Republicans are facing a reckoning over their future after their poor performance in the midterms — and the debate is running hot inside the main hub of the GOP.
In a series of private email threads obtained by POLITICO, a handful of Republican National Committee members denounced former President Donald Trump, with one pushing for fellow members and RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel to forcefully condemn his decision to host a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with antisemites.
“I am flabbergasted at the lack of outrage from Ronna about this,” wrote Oscar Brock, a national committeeman from Tennessee. “I tweeted to her yesterday, asking her to condemn this. We must, as a party, oppose all racism and prejudice, and condemn those who accept and endorse it, which includes inviting neo-nazi’s [sic] to dinner.”
The emails, which were sent to all 168 committee members’ email addresses, offer a rare glimpse at the agitation that is roiling among some in the Republican National Committee at a moment of intense scrutiny of the institution and the party it represents. It also brings to the surface tensions over whether or not McDaniel can or should lead the RNC in this current political climate, with an increasingly undisciplined Trump launching a third presidential run and the party coming to terms with midterm losses that many blame on the former president. McDaniel claims the support of a majority of committee members, but has recently faced challenges for the chair position.
The thread obtained by POLITICO begins with a heartfelt message from committeeman Richard Porter from Illinois on Thanksgiving Day.
“I am sipping my coffee and thinking how thankful I am to be part of an organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting our great nation, the ideals of which were so beautifully expressed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence,” Porter wrote. “I am so thankful to be working alongside each of you, and each of the other people in our respective states and territories, to stop the hate and defeat the anger.”
But days later, the discussion quickly turned to Trump’s dinner with Ye, the rapper known better as Kanye West, and Nick Fuentes, an avowed white nationalist and Holocaust denier.
“Is it just me or is anyone else struck by the incredible irony that Richard was writing these wonderful words within 48 hours of Donald Trump having dinner with anti-Semite Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, also an anti-Semite and a racist, white nationalist. All Republican leaders need to stand up and denounce Trump’s actions and lack of judgment here,” wrote committeeman Bill Palatucci from New Jersey on November 26.
Palatucci confirmed the authenticity of the email, noting he has long been critical of Trump in public too. In the email thread, his sentiment was echoed by Jay Shepard, a national committeeman from Vermont.
“As individuals and as a party we must not tolerate people like Nick Fuentes and Kanye West,” Shepard wrote. “We should never ever give them a platform for their hatred. Giving them attention only divides us as a nation. No Republican should be associated with them, its [sic] not who we are.”
McDaniel did respond to Trump’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago in a statement that said, “white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party.” She later called Kanye’s remarks “abhorrent,” adding, “there is no place for Kanye, Fuentes, or their views inside the Republican Party.”
But she did not mention Trump by name.
At the time, McDaniel was trying to navigate the fallout from the dinner while also managing several major other political projects. She and her team were securing support from the necessary number of RNC committee members to secure a fourth term. The RNC was also helping prop up Herschel Walker’s candidacy during the senate runoff election in Georgia, as private angst mounted that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was not devoting enough funds.
In an email to the same thread of committee members on Nov. 26, David Shafer, the chair of the Georgia Republican Party, outlined the challenges that McDaniel faced.
“I feel for Ronna in the sense that I have spent much of my four years as Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party dealing with various requests and demands that I use my platform to denounce other Republicans,” Shafer wrote, and went on to explain to his fellow members how the Georgia runoff “does not grip the national imagination the way it did two years ago because there is no way for us to get to 51.”
On Tuesday, Republicans lost the senate runoff, prompting a follow up email from Shafer the next day.
“Tuesday was a tough day in Georgia. Herschel was massively outspent, maybe 3 to 1 in a four week period of time and still held his own,” wrote Shafer.
He went on to refer to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s comments about candidate quality as “unhelpful” — to the degree it was viewed as a dig at Walker, who McConnell endorsed — and bemoaned the limited financial support from the NRSC for the Georgia runoff.
