The question of national party leadership remains in the balance as Ronna McDaniel and Harmeet Dhillon battle to lead the Republican National Committee (RNC) heading into the 2024 election cycle.
One hundred sixty-eight committee members will vote in late January to determine who will be RNC chair.
McDaniel has announced her intention to seek a fourth term. In the wake of Republican candidates underperforming nationally last November, McDaniel’s leadership has come under renewed criticism as she has overseen two prior losing election cycles, and questions have arisen regarding her spending habits and Republican messaging.
Dhillon’s challenge to McDaniel has also raised some questions for Republicans. Some in the party have questions about past comments on abortion and immigration, and she has faced criticism — also based on comments that Democrats meddle in Republican primaries — for saying the RNC should be more active.
Whoever wins the race for RNC chair will have a defining role in shaping Republican electoral success in 2024. Given the stakes, the vetting is on, and the 168 committee members have a lot to consider in the run up to the vote at the end of January.
Breitbart News spoke to both McDaniel and Dhillon about the race and offered them a chance to respond to some of the criticisms they each face.
Dhillon told Breitbart News that she does not support amnesty.
In 2008, Dhillon said she supported a “path to legalization” for illegal immigrants. However, she told Breitbart News her position has been mischaracterized.
In 2012, Dhillon told the Wall Street Journal that “there’s some unfortunate anti-immigrant rhetoric [on Republicans’ part] that is offensive to some people” and that California “would collapse if all the illegal immigrants were deported.”
In 2013, Dhillon said she supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, saying, “I’m not a Republican who believes you should round people up and deport them. We should have a guest-worker program that offers a pathway to citizenship.”
When asked about this statement, Dhillon told Breitbart News that her remarks were taken out of context.
“It sounds like I probably spoke about this for ten minutes at least and it’s been reduced to two sentences,” she said. “I do believe that our immigration laws should be enforced. I’ve said that many times, and a pathway to citizenship, compassionately, would include people being allowed to pay their back taxes and come back in at the end of the line.”
“A path to legalization to me means apply for citizenship under our existing laws, which may require you to go back to your country and wait in line, pay your taxes,” she told Breitbart News. “That’s not saying there should be amnesty like Ronald Reagan did for people who are here illegally.”
“It’s kind of self-deportation,” she continued.
In 2015, then-primary candidate Donald Trump brought the issue to the fore, as President Obama’s controversial DACA program was under intense criticism from conservatives. At that time, the Republican Party of California softened its position on immigration.
However, Dhillon, who was the party’s vice chair, said the change did not come from party leadership, but rather party members, and told the Los Angeles Times that the change “certainly in the short term helps our party better reflect what California is right now.”
She told Breitbart News that those comments were made in her capacity as a spokesperson, saying, “So some of the stories you see out there with me talking to the LA Times or whatever messaging what the party just did. That’s not me talking about my own position.”
Ronna McDaniel also told Breitbart News she does not support amnesty.
She has referred to the border as a “crisis” that was “owned by the Democrats” and that President Trump brought “common-sense solutions” while discussing a government shutdown over funding for Trump’s border wall four years ago.
In another interview with CBS’s Face The Nation just days before the 2018 midterms, McDaniel defended a Trump ad about an illegal immigrant killing two cops that said, “It is outrageous what the Democrats are doing to our Country.”
The ad was criticized by Republicans such as former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who called it “sickening.” When McDaniel was asked if she was proud of the ad, she replied, “I think it’s disgusting what this man did. That he came into this country illegally twice and wasn’t deported.”
McDaniel told Breitbart News, “I’m against amnesty. We have to fix the border first. We cannot continue to create a magnet that brings people to this country without fixing our legal immigration problem.”
The race for RNC chair comes at a time when the Biden administration is pushing to end the Title 42 border policy, which allows for expedited removal of illegal immigrants to mitigate spread of disease.
In 2008, when she was a Republican nominee for the California House, Dhillon was quoted as saying she is “pro-choice.”
When asked about it, Dhillon said, “I would never say I am pro-choice. … I have been very careful to never say that. That is what people paraphrase. It happens with lazy reporters.”
Dhillon explained that she has been misquoted in articles on this issue and wrote a “threatening defamation letter to the editor-in-chief of that publication.”
Dhillon has the endorsement of the Center for Medical Progress’s pro-life founder and President David Daleiden, one of the most effective journalists who exposes the abortion industry (and whom Dhillon represents as a lawyer).
Daleiden said of Dhillon, “Ever since pro-life colleagues first introduced me to Harmeet and encouraged me to work with her, she has consistently maintained that there are no higher causes to fight for than the right to life and the freedom to speak what we know to be true.”
