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Race for RNC chair could shape future of Republican Party

(NewsNation) — On Friday, the 168 members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) will decide by secret ballot whether incumbent Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel will retain her position as the GOP looks to move past its underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterms.

In order to win a fourth term, McDaniel will have to stave off challenges from Harmeet Dhillon — the Republican national committeewoman for California and a legal adviser to former President Donald Trump — as well as My Pillow, Inc. CEO Mike Lindell, an outspoken 2020 election denier.

McDaniel is considered the favorite in the race, but Dhillon has earned a number of prominent endorsements since announcing her candidacy in December.

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — whom many see as the future of the party — called for a change in committee leadership.

“I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC,” DeSantis told Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk.

DeSantis cited the GOP’s “three substandard election cycles in a row” as evidence that a shake-up is needed. He said he liked some of the things Dhillon has said, particularly her call to move the RNC headquarters out of Washington, D.C.

GOP strategists told NewsNation that whoever wins the election will have to chart a new path forward.

“I think everyone agrees that the RNC does need a change,” said Andrew Clark, founder of Relentless Strategies LLC. “They need an influx of new ideas and new energy.”

McDaniel — the niece of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney — has served as the RNC’s chairwoman since 2017 and is determined to defend her seat.

Throughout her time atop the committee, McDaniel has remained loyal to Trump, who chose her to replace then-RNC chairman Reince Priebus after Priebus became White House chief of staff.

The current chairwoman has vowed to keep the 2024 Republican primary process neutral and believes she can bridge the divisions within the party.

In November, 101 RNC voting members signed a letter backing McDaniel — well above the 85 she would need to win re-election. In an interview with Semafor last week, the incumbent said those members remain committed to her bid.

Numerous high-profile GOP donors also back McDaniel.

Last week, more than 150 GOP donors signed a letter in support of the incumbent, including casino mogul Steve Wynn and billionaire Elizabeth Uihlein.

But others in the GOP, including popular figures in the conservative media, have been critical of the party’s performance under McDaniel’s leadership.

“Somebody make me the case why Ronna McDaniel should maintain her job at the RNC,” conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted in November. “She took over in 2017 and has presided over a blowout in 2018, a presidential loss in 2020, two run-off losses in 2021, and the loss of the Senate and wild GOP House underperformance in 2022.”

Dhillon is considered to have the best chance at unseating McDaniel. The attorney worked as a legal adviser on Trump’s 2020 campaign before announcing her candidacy last month.

Dhillon has secured 29 public endorsements from voting members, according to her campaign website. Those endorsements include at least one state chairwoman who had previously signed on to the McDaniel letter in November.

She has secured support from a different group of wealthy Republican donors, including the other half of the Uihlein couple, Richard Uihlein. Earlier this month, more than two dozen GOP supporters signed a letter calling for a change at the top of the RNC.

“We cannot continue on our current trajectory as a Republican Party,” the letter read. “We must change, in order to fulfill our promise to Republican voters to win elections.”

Lindell has also thrown his hat in the ring, but he’s not expected to win the election.

Although he hasn’t endorsed anyone publicly, Trump is reportedly backing McDaniel ahead of Friday’s vote.