Who’s at fault for Republicans’ struggles: Ronna McDaniel or Donald Trump — or neither?
Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy tried to point the finger at McDaniel during the GOP debate, but Trump has been the face of the party since 2016
A split has emerged in the Republican Party over who should take the blame for the party’s struggles in recent elections. Pundits and establishment figures point to former President Donald Trump, the face of the party who faces a long list of criminal charges and has yet to admit his loss in the 2020 election.
But others, including one presidential candidate, are pointing a finger back at the party — and at Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
Minutes into last week’s Republican presidential debate, moderators asked the candidates why they, and not Trump, should be the party’s nominee. Instead of critiquing the former president, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy unleashed a scathing rebuke of McDaniel. He never mentioned Trump in his answer.
“We’ve become a party of losers at the end of the day,” Ramaswamy said. “Since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022, no red wave, that never came. We got trounced last night, in 2023,” referring to the local elections across the country last Tuesday. He offered to cede his time to McDaniel if she’d “come on stage” and “resign” as party chairwoman.
After the debate, Ramaswamy doubled down. “Ronna should resign,” he said in a post on X. “This shouldn’t be controversial.”
McDaniel clapped back during an appearance on CNN Sunday. “Last I checked, I wasn’t running for president,” she said. “He’s at 4%. He’s looking for headlines.”
The growing rift points to a larger debate in conservative circles: whether party leadership, like McDaniel, should be blamed for Republicans’ defeats in the 2023 elections and the 2022 midterms.
In 2022, many pundits predicted that widespread dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy would lead to a “red wave.” But after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, abortion proved to be a major factor in the election. Exit polls showed that voters were much more likely to trust Democrats to handle abortion than Republicans. Democrats retained control of the Senate and won most of the gubernatorial races on the ballot; Republicans won the House, but by a much smaller margin than expected.
Last week, voters in Ohio — who voted for Trump in the last two elections — approved a constitutional right to abortion, a major win for Democrats. In deep-red Kentucky, an incumbent Democrat governor won reelection. In Virginia, Democrats regained control of both chambers of the state legislature, a potential blow to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s possible national political ambitions. And in Pennsylvania, a Democrat won the vacant seat on the state’s Supreme Court.
McDaniel has brushed off criticisms, saying that the RNC isn’t at fault for the losses.
“The RNC builds the road. All the candidates drive on it,” she told CNN Sunday. “You need a good candidate and a good road to get to your destination.”
In the Virginia legislative races, Democrats raised “unprecedented” levels of money, The Associated Press reported, and eventually outspent Republicans by $8 million. McDaniel has led the national Republican Party during periods of record fundraising. But during an appearance on Fox News last week, McDaniel deflected blame for the Virginia outcome, saying the RNC is not responsible for state-level spending.
“A lot of people don’t understand fundraising,” McDaniel said. “I can’t raise state dollars. I don’t get unlimited convention and state dollars. And these were state House and state Senate races.”
But as reticent as McDaniel has been to accept blame for the Republican Party’s electoral struggles, she’s been just as hesitant to criticize Trump. McDaniel, who’s been described as “loyal” to Trump, won a competitive reelection bid as the RNC’s head earlier this year by positioning herself as most capable of handling the Trump problem — humoring and appeasing the former president’s demands, to keep him from splintering off and running a third-party campaign in 2024.
During her CNN appearance Sunday, McDaniel refused to condemn Trump’s Veterans Day comments, in which the former president called his political rivals “vermin.” Several prominent Republicans condemned his comments.
“I’m not going to talk about candidates who are in a contested primary,” McDaniel said.
Later, when asked if she believes Trump would be the “appropriate nominee” for the party even if he were convicted of a crime, she deferred to the voters.
“As party chair, I’m going to support who the voters choose, and yes, if they choose Donald Trump,” she said. “The voters are looking at this and they think there’s a two-tiered system of justice.”