A three-way battle for Republican National Committee chairman could deal another setback for a party looking to enter the 2024 cycle with a united front.
Each of the three candidates running for the presidency — incumbent Ronna McDaniel, California-based attorney Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — have confirmed to CNN, either themselves or through allies, that they qualified for the election . It will mark the first time in more than a decade that a protracted election process — scheduled to take place when the committee’s 168-member electoral panel convenes in Southern California later this month — is likely to take place, several people familiar with the process said. A spokesman for the RNC declined to comment on the status of the candidate qualifications.
According to an email sent to RNC members last week, candidates competing in contested races had until 10am Friday to qualify for voting by submitting “written evidence” showing their majority support by National Committee members in at least three states. McDaniel, Dhillon and Lindell will each attend candidate forums before committee members vote on January 27 in a secret ballot to choose their next chair.
“Yes, 3 are in,” Lindell said in a text message Friday when asked if he had submitted his paperwork to qualify for the chairman’s race. The MyPillow founder, who is a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump’s vote-fraud allegations, declined to specify which committee members supported his campaign.
“I’ve told mine I want to be discreet because I don’t want the media to attack her,” he said.
A person close to Dhillon also confirmed the California committeewoman had submitted the necessary paperwork to qualify and plans to conduct “a full on-site whip operation” at the winter meeting in two weeks time. That operation will include late-night receptions for committee members and a handful of high-profile deputies flying in for the occasion, including defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk, the person said.
“We feel very, very good. Since yesterday I’ve been like, ‘Good God, there’s a very, very clear way to win this thing,'” said the person close to Dhillon.
“Ronna McDaniel looks forward to participating in the candidate forum at the winter meeting,” said Emma Vaughn, a spokeswoman for McDaniel’s reelection campaign.
The hard-fought chair race comes just weeks after House Republicans won their new majority with a days-long battle to choose their own leader following the party’s overwhelming performance in the midterm elections and amid furious objections to Kevin McCarthy – who was eventually elected speaker – Started by some the most conservative members of the House GOP conference. Another protracted Republican Party governing body leadership election could deal a second blow to the GOP in its quest for party unity and exacerbate ongoing strategy debates across the party.
The candidate forums, which have been held in recent years, will allow candidates running for chair and other competitive positions — including co-chair and treasurer — to present their case to committee members in a format of their choice, a person familiar with the matter said the planning. While everyone is allotted equal time, a candidate could spend the time talking directly to members about their campaign or answering questions from members all the time.
“I don’t think it’s going to be loud per se, but I’m sure both of Ronna’s challengers will argue vigorously as to why they should leave and why they should replace them,” said a committee member planning to back Dhillon.
Vaughn, McDaniel’s spokeswoman, said the current leader will use the candidate forum “to continue her discussions with members of the 168, our party’s grassroots leaders who are eager to unite to compete and win in 2023 and 2024.”
McDaniel has declined to participate in a public debate with Dhillon and Lindell to be moderated by radio personality John Fredericks and right-wing broadcaster Real America’s Voice at the California resort in Dana Point, where RNC members are gathering later this month will. Vaughn cited the RNC-sanctioned candidate forum as McDaniel’s reason for not attending, adding that the acting chair “will oversee party business for the remainder of the RNC meeting.”
However, had she agreed to participate in the Fredericks forum, McDaniel likely would not have received a fair platform. The Virginia-based talk show host has previously described McDaniel, who is running for her fourth term, as a “three-time loser” who is overseeing “the biggest disaster I’ve ever seen.”
With two weeks left until RNC members gather in California, the race for the presidency has taken a heated turn.
A series of no-confidence votes against McDaniel by various state parties has further emboldened Dhillon and her allies, while some of the California lawyer’s opponents have begun to quietly ask questions about their Sikh faith, according to two people familiar with those talks.
“We must reject religious bigotry [within] our great party. Attacking the Sikh faith of an Asian-American candidate for RNC 4th Chair has the optics of racism!” Oregon committee member Solomon Yue, an early Dhillon supporter, wrote on Twitter earlier this week alongside a screenshot of one Text message from another RNC member claiming they were approached by “a former RNC employee who lives in a southern state” who was trying to circulate a video of Dhillon speaking at the GOP conference Holding a Sikh prayer in Cleveland in 2016.
Following the allegations, McDaniel, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, issued a statement to NBC News condemning “religious bigotry in any form.”
“As a member of a religious minority, I would never condone such attacks. I have vowed to campaign positively and will continue to do so,” she said.
While more than 100 RNC members signed a November letter supporting McDaniel’s re-election as chairman, allies of her opponents claim their support has cracked in the weeks since. Several state executive committees have passed no-confidence votes against McDaniel, with another vote scheduled to take place in Florida.
Both the Alabama and Louisiana Republican parties have approved resolutions or publicly urged RNC members to vote against McDaniel. In Arizona late last year, Republican leaders called for McDaniel to step down, while the Texas GOP Executive Committee called on its three members of the RNC committee to endorse new leadership rather than endorse McDaniel. In Florida, two candidates for the leadership of the state GOP party recently signed a petition to force a vote of no confidence in McDaniel, whose fate is currently unknown.
Still, Vaughn claimed in a statement that “members’ support for the chair has grown since she was announced” to seek re-election.
While McDaniel’s allies continue to announce their early support from over 100 members, it’s unclear if that support will hold up when committee members vote later this month. Because votes are cast in secret, it’s possible that some signers of the pro-McDaniel letter may defect without revealing their identities.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of public debates hosted by Real America’s Voice for the RNC Chair.