WASHINGTON — Republicans have done badly in three straight elections, but that has not stopped party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel from tripling her salary, to $400,000 a year, from the time she was hand-picked for the job by then-President Donald Trump.
McDaniel, who is now seeking a fourth term, had been the state party chair in Michigan ― a “housewife,” in her own words — when Trump anointed her as the Republican National Committee chair in 2017 to replace Reince Priebus, who was leaving the role to join Trump’s White House as chief of staff.
She earned $122,582 that first year, according to a HuffPost review of Federal Election Commission filings. That jumped to $146,048 in 2018 and, despite the “blue wave” that gave Democrats firm control of the House that November, she saw her earnings nearly double to $285,498 in 2019.
In 2020, the year in which Republicans went on to lose both the White House and the Senate, McDaniel was paid $410,640. She made $396,592 in 2021 and $358,431 in the first 11 months of 2022. That year’s final payments will not be disclosed until the RNC files its year-end statement later this month.
“Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has a base salary that is comparable to previous chairs, and any bonuses are voted upon by the Budget Committee based on metrics like fundraising,” said Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for McDaniel’s reelection effort.
HuffPost’s review, though, shows that McDaniel’s new salary is substantially higher than either of the previous two RNC chairs.
Michael Steele made $114,839 in 2009, his first year, and earned $136,959 in 2010. He was paid $18,733 in 2011, the year he was ousted.
Priebus was paid $152,874 that year, a figure that stayed roughly the same through 2014. He earned $201,619 in 2015, $257,782 in 2016 and $57,232 in 2017 — which largely appears to have been bonus payments for the election win the previous November.
RNC officials also point out that McDaniel raised $1.5 billion over her six years, allowing it to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to its sister Senate and House committees as well as all 56 state and territorial parties.
They further point out that Republicans picked up two Senate seats in 2018 and 16 House seats in 2020 before then taking control of the House in 2022, albeit with a much slimmer margin than they had expected.
McDaniel is facing an aggressive challenge from California RNC member Harmeet Dhillon, who serves as a lawyer for the coup-attempting Trump and whose firm has also received $1.3 million from the RNC since shortly after she appeared at a White House function in 2019.
Dhillon, who has based her candidacy on the RNC’s record of losses during McDaniel’s tenure, did not respond to HuffPost queries.
A major RNC donor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said McDaniel’s compensation totals do not seem out of line given her responsibilities — notwithstanding the party’s recent win-loss record.
“That job sucks, and at least she’s normal and ethical,” the donor said.
Jim Dicke, an RNC member from Ohio, said that McDaniel deserves what she is making. “I do think compensation matters. The chair is a 24/7/365 job, and I don’t find it improper,” he said.
One RNC member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that if McDaniel’s salary is out of step with the party’s performance in elections, that was the fault of the RNC membership. “We’ve rubber-stamped it,” the member said, referring to McDaniel’s compensation package.
Neither Dhillon nor McDaniel, though, has as of yet publicly put the blame on the person many Republicans privately acknowledge was the reason for the election losses: Trump himself, who, while popular with the GOP base, has long alienated key swing voters.
In 2018, Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House, overcoming a substantial deficit and giving control of that chamber to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Voters threw out Trump in November 2020, and two months later, Georgians elected Democrats in two Senate runoffs that the then-president effectively sabotaged by telling voters that the elections were rigged. And in 2022, Republicans failed to live up to expectations of a “red tsunami” after candidates who won nominations by agreeing to spread Trump’s continued election lies lost to Democrats in key races.
The RNC chairmanship carries a two-year term, so the chair elected at this month’s winter meeting in Dana Point, California, would be in charge of the national party heading into the 2024 presidential race.