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Bad Bosses

Worst Employee of the Year: Ronna McDaniel

The chair of the Republican National Committee is simply terrible at her job. Fortunately for Democrats, she’s in little danger of being fired.

Ronna McDaniel at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
David McNew/Getty Images
Ronna McDaniel at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in April

The heads of the Republican and Democratic national committees are not usually household names. That might seem surprising in a two-party democracy, but it’s a position that, despite its high profile and importance, occurs largely behind the scenes in the form of fundraising, brand promotion, and electoral strategy. It’s a thankless job, actually, as evidenced by the fact that a chairperson tends only to gain broader recognition for doing the job poorly.

Case in point: Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the RNC.

“Since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022—no red wave, that never came,” Vivek Ramaswamy said at a Republican presidential debate last month. “We have to have accountability in our party. For that matter, Ronna, if you want to come onstage tonight, you want to look the GOP voters in the eye and tell them you resign, I will turn over my, yield my time to you.”

I wouldn’t normally turn to Ramaswamy, the most conspiracy-minded of the GOP primary candidates (a true accomplishment), for a statement of fact. But he’s right on this point. As the head of the RNC for the past six years, McDaniel has overseen one electoral loss after another, and now she’s also losing the fundraising game. She is failing miserably at the core responsibilities of a party chair—and yet, her job seems as secure as ever.

McDaniel’s year started off on shaky footing. She faced Harmeet Dhillon, the RNC’s committeewoman from California, in a uniquely messy election. McDaniel had been handpicked by Donald Trump in 2016, but Dhillon’s campaign spoke more directly to MAGA voters—and McDaniel’s popularity was on the wane after the GOP’s shock losses in the 2022 midterms. Nonetheless, McDaniel won her fourth consecutive term by a 11151 margin, making her the longest-serving chair in over a century. The result signaled that the party was content to keep doing the same thing they’d been doing since 2018: losing.

And lose they did. In November, Republicans suffered a series of bruising losses, as voters came out in droves to protect abortion access. In Ohio, a proposal to enshrine abortion access in the state’s constitution passed by an overwhelming margin. In Virginia, the Democrats campaigned on abortion rights and won full control of the legislature. In conservative Kentucky, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear was reelected to his second term after painting his opponent as too extreme on abortion.

It was these defeats that prompted Ramaswamy, on the debate stage the following month, to call the GOP the “party of losers” and single out McDaniel specifically for contempt. But he was hardly alone. Although McDaniel has been staunchly loyal to Trump, going so far as to say she’d support him even if he were convicted of the crimes for which he’s on trial, the former president reportedly is “increasingly sour” on her—perhaps because Trump allies like Steve Bannon have been lobbying him to push for her replacement.

“Ronna McDaniel has got to go,” Bannon said at an event in December. He’s also pushed that message on his War Room podcast. “I’m nervous that we have someone that is either ineffective or actively working against us. And it could sink us in 2024,” said conservative commentator Rogan O’Handley in response to Bannon’s prompting. “The time is now. We have about a year until the 2024 election. Let’s get someone new. Let’s get someone fresh.”

McDaniel also has come under fire for the GOP’s uninspired presidential debates. “Think about who’s moderating this debate,” Ramaswamy said during his tirade in November. “This should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk. We’d have 10 times the viewership—asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bring in more people into our party.”

Granted, the “questions” that concern Ramaswamy are whether January 6 was an inside job and how to stop the Democrats from eradicating white Americans. But he’s not wrong (again!) about the debates’ waning viewership: It has plummeted from 14.2 million viewers for the first debate in August to just 3.2 million viewers for the fourth debate in December.

McDaniel’s unwillingness to indulge the likes of Ramaswamy may be slightly hurting viewership, but it’s not as though he’s much of a draw anyway. As McDaniel herself noted in her rebuttal to his criticism, “Listen, he’s at ... 4 percent. He needs a headline.” The real reason, which is obvious to everyone except Ramaswamy, is that Trump is not on the debate stage because McDaniel and the RNC failed to convince him to participate.

In the Republican primary, the debates have become a sideshow to the main attraction: Trump, the party’s presidential nominee in all but name. If you’re the head of the RNC, all that really matters at this point is getting him elected, which will require loads of money and savvy political messaging. And McDaniel is failing miserably on both fronts.

At the end of October, the RNC had just over $9.1 million in the bank, the brokest it’s been since early 2015. McDaniel brushed off concerns about the depleted war chest, saying “there’s nothing unusual” about having so little money at this stage in the campaign cycle—even though the Democrats had nearly double that amount.

But perhaps McDaniel’s greatest head-scratcher this year was her takeaway from her party’s myriad losses since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The Republican path to victory in 2024, she has concluded, is paved with mealymouthed talking points about abortion. “I’m proud to be a pro-life party, but we can win on this message,” McDaniel told NBC in November. “The American people are where we are, and they want commonsense limitations. They want more access to adoption. We want to make sure that there’s pregnancy crisis centers. These are things we can win on.”

No matter your political affiliation, this is obvious political malpractice and professional incompetence. If McDaniel were the CEO of a company, she would have been booted ages ago. But she doesn’t seem to be in danger of that. “Frankly,” Oscar Brock, the GOP national committeeman from Tennessee, told Politico last month, “I don’t think there’s any way in the world you can get a two-thirds vote to replace her.”

That’s nothing but good news for the Democrats, whose own national party chair is nowhere near as famous as McDaniel because he’s actually good at his job. In 2023, the GOP couldn’t organize a lemonade stand. So keep up the awful work in 2024, Ronna!