like to see a big primary field or declined to state their position on Mr. Trump. The remainder did not respond to messages."
Trump's dominance of the party has been vexatious for McDaniel in her role as party leader.
Over the years, some Republicans have said that McDaniel has tilted the party too much in favor of Trump; at other times, some have said McDaniel hasn't helped Trump enough.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ronna McDaniel wins re-election as Republican National Committee chair