Ronna McDaniel says she has commitments from more than 100 of the 168 Republican National Committee members who will decide whether she’s re-elected as RNC chair. And yet, a week before the election, no one’s quite sure that the race will be that simple—not even McDaniel herself.
The normally quiet, bureaucratic process of choosing a leader of the RNC has become a proxy battle for… perhaps not the soul of the Republican Party, but at least a key appendage. In a matter of days, RNC members will flock to a scenic resort in Southern California to cast their ballots—in the first contested race for RNC chair since 2011—and help decide the direction of the GOP.
At stake isn’t so much whether Republicans should turn the page from Donald Trump. Both McDaniel and her primary challenger, Harmeet Dhillon, are diehard Trump fans. What’s more at stake is whether the GOP will make any changes after disappointing performances in the last three elections.
The battle between McDaniel and Dhillon is largely non-ideological and increasingly personal, with Dhillon drawing both ultra-MAGA supporters and those who want a change at the top for the sake of a change at the top.
The matter would appear to be settled, with McDaniel touting 107 public commitments from RNC members in a letter from early December, with only two public defections since then.
But a miraculous thing has happened since when that list came out: Dhillon hasn’t given up. And insiders say the race could be much closer than either side anticipates.
Dhillon, a frequent Fox News guest and California lawyer whose firm handled many of the 2020 election challenges for the RNC, has become a formidable opponent for McDaniel, partially thanks to a general malaise from the membership over the lackluster 2022 midterm results.
The former Trump lawyer also championed running a more frugal ship, boasting on Twitter that she managed to snag a breakfast sandwich, coffee, and a donut from Dunkin’ for only $10.
Dhillon’s camp also claims they have as many as 30 defections among the more than 100 members under McDaniel’s whip count. Her team would not provide any names, but, sure enough, some of the RNC members who are publicly for McDaniel sounded less than decided when they talked to The Daily Beast.
A source close to Dhillon said her vote count sits somewhere around 70 going into the meeting, still about 15 shy of being able to oust McDaniel if her count is correct.
“I feel very solid in the support that I have,” McDaniel told The Daily Beast in an interview on Thursday. “I’m talking to members every day, I have a whip team. We’re having conversations. And, again, I have yet to see a public list from either of my opponents that show enough support to win.”
Dhillon told The Daily Beast that McDaniel had her chance—and she failed.
“What we’re seeing around the country is an unprecedented amount of demand for change amongst rank-and-file Republicans,” Dhillon said. “After six years of Ronna’s leadership of the RNC, which is two years more than normally happens when you lose the White House… people are looking to 2024 and looking for an RNC that will make the necessary changes.”
“People want to win,” she continued, attempting to answer why RNC members have gotten behind her candidacy. “They have seen some dysfunction inside the operation, there is a lack of transparency.”
In a separate interview, McDaniel told The Daily Beast on Thursday that she has not asked Trump “or any 2024” candidate for help in the race, but repeated that she has a “great relationship” with the former president.
On Monday, Trump said on Real America’s Voice that he supports both McDaniel and Dhillon. “I mean, I get along with both of them. I haven’t taken a stance, you know, let them fight it out,” he said, confirming The Daily Beast’s previous reporting that Trump would stay out of the contentious RNC battle.
More than a month into the contest—which has devolved into a rat’s nest of accusations on various email chains—Dhillon’s persistence has, in fact, seemed to wear down some members.
“She’s like a dog with a bone. She is a very bright, a very focused person. I would call her somewhat unfeeling—and she has a bit of an ego—so she won’t believe she’s lost until she loses,” an RNC member told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity to discuss the behind-the-scenes deliberations.
“I think it will be a very close race,” Oscar Brock, a national committeeman from Tennessee who’s whipping votes on behalf of Dhillon, told The Daily Beast.
“It’s more close than Ronna wants it to be,” he added.
