Growing frustration over the GOP’s election losses has led to a contentious leadership battle in which a prominent California Republican faces off against the party’s national leader.
The attempt by San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, whose clients include former President Trump, to oust Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel will be decided at a party rally in Dana Point beginning Wednesday.
Both women are staunch, vocal supporters of Trump — a reflection of the former president’s grip on the party more than two years after losing the White House. They have both pledged to remain neutral in the 2024 GOP presidential primaries if elected.
McDaniel, the niece of Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), is widely regarded as ahead of the race. But Dhillon, a longtime state party leader, has won the support of prominent conservatives, including TBEN News personality Tucker Carlson, in a contest peppered with seemingly calculated attacks over Dhillon’s Sikh faith and McDaniel’s role in the underperformance. of the party. in recent elections.
Some committee members are concerned that the increasingly ugly power struggle could tarnish the party’s prospects, and hope McDaniel and Dhillon can make peace whatever the outcome.
“They both need to talk and agree that whoever wins, the other will say the right things and do the right things,” said Mississippi Committee member Henry Barbour, the nephew of the former Mississippi governor. Hayley Barbour. Henry Barbour declined to say who he will vote for in the contest. “If we at the RNC can’t get together, how can we expect voters to get together?”
A surprise win by Dhillon would also revive a moribund California Republican Party that has dwindled to political irrelevance in recent decades, closely following Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy’s narrow victory to become Speaker of the House. The rise of California Republicans to the top of the national political universe could go a long way in rescuing the sting of the party’s failure to win statewide elections since 2006.
“Harmeet has more opportunity than what the public expects,” said Tim Miller, a former adviser to GOP presidential candidates who worked at the RNC but left the party in 2020. “The smart money is on Ronna. … The RNC chairman race is very inside baseball. Ronna knows all these people, she’s been working the inside game for years, which is a huge advantage. But Harmeet has legitimate frustration with tapped into the RNC.
But the task for the next RNC chairman, who will lead the party in the 2024 presidential election, will not be an easy one. Republican activists and donors are irked by the Democrats’ success in the 2018 midterm elections, the loss of the White House in 2020 and their inability to take control of the Senate, and the narrow victory in Congress last year when most analysts predicted a red wave.
Dhillon said these losses, as well as McDaniel’s decision to seek an unprecedented fourth term, prompted her bid to lead the party. To help recover, the Republican Party must promote the use of mail-in ballots, counter Democratic efforts to boost weak candidates in GOP primaries, and send smarter messages to young and minority voters.
“There are a lot of changes that need to be made to be in shape to win in ’24,” said Dhillon. “I’m tired of Republicans losing elections.”
Born in India, Dhillon, 54, and her family emigrated to Britain and then New York City before settling in rural North Carolina. Her parents registered as Republicans after becoming naturalized citizens, in part because of the disdain her father, an orthopedic surgeon, had for trial lawyers because of medical malpractice. They were also driven by persecution of Sikhs in India who was a senator at the time. Jesse Helms (RN.C.) had spoken out against. Dhillon’s parents organized fundraisers for Helms.
After graduating from law school, Dhillon eventually settled in San Francisco. She became active in Bay Area politics after hosting debate watch parties for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 and was elected vice chairman of the state’s GOP in 2013. Three years later, she was elected one of California’s three representatives to the Republican National Party. committee, on which she has served ever since.
Dhillon and her law firm’s fame grew exponentially during the Trump administration and the pandemic. She regularly appears in conservative media outlets and her law firm has filed lawsuits over conservative rights on college campuses, COVID restrictions and other issues dear to Republican voters. Earlier this month, a nonprofit she founded sued a California school district for allegedly assisting an elementary school student transition to a different gender without notifying her parents.
“Harmeet is tough, she hasn’t been afraid to challenge incumbents,” said Ron Nehring, a former state party chairman. “She is very action-oriented and that has worked to her advantage.”
Dhillon was a delegate for Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the 2016 presidential election until he quit, after which she joined her husband, Sarvjit Randhawa, as a Trump delegate and vocal supporter of the developer turned reality TV star .