“We used our RNC transfer dollars for the ground game and were forced to raise money from entirely within the state for our critically important mail program. Two weeks out, we were $2.5 million short when I sent what was for me an embarrassing email begging the other state parties for help,” Shafer wrote. He included a note of thanks for McDaniel, who he called “one big hero.”
“Ronna spent most of Thanksgiving week haranguing United States Senators and her major donors asking them to help us, and she came through in a big way,” Shafer emailed. “She alone filled $1.9 million of the shortfall. THANK YOU.”
McDaniel has been forthcoming about the GOP’s pitfalls in the midterms and says she has plans to ensure the party doesn’t suffer a similar fate in 2024. She claims the support of more than one hundred RNC members, according to a letter that was circulated and shared with POLITICO — well above the simple majority of the 168 members needed. Asked for comment for this article, a spokesperson with the chair’s re-elect passed along several statements of support from RNC members for McDaniel.
“Ronna McDaniel has grown our Party from the grassroots up: from building a permanent national ground game and establishing a year-round Election Integrity operation to expanding minority outreach and transferring more funds than ever to all 56 states and territories,” read North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley’s statement. “I am proud to join the nearly two-thirds of RNC members in endorsing her re-election.”
But criticism of McDaniel has escalated in the aftermath of the Georgia runoff election. On Fox News, host Laura Ingraham said that while she likes the RNC chair, it was time for new party leadership. Ingraham notably invited Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman from California who recently announced a challenge to McDaniel on Tucker Carlson’s show.
Dhillon’s law firm has represented Trump in legal matters — having made hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, according to FEC filings — and she herself has close ties to several figures in MAGA world.
How beneficial that may be in a run for RNC chair is unclear. As the email thread shows, there are members who want a clean break from Trump and who may bristle at the idea that Dhillon would take the RNC’s neutrality pledge seriously. Moreover, another prominent figure in Trump circles, Dave Bossie, a committeeman from Maryland, already endorsed McDaniel last week.
Dhillon told POLITICO she has seen a “tremendous outpouring” of support for her campaign and pledged neutrality in a 2024 primary if elected.
“RNC Rules require the party to be neutral in the presidential primary process, and if elected I would faithfully honor that obligation. During any tenure as RNC chair, I would take a leave of absence from my law firm and focus my energy on electing Republicans to office across the nation,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon and her allies have been contacting RNC members in hopes that they can flip those committed on paper to McDaniel, according to people familiar with the campaign. Brock, for one, said he’d received a slew of outreach from pro-Dhillon people he did not know, and assumed that it was happening organically and being sparked by her appearances on Fox News.
“I’m impressed people are paying attention to the largest campaign operation,” he said in an interview. “I feel we have an obligation to listen.”
But while Brock said he liked Dhillon personally, the courtship her allies have undertaken does run the risk of alienating some members, a person close to the RNC said. “This is a smoke filled, back room, papal conclave and you can piss people off,” the person said.
After Dhillon said in media appearances that members were afraid to speak out against McDaniel, at least one committeeman rushed to McDaniel’s defense in a separate email sent to committee members, also obtained by POLITICO.
“We support Ronna because we are confident she is the best person for the job,” wrote Jeff Kent, a committeeman from Washington. “The notion that we have been bought and paid for through state party transfers is an insult to our integrity.”
The email, like the others, underscores the brewing conflicts within the party and behind the scenes jockeying for chair. They also illustrate the uncertainty that many members have with the status quo. Speaking about the exchanges in an interview with POLITICO, Palatucci said he liked McDaniel on a personal level.
“But I think it’s time to go,” he added. “It’s time to move on and make a change. The alternatives? That’s the hard question. I think we need a change. I was encouraging [former congressman Lee] Zeldin to run and he took himself out and Harmeet stepped forward and I have had one brief conversation with her and I like her. Haven’t made a decision yet but… I prefer her to not making a change. It’s a bit of a Hobbesian choice.”