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Ronna McDaniel has been under fire as RNC chair for a few years already, so it raises the questions of how she ascended to lead the RNC and how she has stayed in office for six years.
McDaniel was active in Michigan politics for years. She worked in her uncle Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and it appears he helped her become the Michigan representative on the GOP national committee in 2014.
The next year, in 2015, she was elected chair of the Michigan State Republican Committee. She checked all the boxes — she had the support of the state party establishment and the state Tea Party movement, she had demonstrated fundraising ability and campaign experience, she promised to listen more to the party grassroots, and she promised to expand the party’s base to include non-traditional groups such as minorities. Upon election, she immediately laid out a vision to win Michigan for the party’s 2016 presidential nominee.
In the 2016 presidential election, McDaniel made her vision for winning a reality, beating Hillary by 11,000 votes and giving Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to Trump. When Trump selected Reince Priebus, the national GOP chair, as his chief of staff, he asked Priebus to recommend his replacement. Priebus had been Wisconsin state GOP chair, so he knew McDaniel well and trusted her as a strong leader. Pence and Steve Bannon backed Nick Ayers, the former successful executive director of the Republican Governors’ Association. But in December 2016, Trump recommended McDaniels as his choice. Although the national committee chair is elected by the 168 members of the committee, they usually follow the president’s recommendation, which they did with McDaniels.
How has McDaniels remained RNC chair, despite her rather poor record? At first, she continued her success from the state level. She was a phenomenal fundraiser for the 2018 cycle, raising $213 million for the RNC compared to $101 million for the DNC. But the 2018 mid-terms produced disappointing results for the Republicans despite their massive fundraising advantage.
More important, though, she has been famously loyal to Trump. When her uncle Mitt condemned Trump as lacking moral character in a Washington Post editorial, McDaniel denounced him as feeding into the Democratic narrative, even though Mitt was the one who had jump-started her career in 2014 by pushing her for the GOP national committee. She hired many Trump campaign staffers onto the national committee, and she paid his legal expenses out of RNC funds. While it might have been reasonable to pay Trump’s legal fees, it reduced the funds available for other candidates.
McDaniels led the efforts to censure Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the J6 House committee. Whenever a Republican denounced Trump, she attacked that person, even though one might expect the GOP national chair to stay publicly neutral in internal party fights. Although Trump did not openly endorse her in the contested 2023 RNC chair contest, she was widely believed to be his choice.
Despite her demonstrated failures in every national campaign she has led, McDaniels is the longest-serving RNC chair since Edward Morgan, who led the party from its inception in 1856-1864. If she serves out her current term, which ends in 2025, she will tie Morgan’s tenure. McDaniels is yet another example of how Trump’s prizing loyalty over competence has created problems.Published in