Her tactics have been criticized, especially her work for election deniers like Trump. Her law firm represented the former president at the January 6, 2021, insurrection congressional hearings. In the aftermath of the 2022 FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, Dhillon called the leadership of the federal law enforcement agency “thoroughly corrupt” and said the FBI and Justice Department had “engaged in extensive interference in multiple elections in recent times.” few elections.” She also accused federal authorities of concealing President Biden’s handling of classified documents to influence the outcome of the 2022 election.
Dhillon represented failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, an election denier who is allowed to appear at this week’s meeting on Dhillon’s behalf.
Dhillon also helped raise money for Trump’s legal effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, telling her followers on Twitter to “STOP THE STEAL” and encouraging them to contribute to Trump’s election defense fund. Trump.
Trump selected McDaniel as RNC chairman after being elected in 2016 and twice endorsed her for re-election. But he has remained publicly neutral in the match between McDaniel and Dhillon.
“I can honestly say I like them both,” he said on “The Water Cooler” podcast last week. “Let them fight it out.”
Both candidates claim the competition is influenced by consultants seeking lucrative contracts with the RNC. But the ugliest controversy in the race revolves around religion.
Dhillon gained national attention when she sang a Sikh incantation at the 2016 GOP convention. She and her allies allege that supporters of McDaniel are undermining her candidacy by saying Dhillon would jeopardize the party’s focus on religious freedom because she is not a Christian, including sharing a video of her saying Sikh prayer in Punjabi.
“I was shocked, disappointed and downright disgusted that someone was willing to use bigotry as a tactic to win votes for their preferred candidate,” North Dakota commission member Lori Hinz, a Dhillon supporter, emailed fellow commission members Thursday. She said she was urged by an ally of McDaniel’s not to support Dhillon because of her religion. “This cannot be who we are as a party,” she wrote.
The attacks on Dhillon’s faith echo those lobbied against her when she successfully ran for vice chairman of the California Republican Party in 2013 — the convention hall was littered with leaflets calling Dhillon a “Taj Mahal princess,” and rivals whispered that they put a goat on stage during meetings.
McDaniel, whose representatives did not respond to requests for comment, has denounced the insults. She noted that she is Mormon, another faith that has long been under attack.
“I wholeheartedly condemn religious intolerance in any form,” McDaniel said in a TBEN News Digital article published Friday. “We are the party of faith, family and freedom, and these attacks have no place in our party or our politics. As a member of a minority faith, I would never condone such attacks.”
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McDaniel, 49, is the former leader of the Michigan Republican Party. She stopped using her maiden name Romney when she became RNC chairman, reportedly because Trump asked her to, according to the Washington Post. Trump and Senator Mitt Romney are fiercely critical of each other, with Romney attacking Trump’s character and Trump branding Romney a loser.
McDaniel has released a list of more than 100 committee members who support her, which should guarantee her re-election. The game is decided by a majority vote of the 168 members of the RNC. Dhillon declined to say how many committee members support her bid.
McDaniel’s supporters include Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who praised her support for preserving his state’s caucus, the nation’s first Republican presidential voting contest in 2024, and shrugged off criticism of McDaniel over the performance of the party last year.
“The RNC chairman doesn’t pick candidates and deal with what is handed to them,” Kaufmann said, pointing to wins in his state and others. “Everyone wanted to be like Iowa and Ohio and have their red wave. It didn’t happen.”
Dhillon’s fellow California RNC members — state party chairman Jessica Millan Patterson and Shawn Steel, the husband of Republican Rep. of Orange County Michelle Steel — also support McDaniel. Neither responded to requests for comment.
My Pillow founder Mike Lindell, an ardent Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist, is also running for president. He is expected to receive marginal support at this week’s RNC meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. There will be a closed candidates forum on Wednesday evening, while the presidential vote is expected to take place on Friday.
The ballot is cast by secret ballot, Nehring noted.
“Usually, the number of votes for an incumbent is highest on the first ballot. If they don’t make it on the first ballot, they are unlikely to win on a subsequent ballot,” he said. “The elections are a referendum on the incumbent party.”