Dhillon herself called out McDaniel’s leadership on pro-life issues and the lack of messaging from the party.
“Technology today has allowed people to see with science,” she told Breitbart News. “The beating heart has allowed us to see the pain that a fetus feels; has allowed us to see the development of the fetus.”
“It should be much easier for conservatives who care about that issue, to message it, to message it in a way that gains us voters and doesn’t harm us,” she continued. “The fact that we’ve shied away from doing it in her six years as a chair shows the hypocrisy of trying to come after me.”
McDaniel and the RNC did hesitate to discuss social issues in the most recent election. Staffers told conservatives to stop talking about abortion and the overturn of Roe. Their message was instead to focus on the economy.
McDaniel even told Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade that Republicans should not focus on abortion.
“The Democrats are trying to distract; they have the money to force abortion — to try and force that to be the issue,” she said. “Republicans need to stay on the page of immigration, crime and the economy, which is the number one issue.”
While she said Republicans “have to address it, and you’ve got to say we need consensus in the states,” McDaniel also told Kilmeade that “voters care about a lot more than abortion. Right now, most voters aren’t waking up thinking about abortion, they’re waking up thinking about, ‘How am I going to pay for groceries?’”
Despite her comments, McDaniel told Breitbart News that she was one of the “most vocal” persons inside the party when asked about the lack of pro-life messaging during the 2022 election.
“We need to be able to articulate that we’re proud to be pro-life,” she said. McDaniel also blamed the “consultant class” for the lack of messaging at the individual campaign level.
“I think our consultant class, which you know, it’s a young group of predominantly young male consultants, were telling candidates, ‘Don’t talk about it,’” she explained.
When pressed on her position about abortion exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother and allowing abortion until a fetal heartbeat is detected or 15 weeks into a pregnancy, McDaniel said she is “not a legislator” but “proud to be pro-life.”
Role of the RNC
Dhillon has said the party should take a more “active role” in primaries. Because of that, she has faced speculation that she advocates for more centralized party control over primaries. When asked about it, Dhillon explained that she was making a point about how Democrats put millions of dollars into Republican primaries to change outcomes.
“Democrats poured tens of millions of dollars into our primaries helping elect our candidates at the same time that the Republican Party’s genteel approach is from the past, which is, ‘Oh, we can’t get involved in primaries, the voters have to select,” she said December 10 on the John Loughlin Show.
“I would change that if I were the chair,” she continued. “I would change the party rules or otherwise make sure that leadership either gets involved in these races”
Dhillon reiterated to Breitbart News that the criticism of her wanting to return power to party elites is unfounded.
“Democrats are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of dark money into our Republican primaries to select our candidates for us — to select candidates who aren’t a good fit for the district, and we are sitting ducks in that,” she said. “I’m posing a question: ‘What’s our answer to that?’ Our answer isn’t to violate our own party rules. Our party rules don’t allow the party to endorse the primary. I’m not suggesting that the party should.”
Dhillon told Breitbart News she believes the only situation in which the party should endorse a primary candidate is in a case like California’s nonpartisan primaries, where “any Tom, Dick, or Harry, white supremacist, Democrat, can call themselves Republican.”
“We don’t do it in most races. We do it for races where it’s necessary because of a crank, a fake candidate, a Democrat running as a Republican, [causing] confusion in the electorate,” she continued.
Dhillon said that others (including McDaniel) are attempting to mischaracterize her position as wanting the party to endorse in primaries and saying that Dhillon does not understand the party rules.
Dhillon told Breitbart News, “No, no, no, I understand the party rules very well. I’m actually a much longer-term activist in a state party than Ronna is by far. And so, I’m fully aware of what the party rules are. And my point is, there’s a recent innovation by Democrats to flood our primaries with their money.”
McDaniel and former RNC chair Reince Priebus are often credited with opening the primary system and giving outsider candidates the ability to win and get elected. Their strategy came in stark contrast, particularly in 2016, with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) approach which allowed party elites loyal to Hillary Clinton — “superdelegates” — to hold undue influence over the primary process.
McDaniel’s expressed view of the RNC’s role is in line with that of grassroots conservatives. She told Breitbart News editor-in-chief Alex Marlow that there exists a procedure for the party to become involved in primary elections called a Rule 11. This requires the national party to obtain local party support before getting involved in the outcome of an election.
“I’m a very ‘listen to the local party’ person,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel also told Marlow she intends to use the RNC “machine” she is creating to expand mail-in voting and ballot harvesting initiatives, saying she has been “100 percent … on board with this.”
