Ronna McDaniel secured re-election as the Republican National Committee’s chair on Friday, managing to tamp down an internal mutiny in the GOP for her fourth term as the leader of the RNC.
Despite last ditch efforts to dethrone her, challenger Harmeet Dhilion—and longshot sideshow candidate Mike Lindell—weren’t able to pull off the upset.
As members descended upon a pricey Waldorf Astoria resort in Dana Point, California this week, Dhillon’s prospects didn’t seem all too dim. However, according to several committee members who spoke with The Daily Beast, it quickly became clear Dhillon wasn’t going to have enough wiggle room to hit a majority of 85 votes.
On the first ballot, McDaniel secured 111 votes to Dhillon’s 51. Mike Lindell only got four votes.
The drawn out race—the first competitive one for RNC chair since 2011—also illustrated a party adrift as the 2024 presidential election is already underway, with the largely non-ideological split making its way to a floor vote despite the McDaniel camp ostensibly locking in requisite support months ago.
Shortly after arriving, one pro-McDaniel member told The Daily Beast that a joke was going around about Dhillon having fewer total votes than the chairwoman had allies whipping votes for her.
McDaniel managed to maintain a block of over 100 members despite plenty of internal recriminations over the party’s lackluster performance in the 2022 midterms.
Dhillon even drew a high-profile late endorsement from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, which one Dhillon supporter told The Daily Beast came a day late and a dollar short.
“I had wished he’d come out earlier, as a supporter of Harmeet,” the pro-Dhillon committee member said. “He’s never been a party guy. When he ran in 2018, he wasn’t the party favorite. The party favorite was [former Rep.] Adam Putnam. His success wasn’t party-driven, so maybe he sees the RNC in the same way. “
In his statement endorsing Dhillon, DeSantis lamented “three sub-standard election cycles in a row,” and said that 2022 “was probably the worst given the political environment of a very unpopular President Biden.”
Two RNC members supporting Dhillon, heading into the vote on Friday, were convinced they had successfully flipped at least 30 former McDaniel supporters that were originally the current chair’s December endorsement list.
“I have no dislike for her at all,” a RNC member backing Dhillon told The Daily Beast, “I just don’t like the fact that she can’t win.”
Still, the race was bitterly personal from the start, and the antics continued all the way through the ceremonies in Dana Point this week. At one point, Dhillon was seated in the back of the room and facing the corner during a committee-wide meeting, according to Rachael Bade of Politico.
Without a clear ideological divide in the race, the support for McDaniel and Dhillon generally broke down among those who wanted party unity heading into a crucial presidential primary versus those who wanted a change at the top for its own sake.
Another flashpoint in the RNC race was Donald Trump’s involvement—which elicited the Trump campaign stepping in to dispute claims made by Dhillion’s camp that they had their finger on the scale for McDaniel.
Top Trump advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles fired back at those reports, telling Politico they’re “organizing a presidential campaign, not whipping votes for a race that’s already over.”
As The Daily Beast reported back in mid-December, a source said they didn’t believe Trump would get involved, yet at the same time, a source close to Trump said they had “no reason to believe the President’s support of Ronna has changed.”
Trump would later encourage McDaniel and Dillion to “fight it out” during an interview on Real America’s Voice in mid-January, leaving Lindell out of the picture.
“I think that she’s our front man,” the first RNC member said, summarizing the case for McDaniel keeping the top job. “She’s the person we put out there. She does most of the talk shows. Maybe she is a coach sometimes during the elections when she’s telling us what the RNC is doing with the help of all of us to attract more voters, get more people registered… It’s all about reminding everybody what we’re here for, that we’re here to elect Republicans.”
If the Dhillon challenge proved anything, one of her supporters within the RNC said, it was to show McDaniel there was enough discontent for a drawn-out and possibly pyrrhic victory, similar to that of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“It reminds me of what happened in the House with McCarthy,” the RNC member said, “where he knew he was gonna win, but Matt Gaetz and his boys made a good point and they got some respect out of it.”