The Ronna McDaniel Mutiny

Ronna McDaniel
Ronna McDaniel appears to have the inside track in the R.N.C. race. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
December 7, 2022

It’s been a busy week for Ronna McDaniel, the embattled Republican National Committee chair, as she fends off various threats to her leadership. McDaniel, of course, came in for her fair share of finger pointing last month  after the G.O.P.’s underwhelming midterms performance, dragged down in part by the plummeting stock of her close ally, Donald Trump. Nevertheless, she appears to have the inside track in the R.N.C. race, successfully swatting down former congressman and New York gubernatorial hopeful Lee Zeldin, who had been quietly talking to R.N.C. members and sizing up his chances for a coup. McDaniel also has the upper hand against Harmeet Dhillon, an R.N.C. member who recently declared that she would challenge her for the job. (A third challenge, from MyPillow C.E.O. Mike Lindell, is unanimously viewed as an absolute nonstarter.) 

Support for McDaniel has ebbed since her election in 2017; a fourth term would make her the longest-serving party chair in a century. But with 104 members on her side, any mutiny will be difficult. “Say what you will about Ronna and the way she runs the R.N.C. (though no one criticizing her has any specific complaints), but she’s always maintained very close relationships with the 168 [voting members],” a G.O.P. insider told me. 

Prior to him bowing out of the race, Zeldin had been making the case behind the scenes that he could lead the R.N.C. to victory, pointing to the four New York House seats he helped flip from blue to red in the midterms—“four seats that gave us the majority,” as a longtime conservative activist pointed out. (A party needs 218 seats to win the House; the Republicans, who were expected to gain a double-digit majority, won 221, technically within the Zeldin margin of error.) In his statement bowing out of the race, Zeldin sniped that McDaniel’s re-election was “pre-baked by design.” He continued: “[She] should not run for a 4th term… it’s time the G.O.P. elects new leadership! It’s time for fresh blood!”

The great MAGA hope is now Dhillon, a prominent Republican First Amendment lawyer, a Trump 2020 legal advisor, and a member of the R.N.C. herself. Ron Coleman, a partner at Dhillon’s law firm, described her campaign as an outsider “insurgency,” pointing out that she had the support of the MAGA commentator class, including Tucker Carlson, who let Dhillon launch her campaign on his show; prominent activist groups, like Turning Point USA; and popular elected officials, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Though none of them are voting members of the R.N.C., they hold sway over massive portions of the MAGA base, and Dhillon’s strategy is to use their outside influence (as well as her own social media acumen) to pressure the committee’s voting members into heeding the base. “If Ronna is re-elected, there is going to be zero grassroots confidence,” Coleman told me. “I mean, people are really, really unhappy with her.” 

I asked for a dose of reality from the G.O.P. insider, who responded that he perceived “zero threat” of McDaniel losing the race to Dhillon, even with Dhillon’s MAGA credentials: “Unless Trump himself comes out and endorses her over Ronna, it’s not real.” 

The Trouble with Ye…

Meanwhile Kanye West, he of the recently infamous “I like Hitler” interview with InfoWars’ Alex Jones, continues to generate new right-wing fallout from his declaration that he is, in his own words, “pro-Nazi.” In the category of people with egg on their face: the House Judiciary Committee, which was forced to delete a pro-Kanye tweet they posted in October; Elon Musk, the Twitter owner who was forced to re-suspend Ye after the rapper posted an image of a swastika inside of a Star of David; and Jones himself, who felt it necessary to clarify on a separate right-wing podcast that he hated Hitler (“Hitler was a pedophile!”) and believes Ye is out of control. Inside the Ye campaign, Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart writer who fell from right-wing superstardom in 2018 for his close ties with white supremacists, seemed to take the fall for the interview, announcing on Telegram that there was a “mutual conclusion that I should step away.”

Among those ducking the scandal is the prominent right-wing commentator Candace Owens, who had cleaved to Ye the most in the past several years and upped her public support of his ideas in the past several months, wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt with him during Paris fashion week and inviting him to the premiere of her Daily Wire documentary in October. In the latest episode of her show—aptly titled “Please Stop Asking Me To Comment On Kanye And Everything Else”—Owens zeroed in on Ye’s suggestion that Ben Shapiro, her boss and colleague, was controlling what Owens said. “I think that it was really crappy for somebody who was a friend of mine to say that on a platform, but I also think it’s really crappy for everybody to keep thinking that I have to answer and agree with every single thing that Ye says.” 

Admittedly, Owens, who has frequently touted her loyalty to her friends, is in a bind. Her political rise has been intertwined with Ye’s political devolution ever since he endorsed her in 2018 via tweet (“I love the way Candace Owens thinks”). And Ye’s financial woes have also become her own, thanks to the disintegration of his deal to purchase Parler, the MAGA-friendly social media network whose C.E.O., George Farmer, happens to be her husband. (The deal, which Owens and Farmer brokered during Paris Fashion Week, fell through in mid-November, after Ye began to rant about the “Jewish mafia” but before he praised Hitler.) 

Owens has implied that her friendship with Ye is over, but has been conspicuously silent on Ye’s blatantly anti-Semitic attacks on Shapiro (“[his] cardio is picking up shekels”), and has yet to condemn any of his remarks about the Nazis or Hitler, a low bar for any halfway respectable pundit to clear. (Owens continues to bristle at the implication that she should say anything further on the issue: “Please stop tagging me in every single thing that he says and saying that my silence is violence.”)

And Owens isn’t alone in ignoring or otherwise papering over Ye’s bigotry. Indeed, several right-wing hosts who’d had Ye on their shows during his downward spiral into anti-Semitism sought to cast his commentary as “free speech,” even as they said professed to disagree with the commentary itself. Gavin McInnes, the former Vice Media co-founder who now leads the extremist street gang known as the Proud Boys, hosted Ye on his show shortly after the Jones interview and told his viewers: “I don’t think he’s anti-Semitic, per se. I don’t even know how much he likes Hitler… I’m not saying it’s bullshit, but it’s art.” As long as these right-wing factions remain tolerant of Ye—and as long as they give him opportunities to express his views—the former rapper isn’t fading from view.