She pointed to mail-in voting initiatives in Arizona and ballot harvesting operations in California as examples of success. McDaniel argues a fourth term would allow her to continue voter registration efforts that have flipped registration numbers from majority Democrat to majority Republican in North Carolina and Florida.
Both candidates have come under attack for various other issues.
McDaniel is mired in an RNC scandal showing the party spending millions on private jets, limousines, luxury retreats, Broadway shows, and much more.
Dhillon was quick to criticize McDaniel on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.
“The Democrats are not blowing a congressional race’s difference worth of money, $700,000, on flowers,” she said. “They’re not spending a ton of money on private jets…and guess what they’re doing that we’re not doing? They’re winning elections.”
Speaking with Breitbart News, McDaniel defended the expenditures as both miniscule and necessary.
McDaniel said a lot of the spending was “done at the discretion of the White House” when Trump was in office and that the total amount spent was 0.8 percent of the total $1.5 billion raised by the RNC.
“Of course, we’re going to have flower arrangements for events with the president, the first lady,” she said, explaining that private jet flights were often for flying support staff to events with Trump.
As for the clothing, McDaniel said that it was for volunteers.
For her part, Dhillon previously donated to Democrats, and from 2002 to 2005, she served on the northern California chapter board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for which the California Republican Assembly (CRA) criticized her in 2013, saying she “simply doesn’t represent our values.”
In 2013, Dhillon spoke about why she worked with the ACLU as a Republican, citing her and her family’s experiences as Sikhs after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, saying, “people like my dad and like my brother were being shot around the country because they were being mistaken for Middle Eastern terrorists.”
She also says she supported the work the ACLU was doing to fight the PATRIOT Act.
“They were the only organization at the time opposing the PATRIOT Act, really and doing anything about the, you know, violent, physical attacks on South Asians in California,” she said.
Dhillon said she recognized “this PATRIOT Act was going to be used to spy on American citizens almost certainly.”
“I think today, most Republicans would agree with me,” she said.
While on the chapter board of the ACLU, Dhillon gave the organization between $1,000 and $2,499 in 2003, according to the group’s annual report. She said that the ACLU requires board members to contribute to the organization and that she has not given to the them since.
Dhillon resigned from the board after serving two years of a three-year term. She said of her resignation, “I was pretty much at odds with the board on just about every issue, except for free speech issues and on this [Sikh] issue.”
In 2003, Dhillon donated $400 to Kamala Harris’s San Francisco district attorney campaign, saying Harris was “the lesser of two evils.”
Dhillon, who had recently moved to San Francisco, attended a fundraiser for Harris which she told Breitbart News was being hosted by her friend from the South Asian Bar Association. Dhillon’s friend told her, “Hey, you know, San Francisco sucks. Crime is bad … [Harris] is tougher on crime.”
In 2009 and 2010, Dhillon made contributions — totaling $350 — to Democrat candidate Raj Goyle, who was running against Mike Pompeo for an open House seat in Kansas. Goyle lost the election, and Pompeo would later go on to become secretary of state in the Trump administration.
Dhillon told Breitbart News her donation was “purely a social courtesy” to Goyle, whom she knew from the South Asian Bar Association and who had contributed to her 2008 California state assembly bid.
“I didn’t know Mike Pompeo at the time,” she added. “And by the way, if Mike Pompeo, Republican and asked me for a contribution, I probably would have contributed. He didn’t ask me for a contribution, there’s nothing personal to Mike Pompeo.”
Dhillon also made contributions to two Democrat candidates for San Francisco in 2011, giving Michela Alioto-Pier $100 and Ed Lee $500.
Dhillon did not initially support Trump at the onset of the 2016 election cycle, though she was hardly alone and later became a Trump supporter.
Commentating on one of the Republican primary debates, Dhillon said, “Trump came off pretty much as self-advertised, except he really reinforced an image of misogyny with his personal attacks.”
One of the chief criticisms of his campaign was the “image of misogyny” which was the “portrayal of him in the media,” Dhillon explained.
“That was probably my impression at the time that it reinforced an image or a portrayal of him in the media,” she said. “Not that it was my opinion. But that was what commentators were saying about his performance.”
“If I thought he was a misogynist, I wouldn’t have supported him,” she said.
Speaking with Breitbart News, Dhillon said, “I tell people that today: he wasn’t my first choice for president originally, but he was the right choice. No other candidate would have beaten Hillary Clinton.”
Both Dhillon and McDaniel are considered allies of Trump, with the former president staying neutral, telling Breitbart News, “I like them both.”