DANA POINT, Calif. (AP) — Republican National Committee Chairwoman Rona McDaniel is up for re-election in a bitter leadership feud that is testing former President Donald Trump’s grip on his own Make America Great Again movement.
The high-profile race to lead the Republican Party in the 2024 presidential election will be decided Friday afternoon in a secret ballot at the committee’s winter meeting in Southern California.
The former president privately supports McDaniel, whom he picked for the post after his victory in 2016. But rebel factions within his own MAGA movement have lined up behind her rival, Trump lawyer Harmit Dillon.
Dhillon led an aggressive challenge against McDaniel that included allegations of chronic underspending, mismanagement and even religious bigotry against Dhillon’s Sikh faith — all allegations McDaniel denied. Above all, the case against McDaniel, the niece of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, centers on conservative frustration at the repeated election losses she has overseen.
The vote comes as the Republican Party struggles to unify behind a message or messenger as the 2024 presidential season gets under way. Similar disagreements plagued the House GOP’s day-to-day battle to select a House speaker earlier in the month. And on Friday, those same forces threaten to derail McDaniel’s bid to become the longest-serving RNC chairman since the Civil War.
Before Friday’s vote, Dillon invoked the Republican base’s overwhelming desire for change and threatened political retribution against RNC members who dared to back McDaniel’s re-election.
“Ignoring the will of the voters in your state is a good way to not get re-elected,” Dillon told The Associated Press.
McDaniel battled MAGA frustration even after Trump sent his aides to California in the days leading up to the vote to help McDaniel. The former president’s senior adviser, Susie Wiles, was among those Trump allies who arranged private conversations with members of the RNC on Thursday.
Trump avoided making a public endorsement only at McDaniel’s request, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation. McDaniel’s team was confident she would win without his public support, allowing her to maintain a sense of neutrality at the start of the 2024 presidential primary season.
Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, a former RNC chairman, was among those who gathered at the Waldorf Astoria this week to lobby for McDaniel.
“Rhona seems to be in very good shape to be re-elected,” Priebus said.
Meanwhile, Dylan’s allies were also hard at work.
Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Cary Lake was on hand to lobby RNC members on Dhillon’s behalf. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered the top candidate for president in 2024, also came out against McDaniel in the run-up to the vote.
“I think we need a change. I think we need to get new blood into the RNC,” DeSantis said in an interview with Florida’s Voice, citing three “unusual election cycles in a row” under McDaniel.
The next RNC chair will lead the commission through the 2024 presidential election.
The RNC controls much of the presidential nominating process — including the debates and voting calendar — while directing the GOP’s fundraising efforts and the sprawling national infrastructure designed to elect the next Republican president.
By its rules, the RNC must remain neutral in presidential primaries. Trump is the only announced GOP nominee so far, but other high-profile contenders are expected in the coming months.
Dillon, whose law firm earned more than $400,000 representing Trump and his political organizations in the 2022 midterm elections, has vowed to leave his law practice if elected. The California attorney also vowed to remain independent in the 2024 GOP primary if he wins.
Also in the race is MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist who has secured enough support to qualify for the ballot.
Lindell has already endorsed Trump’s 2024 campaign and said he would not change his mind if his bid is successful on Friday.
“I have never supported Donald Trump,” Lindell said. “I will never leave this space.”