Rather than blaming the coup-attempting former president — who made the willingness to spread his lies about the 2020 election a condition of his support — activists, lawmakers and even some fellow Republican National Committee members have instead turned on the RNC chair who is seeking a fourth two-year term.
“To play off of a famous catchphrase, Republicans are tired of losing. And I think that we need to radically reshape our leadership in order to win,” said Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC member from California who counts Trump as a law client, in her announcement on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program that she would challenge McDaniel for the chairmanship.
Dhillon did not respond to HuffPost’s queries. Neither in her Monday appearance on Carlson’s show nor on Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast the next day did she even mention Trump.
“Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining,” she told Bannon, ridiculing the idea that the midterm was a success because Republicans will take control of the House. “We really need a fresh perspective.”
Former New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, who this November lost his bid for governor, announced Wednesday that he would not be seeking the RNC chairmanship. “Chairman McDaniel’s re-election appears to already be pre-baked, as if the disappointing results of every election during her tenure, including yesterday’s in Georgia, do not and should not even matter,” he said in a statement, and then added in a tweet: “That doesn’t mean she should even be running again. It’s time the GOP elects new leadership! It’s time for fresh blood!”
McDaniel’s spokespeople did not respond to HuffPost queries.
Other Trump supporters argue that it’s not just McDaniel who needs to be ousted, but also Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely speaker come January. “The GOP needs more Lee Zeldin, Harmeet Dhillon, Thomas Massie, Mike Johnson, Jim Jordan, and less corrupt McLeadership,” wrote former Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, whose latter three references are Trump allies in the House.
A common gripe is that McDaniel failed to advocate early voting and absentee voting, giving Democrats a huge advantage heading into Election Day. “I think Republicans have been unwilling, for whatever reason — reluctant, resistant ― to voting early and voting by mail,” said Fox host and informal Trump adviser Sean Hannity.
Fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham complained to former Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway that she was “pissed” and “mad” about losing the Georgia Senate runoff Tuesday. Conway responded that Republicans had to start taking better advantage of early and absentee voting.
“We need to compete not just for votes, but ballots. We need to compete for ballots. If we don’t bank ballots early, we’re going to keep losing,” Conway said.
Ingraham responded that “everyone” had advised against that, including “at the very top of the Republican Party” — to which Conway responded: “Not everyone.”
The exchange, though, elided entirely Trump’s vilification of mail voting during his 2020 reelection bid, when he claimed, without proof, that the process was corrupt. In fact, Conway herself defended that position in a May 27, 2020, session with reporters at the White House.
“They wait in line at Georgetown Cupcake for an hour to get a cupcake. So I think they can wait in line to do something as consequential and critical and constitutionally significant as cast their ballot,” she said. “Next it’s online voting. Then pretty soon we’re just going to have DoorDash and Uber Eats deliver everything we need, including our ballots.”
Conway told HuffPost on Wednesday that she has advocated for using whatever rules are in place. “I have advocated for voting early and catching up with Dems on banking ballots as soon as you can since this is the new normal in many states,” she said.
“When Republicans see Sen. Schumer presiding over the U.S. Senate, they have no one to blame except Don Trump.”
Yet criticisms of McDaniel — and of McConnell and McCarthy, for that matter — also ignore that it was Trump who insisted on personal loyalty to him in GOP candidates and especially that they parrot his election lies — a trait many independent voters found repugnant and dangerous.
“If you get endorsed by him in the primary, you’re likely to win. If you get endorsed by him in the general, you’re likely to lose,” said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the few GOP senators willing to publicly blame Trump. “So, for someone who actually wants to win an election, getting endorsed by him is the kiss of death.”
Bill Palatucci, one of the few RNC members willing to publicly criticize Trump, agreed that the former president, who is again seeking the White House, is the true underlying problem. “When Republicans see Sen. Schumer presiding over the U.S. Senate, they have no one to blame except Don Trump,” he said, referring to the New York senator who, starting in January, will have even more authority as majority leader thanks to the Georgia runoff result.
McDaniel, a former state party chair in Michigan, was hand-picked by Trump to run the RNC after his unexpected White House win in 2016. She stayed on despite the drubbing Republicans took in the 2018 midterms and then again in 2020, at Trump’s request, despite his own loss.
She has told supporters she has 100 of the 168 members’ votes locked up, but that was before Dhillon’s announcement.
“There’s no doubt most RNC members like Ronna, but the question is, can the grassroots persuade RNC members who’ve already pledged to support Ronna to pick another candidate?” said one senior member on condition of anonymity. “Or can the grassroots help Ronna understand the party needs a change because the RNC members are clearly unwilling to do the dirty work and show her the door?”
The RNC will choose its chair heading into the 2024 presidential election at its winter meeting in January.
Trump is under investigation by the Department of Justice for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, including the scheme to submit to the National Archives fraudulent slates of electors from states that voted for Democrat Joe Biden as a way to pressure Trump’s then-vice president, Mike Pence, to award Trump a second term. A separate probe is investigating Trump’s removal of highly classified documents from the White House and subsequent refusal to hand them over, even in defiance of a subpoena.
In addition to the federal criminal investigations, a Georgia prosecutor is looking at Trump and his allies’ attempts to coerce state officials into falsely declaring him the winner in that state.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, the injury of 140 officers and four police suicides.
At rallies and in statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 House select committee’s work, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.