Despite a series of election cycles that involved losing the House, the Senate, the White House, and then posting the smallest opposition party gain in recent history during the midterms, members of the Republican National Committee opted Friday to stick with what they know.
The GOP as it stands is a party that, below the surface, lacks coherence, let alone any sort of vision for what comes next.
The RNC reappointed Ronna McDaniel to a fourth term, making her likely to become the longest serving GOP chair since the 19th century. It was a blowout victory against her chief opponent, Harmeet Dhillon, a committee member from California, with the secret ballot coming in at 111-51. (MyPillow guy Mike Lindell got only four votes despite my fellow columnist Dean Obeidallah’s ringing [and only half-joking] endorsement; former Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., got one — but wasn’t even running.)
But the lopsided final vote masks a deeper tension: The GOP as it stands is a party that, below the surface, lacks coherence, let alone any sort of vision for what comes next. Even the unifying force that former President Donald Trump once offered is weakening as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ draw grows stronger. That’s setting Republicans up for a titanic clash in the primaries with little guarantee of electoral success to follow. McDaniel clearly has her work cut out for her — but what that work is exactly is harder to determine.
The RNC itself doesn’t offer many clues as to what the road ahead looks like for McDaniel. After the disappointing midterms led to Republicans only barely recapturing the House, she launched a “review” of why the party didn’t achieve its predicted “red wave.” But as I wrote last month, the RNC has a terrible track record of appealing to people outside its reddest districts.
To that point, the set of resolutions the RNC’s 165 members approved Friday range from what’s become boilerplate unhinged language on immigration to a banal condemnation of antisemitism that places white supremacist Nick Fuentes and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., in the same breath. None of those resolutions charts a vision for what changes the party needs to make or the choices that lie ahead. There’s just a doubling down on the same message that has proved so ineffective at the national level.
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And McDaniel isn’t exactly popular at the state-level, which means any changes she makes from the top are unlikely to go over well. Both in Alabama and Texas, the Republican Party has approved votes of no confidence in her leadership, and Florida’s Republican Party is expected to follow suit soon. After the votes were counted Friday, Dhillon told reporters that members from Alabama, Florida and Texas who supported McDaniel will have to go home and explain themselves — a process that seems unlikely to win over many converts.
Dhillon, for her part, represents the storm brewing beneath the surface of the GOP. Her message to the committee — which boiled down to “Aren’t you tired of losing?” — wasn’t exactly anti-Trump, but it also didn’t seek to center him as the guiding star for the party’s fortunes. In the run-up to the committee’s meeting, Politico reported, Dhillon’s camp was actively soliciting support from the Trump skeptics in the RNC. Part of her pitch was that McDaniel, whom Trump handpicked for the role back in 2016, won’t be able to stay neutral in the 2024 primaries, no matter what a letter her supporters signed in November said.
That framing helps explain why DeSantis weighed in on the race Thursday, offering up his praise for Dhillon and calling for “change” at the RNC. (Trump, for his part, chose to split the difference, saying “I like them both,” rather than offering McDaniel his endorsement this time.) McDaniel’s win over the candidate DeSantis preferred offers another avenue for the Florida governor to position himself as an outsider willing to shake things up in the race for the White House next year.
None of this is to say that a victory for Dhillon would have drastically reshaped the Republican Party. But the internal struggle will likely continue despite McDaniel’s fourth term getting underway. The divide between the grassroots organizers, the Trumpian base and the upper echelon of the party is apparent now. Little unites them except their disgust for Democrats and their refusal to consider that it’s not their messaging, but their policies that are their biggest problem. As it stands, McDaniel is poised to spend the next two years continuing her reign atop a party that isn’t sure if it wants to move forward or backward and thus finds itself going absolutely nowhere.