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Republicans gather for their first big party meeting since the midterms

Republicans gather for their first big party meeting since the midterms

For Republicans, the months following the 2022 midterms have been consumed by a fair amount of introspection — and finger-pointing — about why the results were so underwhelming for the party.

The disappointment has colored the look ahead to 2024 as leaders, officials and activists question who will lead the GOP at the top of the presidential ticket and the Republican National Committee.

Inside a glitzy hotel in the Southern California enclave of Dana Point on Friday, the second question will be answered as RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel looks to make the case that, despite the midterm results, she’s in the best position to help the party win next year.

McDaniel is attempting to fend off a challenge from Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC member from California who leads the Republican National Lawyers Association, as well as a long-shot bid by My Pillow founder and leading election conspiracist Mike Lindell. The secret ballot vote will take place during the open-press portion of the RNC’s three-day winter meeting, which opens Wednesday. A schedule for the gathering shows a candidate forum set for Wednesday.

RNC officials will also discuss upcoming primary and general election debates, rules and resolutions. The party’s ongoing audit into the last election is likely to come up — but the main event will be the vote on McDaniel’s bid to lead the RNC for a fourth two-year term.

McDaniel, who was handpicked by then-President Donald Trump for the role, has faced heat from some Republicans and conservative media figures for the party’s lackluster results in November. That includes from her main challenger, Dhillon, who has argued that the first step Republicans need to get back on course to win in the upcoming election cycle is to replace McDaniel. 

But McDaniel, who kicked off her re-election bid last year with a list of endorsements from more than 100 of the RNC’s 168 members, has argued she has best set up the RNC for future success by pointing to turnout efforts and initiatives that she says have borne fruit for the party. McDaniel has also argued that while she may lead the RNC, she does not have a say in picking candidates or running their campaigns — signaling she believes candidate quality was the party’s main issue at the ballot box in 2022.

Party chairs often come under scrutiny when their party enters the wilderness, and with a slim, rowdy House majority and questions about how Trump will fare in 2024 after his endorsement shortcomings in the fall, the GOP finds itself seeking answers. 

In this setting, McDaniel has become a favorite target for conservative activists seeking change but shying away from confronting any role the former president or abortion politics may have played in the midterms. 

Ahead of the annual winter gathering, GOP activists at the state and local level have led a sort of Sunbelt uprising against McDaniel that stretched from Arizona to Florida, where state parties passed or considered holding votes of no confidence in her. Meanwhile, an RNC official formally accused a McDaniel ally of engaging in “religious bigotry” aimed at Dhillon’s Sikh faith in discussing the race for party chair.

But the cold math shows McDaniel with a considerable edge over Dhillon — with McDaniel having the public backing of more than 100 RNC members, well over the majority needed to retain her seat on Friday, compared to Dhillon, who has earned the backing of about 30. 

“This has really been kind of member-driven,” Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina GOP, told NBC News last year, saying he signed a pro-McDaniel letter without hesitation after the November elections because she has been responsive to state party leaders’ needs.

“For me, it was not a close call,” he said. “Every single time I called her, the answer was yes. I’m not surprised that folks coalesced behind her or around her as quickly as they did.”

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