“We need each other,” McDaniel told committee members after calling for Dhillon and Lindell to join her onstage. “We listen to them, grassroots. We know. We listen to Harmeet; We listen to Mike Lindell… [W]With us united and all of us united, the Democrats are going to hear us in 2024.”
Speaking to a swarm of reporters after the vote, Dhillon said she is committed to working to mend the fractures in the party, but party unity will not come overnight.
“We didn’t expect this to become a nationwide grassroots movement,” he said. “So I am committed to healing and meeting with people, but at the end of the day, if our party is perceived to be totally out of touch with the grassroots, which I think some may detract from this result, we have some work to do. .»
The committee meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, a luxury resort, illustrated the tense divide within Republican ranks that continues months after the 2022 election.
Dhillon, whose firm represents former President Donald Trump, has raised his profile over the past year with regular appearances on Fox News’ late-night shows, garnering support for his presidential bid from a leading cast of conservative commentators. That list included Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Charlie Kirk, who helped mobilize an army of grassroots activists to call and email RNC committee members urging them to oppose McDaniel’s re-election. But those high-profile figures weren’t always an added value.
On multiple occasions, swing members told Dhillon and her allies that they would be willing to support her if Kirk were not one of their replacements, said Oscar Brock, a Tennessee national committee member who was on her team. Dhillon had assured concerned members that Kirk, a fiery conservative figure, would not be on the NCR staff if he won. But there was never a conversation among her whip team about asking Kirk to lower her support.
«There probably should have been,» Brock said. «But there wasn’t.»
In an interview on Friday, Kirk called McDaniel’s victory «a direct insult to the grassroots people who they send 10 emails a day asking for money.»
“I think the RNC will have a lot of trouble raising small donations, a lot of trouble rebuilding trust,” Kirk said. “Going into 2024, the apparatus that should be a machine and clicking on all cylinders and firing on all cylinders is going to have a confidence deficit.”
Kirk wasn’t the only Dhillon ally whose aggressive defense ended up driving committee members away. Caroline Wren, who most recently ran the Kari Lake gubernatorial campaign in Arizona, had a heated exchange with Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones Thursday night in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria.
According to three people familiar with the confrontation, Wren, who has been Dhillon’s top adviser in his campaign for president, told Jones: «Everybody knows you’re here screwing up votes for Ronna.» She proceeded to call him a «fuckin’ sellout,» adding that «the grassroots will never support him again.»
A person familiar with the conversation said Wren had also approached Jones two other times this week, once while talking to an NCR member, during which she called him «the fucking enemy,» and again when Jones was talking. with Lake, during which she called him a «sellout».
Wren confirmed that she was frustrated with Jones because she had previously been a public supporter of Dhillon. But she played down the tenor of the Thursday night conversation, saying she didn’t use profanity and adding that she even laughed at one point. When she was asked about the encounter Friday, Jones smiled and shrugged, saying «there’s not much more to say.»
In addition to relying on prominent conservative figures, Dhillon’s whip team also made calls once or twice a week, Brock said. But several committee members in recent days said the calls and emails from Dhillon’s team had become too much, eventually solidifying their support for McDaniel.
“I think Harmeet could have taken a different approach and said, ‘The RNC, that’s not where we want to be. And this is what it will be like when I become president, without questioning the motives of all the people who are part of the organization,” said Paul Dame, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party who joined the committee in fall 2021. After After remaining undecided for much of the chair race, Dame endorsed McDaniel this week.
Dhillon received a last-minute nod from Ron DeSantis on Thursday, though it’s unclear if it influenced the votes. The Florida governor’s decision to weigh in on the race contrasted with Trump’s.
Despite choosing McDaniel as his RNC chairman after his 2016 victory, the former chairman publicly stayed out of this year’s race, though Dhillon said he texted him through one of his advisers on Wednesday. . In the text, Trump joked about the displeasure of one of his backers (he declined to say who). Prior to that message, Dhillon had not spoken to the former president since shortly after she announced her run for president. She said that when she told Trump that she was running, he commented that McDaniel had also announced a campaign.
“He said, ‘Okay, well, that’s going to be interesting,’” Dhillon recalled. «‘Good luck.'»
Despite calling for sweeping reforms to move the party forward, Dhillon declined on Friday to answer whether he supports Republicans moving away from Trump in 2024 and said it was inappropriate for an RNC committee member to sway voters in the primary process.
While Trump remained silent, his top advisers privately endorsed McDaniel’s re-election bid, though aides Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles questioned the idea that they were winning votes for her as they met with members at the Waldorf Astoria in the US. last days.
Ultimately, McDaniel’s team, with the help of allies, convinced members that he earned himself a fourth term even after lackluster midterms. He left Dhillon’s supporters exasperated.
“You got me,” Bill Palatucci, a member of the New Jersey national committee, said of why his colleagues on the committee overwhelmingly endorsed McDaniel, despite multiple cycles of GOP disappointments. “That has been my pitch to these people through email, phone calls, and meetings here. We just had this terrible midterm cycle, and you guys don’t want to make a change? For some reason, their heads are buried in the sand.»
McDaniel’s bid for a fourth term was a fight before it officially started.
Former Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor in New York whose race drew national attention for being closer than expected, put his name forward to chair the RNC shortly after the midterms. (He received a write-in vote on Friday.) And Palatucci, upset by what he described as McDaniel’s brief «disaster» of a call with RNC members on November 9, emailed senior RNC staff and some members with his concerns. In the note, he wrote that McDaniel’s comments «showed an incredible unwillingness to face the reality of what happened last night,» adding that he and other members «want a real and honest assessment of what happened.»
When he formally announced his candidacy on November 14, McDaniel conducted a lengthy call with members, answering questions and making his case for why he should continue in the role. McDaniel had previously told members in 2021 that he would not seek another term after his third.
By the end of the week, McDaniel had assembled a list of more than 100 members who publicly supported her. Just after Thanksgiving, she announced that she would launch a «Republican Party Advisory Council» to «review» the party’s electoral performance in 2022.
Last week, McDaniel sent members a document she called her «Vision for Unity,» which included plans to improve Republican «legal ballot collection» efforts, find new tactics for small-scale fundraising dollars that has suffered in recent years and boost youth. vote. In the document, first reported by POLITICO, McDaniel called on members who were inclined to support Dhillon, saying that she would work with Dhillon and Lindell over the next two years in an effort to unite all corners of the Republican Party. .
“I look forward to coming together once again as a Party and working together, along with Harmeet and Mike, to heal as a Party and elect Republicans,” McDaniel wrote.
The event at the Waldorf Astoria drew a range of Republican officials, from Lake and Jones to former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a potential 2024 presidential candidate who could be seen meeting reporters in the hotel lobby Wednesday and Thursday. . Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another presidential candidate, although he did not attend the meeting, left stacks of his new book on a registration table for those in attendance.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin appeared Friday morning and posed for photos with the crowd before an NCR security guard who at one point asked to see her badge lanyard.
Rachael Bade contributed to this report.