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Stuck With Ronna

How does such a loser become the longest-serving RNC chair in modern history?
December 1, 2022
Stuck With Ronna
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks during a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on November 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

If you want to know how bad things are for the Republican party, consider this: The person most likely to be selected next month to chair the Republican National Committee has already overseen the loss of the House in 2018, the loss of the Senate and White House in 2020, vastly underperformed in the 2022 midterm elections, and may very well lose the Georgia Senate runoff elections for the second year in a row.

Here’s the real rub: She’s the Republicans’ best available option.

Ronna McDaniel is, apparently, one of only two people in the entire universe of Republicans willing and dopey enough to want the job in the current iteration of Donald Trump’s Republican party. Keep in mind, this is supposed to be a prestigious job—a first-class ticket into the fat-cat GOP donor world. She gets to raise and deploy hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle! What power! What influence! Yet the only other person openly challenging her for the position is election denier extraordinaire, Hardee’s parking lot search-warrant recipient, and perpetual Bannon “War Room” guest MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. (Rep. Lee Zeldin has also hinted may also make a run. He claims he is qualified for the position because he only lost his campaign against current New York Governor Kathy Hochul by five points. Looking at McDaniel’s record, this is almost a convincing argument.)

The fact that McDaniel, first installed in 2017, is on pace to become the longest-serving RNC chair in modern history is by no means a testament to her political prowess. Rather, it speaks to the broader party’s acquiescence to its last GOP president.

Because nothing significant at the RNC will change until the Republicans have some kind of consensus that the leader of the Republican party itself has to be changed. McDaniel is likely to stay in the job as long as Donald Trump retains his status as leader of the GOP.

Ronna’s RNC is one of stasis.

Republican leaders have been fighting among themselves over the reasons for the GOP midterm losses, with several of them making a show of blaming one another rather than risk being seen blaming Trump.

Mitch McConnell probably gave the most honest reason, although, as usual, the GOP Senate leader felt the need to couch it in language vague enough to avoid pissing off the MAGA base that, in practice, holds more sway over the party than he does. Back in August, McConnell lowered expectations and warned about “candidate quality.” And then he disappeared behind the curtain. Forget any discussion about how the roster of MAGA maniacs came to have standing in the party. Too touchy! Can’t be too specific; can’t name Trump; might offend his voters!

McConnell’s signals are all carefully calibrated: He wants to be clear enough that Beltway insiders know he’s not going along with Trump’s worst instincts, but he never wants to say anything so explicitly critical of Trump that the MAGA base can use it against him. (Kind of like how he said this week that “anyone”—who could McConnell possibly mean?—who meets with an antisemitic Holocaust denier is “highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.” McConnell’s analysis is simply wrong, because Trump cozied up to plenty of them before his first run for president, but whatevs.)

The man tasked with winning Senate races in 2020, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, blamed McConnell, as did Ted “I’m so pissed off I cannot even see straight” Cruz and a handful of other GOP senators. They, along with the Peter Thiel-funded focus group flunkee Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, said McConnell never fully committed his resources to struggling candidates.

In return, McConnell’s folks trashed Scott for running the NRSC like a vanity scam PAC, and soon enough, there was talk of an audit into Scott’s accounting practices. Fun times.

Winning Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, testing out his abilities as a Senate diplomat, said neither McConnell nor the NRSC was to blame. Instead, he said in an article titled “Don’t Blame Trump” that lack of a proper “turnout machine” and “small dollar” donations crushed the GOP.

Still, it’s not as if nobody is willing to blame Trump. Several Republicans are. They just happen to not to include anyone in the GOP leadership.

For example, Mo Brooks—the soon-to-be-retired congressman who infamously spoke about “kicking ass” on January 6th—said: “Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans. Even a candidate who campaigns from his basement can beat him.”

And some Republicans who might run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 are courting Trump’s donors and testing lines of attack against him, pointing to the GOP losses as evidence it’s time to pass the torch. But to win big national contests, they’ll have to figure out how to put together a base coalition to overwhelm Trump’s MAGA base, which is filled with voices who never hesitate to sing his praises. Like the increasingly mainstreamed Parkland survivor stalker Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“Here’s why it’s not Trump’s fault,” Greene said. “Trump has been being politically persecuted for the past few years now, ever since January 6th. He went out, and he did thirty Save America rallies all over the country. He endorsed something like 285 candidates. He held over fifty fundraisers, helped raise over $350 million for all these Republican-backed organizations. President Trump isn’t the problem.”

McDaniel has ordered a “review” of past performance to ally the disparate concerns and “help chart a winning course in the years to come.” But her future as RNC chair isn’t really in doubt. Shortly after the disastrous midterms,100 of the RNC’s total 168 members released a letter signaling their intent to re-elect her in January. That figure is well above the majority McDaniel needs to win. None of them even bothered to see if McDaniel would lose another election in the Georgia run-off on December 6. Weird, huh?

By looking at the people McDaniel put together for her “review,” it’s clear that the exercise is aimed at fusing various GOP concerns into a unified product rather than diagnosing specific failure points and fixing them. Does anyone expect Kellyanne Conway, Blake Masters, and Tony Perkins to do anything except advocate for their own very Trumpy self-interests? To that point, is there any chance that McDaniel, who dumped $30 million into “election integrity initiatives” and lawsuits in the midterms, is going to admit she was wrong? No way. (If she did, Mike Lindell might really have a chance.)

Will her report issue a list of mistakes the RNC has made, and will she then accept it by tearfully submitting her resignation? That’s more preposterous than the possibility of McDaniels using her middle name again.

Here’s the reality: McDaniel doesn’t go away until Trump does. The gig is too good for her to give up, and enough people remain happy to back her because she’s not Mike Lindell or whatever other protest candidate Steve Bannon props up. As long as Trump remains the figurative head of the GOP, the RNC will remain in 2023 exactly as it was in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022. The reign of Ronna stumbles on.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.