As Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel navigates a nasty family feud in her bid for another two-year term steering the GOP’s national party committee, some of her rivals question the depth of her advertised support for re-election.
But McDaniel, in an interview with Fox News Digital, described as “pretty solid” her backing by over 100 RNC committee members, which would far exceed the simple majority of the 168 members needed to secure a fourth two-year term that would be unprecedented in modern times.
McDaniel called some of the criticism directed at her by her challengers “self-serving.”
The race for RNC chair comes as the GOP continues to lick its wounds from last month’s lackluster performance in the midterms. Republicans not only failed to win control of the Senate. They lost ground in the chamber, secured only a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives and lost some races for governor and control of a handful of state legislative chambers in what many party leaders predicted would be a “red wave” election.
MCDANIEL WON’T LET GOP DEFEAT IN GEORGIA SENATE RUNOFF SIDETRACK HER RNC CHAIR RE-ELECTION BID
Republican setbacks in 2018, when the party lost its House majority, and in 2020 when it lost control of the Senate and the White House, also came on McDaniel’s watch as RNC chair. McDaniel, who as Michigan GOP chair was President Trump’s handpicked choice to steer the committee after he won the White House in 2016, was re-elected to the post in 2019 and 2021.
“I think what the RNC has done has made those elections better than they otherwise could have been,” McDaniel said, defending her record. “Under my watch, … you have seen an increase in Republicans turning out. You’ve seen us invest in things like voter registration, where we had big gains in states like North Carolina, Florida, Iowa. Our community centers were a value add in this election cycle, as we saw engagement with Hispanic and Asian and Black voters actually have higher turnout in the areas where we invested.”
WATCH: HARMEET DHILLON ANNOUNCES RNC BID ON FOX NEWS
The full RNC membership will choose the next chair in a secret ballot vote when the national party organization holds its winter meeting next month in southern California, and McDaniel is facing two challengers as she seeks another term.
Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who is also an RNC committee member from California and who served as a Trump campaign legal advisor, announced her bid on the Fox News Channel earlier this month.
Dhillon emphasized in an interview with Fox News Digital Thursday that she wants to take the party in a “fresh direction.” And she questioned the firmness of McDaniel’s support among RNC committee members.
“When you call those people and ask them, some of them have said they don’t support Ronna. Some of them have said, ‘We supported Ronna when she was the only candidate in the race, we don’t support her now, ‘” Dhillon said. And Dhillon said she believes McDaniel’s “numbers are actually much lower than what she claims.”
DHILLON ARGUES GOP LEADERSHIP MUST ‘ADOPT OR DIE’
Asked about Dhillon’s claims, McDaniel quickly pushed back, emphasizing that the RNC committee members on her list of supporters “are people who publicly put their name out. And it’s interesting that my opponent keeps saying, ‘Well, it’s soft.’ Well, their names are out there. Where are your names? Where’s your public list?
“These are people who are going on the record and saying, ‘I support Ronna and her re-election,'” McDaniel added. “If you’re putting your name on the record, that’s pretty solid.”
Dhillon has criticized McDaniel’s tenure at the RNC. But McDaniel noted that Dhillon was part of the RNC’s election integrity program and also sits on the executive board.
“If she had concerns about some of the things she’s raising now in a very public forum, she had ample opportunity in a private forum to discuss these things she’s saying now, and she never did,” McDaniel said of Dhillon. “And I think that’s why many are saying that’s not leadership.”
Dhillon isn’t McDaniel’s only challenger. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who’s a strong supporter of Trump’s unproven claims the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen, last month announced he would challenge McDaniel.
Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York mulled a bid for RNC chair before announcing earlier this month he wouldn’t challenge the chairwoman—for now.
“McDaniel should not run for a fourth term,” Zeldin argued. “I won’t be running for RNC chair at this time with McDaniel’s re-election pre-baked by design, but that doesn’t mean she should even be running again. It’s time the GOP elects new leadership! It’s time for fresh blood !”
Zeldin, a Trump ally who came close to upsetting Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul last month in the heavily blue Empire State, pointed to “the disappointing results of every election of her during her [McDaniel’s] tenure.”
LEE ZELDIN URGES RNC’S RONNA MCDANIEL NOT SEEK RE-ELECTION AS CHAIR
Another Trump ally, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, also weighed in for a run for national party chair. And former Trump White House adviser Mercedes Schlapp, the wife of American Conservative Union leader Matt Schlapp, also mulled a bid for chair.
With McDaniel and her declared or potential challengers all having ties to the former president, sources in Trump’s political orbit tell Fox News that, as of now, the former president remains neutral in the race for RNC chair.
McDaniel told Fox News she’s discussed her re-election bid with Trump but isn’t asking for his endorsement, now that he’s declared his candidacy for president in 2024.
“I’ve spoken to him and many others, and I said publicly I’m not seeking support from any candidate for 2024 because the RNC, for our bylaws, has to stay neutral,” McDaniel reiterated. “So I just think it would be inappropriate to be taking support from a nominee or potential nominee if we have to stay neutral.”
Susie Wiles, a top member of Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign team, defended McDaniel on Friday after a report that the RNC had shelled out millions of dollars for private jets, limousines and other expenses during McDaniel’s tenure.
Wiles said RNC spending on such items “came at the direction” of the Trump White House. “Those spreading falsehoods are doing so to use this as a weapon against Ronna McDaniel and are being misleading and disingenuous,” Wiles added in a statement to Fox News.
The report and Wiles’ response came as Dhillon raised questions regarding McDaniel’s oversight of RNC funds, while McDaniel allies spotlight the chair’s fundraising process, which is a top responsibility of anyone leading a national party committee.
RNC committee members have been flooded with emails in recent weeks from Republican activists calling on McDaniel to go after Dhillon, and her allies shared the committee members’ email addresses on social media.
With a month to go until the RNC’s winter meeting, the war of words in the chair race may escalate.
“There will be a lot of flak going back and forth, but I’m not sure it will have much impact. I think Ronna’s got the support to win, and I don’t think any of the attacks they make on her will make difference,” former longtime RNC member from New Hampshire Steve Duprey told Fox News.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
But Duprey lamented, “I don’t think it’s helpful for the future of the party, regardless of who’s running, but it’s probably inevitable, given the times we live in.”
McDaniel emphasized that “my message is unity,” and warned that “if we’re so vitriolic with each other that we can’t even come together to win elections, that’s going to be a long-term problem in 2024.”
Fox News’ Kyle Morris contributed to this report