Part of the potentially inflated defection numbers being touted by Dhillon’s allies, one RNC member said, could be explained by conversations they’ve had with colleagues who are just sick and tired of the phone calls.
“I know somebody who told Ronna to be careful not to create a monster,” the first committee member said, recalling a recent conversation about McDaniel emboldening Dhillon within the RNC. “And I think the monster was created.”
Two committee members backing McDaniel told The Daily Beast that her whip confidant Jeff Kent has been telling allies to not panic over rumors that Dhillon has been flipping votes. Those committee members—also granted anonymity to discuss the inner workings candidly—said Kent told them that McDaniel hasn’t sunk below 100 names.
While McDaniel’s bloc of support may have largely held steady, there have been at least a few with reservations—both on and off the list of more than 100 names from early December, obtained by The Daily Beast—according to over a half-dozen members and advisers involved in the race who spoke with The Daily Beast.
“Until you actually cast that vote, it’s—you genuinely don’t know,” one of the committee members on McDaniel’s 109 list told The Daily Beast, adding they aren’t locked in on the incumbent. The source added that those McDaniel supporters on the list could use the excuse that they were persuaded by floor debate.
Then there’s the continued presence of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who landed a three-way debate on a conservative talk radio show during the winter meeting.
“The pillow guy, that’s kind of a joke and might make us have to take an extra vote or two,” a McDaniel ally said, with the caveat that Lindell would likely take more votes from Dhillon, should he manage to get nominated on the floor.
Lindell brought in reinforcements recently, tapping Sherronna Bishop—Rep. Lauren Boebert’s former campaign manager who was the target of an FBI raid in November—to run his seat-of-the-pants campaign for RNC chair.
RNC members that have interacted with Bishop say she presented herself as a point-person for Lindell’s candidacy, something that the 2020 voter-fraud truther confirmed. Bishop wasn’t afraid to take swings at McDaniel, but, more surprisingly, took aim at Dhillon when she talked to The Daily Beast.
“Harmeet Dhillon is an attorney, and that’s not what the audits show that the Republican Party needs,” Bishop said—before insisting that what is needed at the RNC is “marketing,” “messaging,” and “branding,” something she says Lindell is an expert at.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lindell insisted he’s on the path to a RNC victory, but declined to name any members publicly supporting his campaign. “I have many, many more than three,” Lindell said, referring to the number of states where he claims he’s secured two out of three members to nominate him. “Keeping Ronna under 85—because she is well under 85.”
As for Trump not backing his candidacy, Lindell blamed Fox News not advertising his run.
In text messages obtained by The Daily Beast, Bishop claimed to RNC members that Lindell had secured enough support for a nomination.
“We got it,” Bishop wrote to a RNC member last Friday. “He’s in!! Ready for a party!!!!”
(Even though Lindell is not a committee member, he is eligible to run under the RNC rules.)
One RNC member, dissatisfied with the party’s results but still backing McDaniel, explained why they’re supporting the incumbent who oversaw the GOP losing the White House and both chambers of Congress under Trump’s reign.
“I never think of her as a coach; she’s a frontman,” the member said of McDaniel.
“There are more than likely people on Harmeet’s list who said they’ll vote for her just so she’ll leave them alone, but they’ll vote for Ronna at the meeting.”
The question of whose whip list is more accurate will be settled in a week.
Publicly, Dhillon only has 28 endorsements, in a contest that requires at least 85 votes for an outright majority.
Candidates need a floor nomination to be eligible, requiring at least two out of the three members from at least three different states to nominate them.
If there isn’t an outright winner on the voice vote, the race goes to a runoff where members submit a first and second choice, with the lowest finisher being eliminated until there are only two candidates left. Then whoever has the most votes wins.
But the race has also taken a dark turn to the personal—from accusations of McDaniel getting rich off her gig to Dhillon liking a tweet from mid-December that took aim at McDaniel’s “lip injections.”
“I do have people on my campaign team,” Dhillon said when asked about the tweet in question. “If that’s still up, I will unlike it.”