When Donald Trump asked his choice for Republican National Committee chair to change her name, like a blushing bride from the 50s, Ronna McDaniel dropped Romney like a sizzling steak with a side of nuclear codes at Mar-a-Lago. The GOP-dynastic name rankled Trump, reminiscent as it is of the party of Lincoln, which boasted her grandfather, George Romney, the governor of Michigan, and her uncle, Mitt, a Massachusetts governor and U.S. Senator from Utah, who is rich enough and old enough to tell Trump to get lost.
With the exception of approving primary debates that showcased a bunch of losers, McDaniel has done everything Trump asked of her as party chair. Nonetheless, amid rumors he started that she was no longer up to the job, he summoned her to meet with him in Florida recently. After the meeting, in a gratuitous uppercase post on Truth Social, he wrote cryptically of her as the “now Head of the RNC,” who did not figure in his “recommendations for RNC Growth.” On Fox News later, in case she didn’t get the message, he patronized her like a student suddenly not handing in her homework. McDaniel “did great when she ran Michigan for me. I think she did OK–initially–at the RNC.” But, he continued, “I would say right now, there will probably be some changes made.” Message delivered. On Wednesday, the ever-dutiful McDaniel called Trump and told him she would step down after the South Carolina primary.
McDaniel could serve as a canary in the coal mine, except the party doesn’t need another bird to drop dead appeasing Trump. Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell is Exhibit A. On January 6, 2021, he relocated his spine long enough to condemn the “failed insurrection” attempted by Trump’s “unhinged crowd” who wanted “to disrupt our democracy.” Fighting words until he realized what doesn’t kill Trump only makes him stronger, and the Kentuckian fell back in line. This week the Old Crow, who was for the border bill before he was against it, turned tail when Trump made it clear that he preferred to keep the issue rather than pass the best legislation to stop illegal immigration in three decades. When McConnell feels the need to defend himself for not standing up to Trump, he confides to old-school Republicans that he hasn’t spoken to Trump in years, as if a middle-school snub makes him a profile in courage. If Trump asked McConnell to drop Mitch for his given name of Addison, he might do it. Stuart Stevens, a top political advisor to George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain, describes the delusion that keeps so many officials in Trump’s thrall. “McDaniels’s been hosting a lavish Cannibal’s Banquet,” he tweeted, “hoping she would be eaten last.”
Seven years ago, McDaniel was just a “housewife” (her description) leading the Michigan Republican Party when Trump tapped her to replace Reince Priebus, one of his first Washington meals. She used the Trump National Committee to please the boss; among other favors, she greenlit spending $2 million for lodging and events at Trump properties and more than $100,000 to buy up copies of Donnie’s 2019 book Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us. In commemoration of Trump altering an official map to prove he was right that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama, she spent $25,000 on customized Sharpies embossed with Trump’s gold signature. She up-glammed her style from suburban Mom from the Wolverine State to a facsimile of the Trump women of Palm Beach and Manhattan. If going full Kimberly Guilfoyle isn’t giving everything to the job, what is?
With Trump, there’s no capital in the bank. There’s only what you are doing for him today, and that means being the loudest passenger on the Stop the Steal train, which McDaniel is not. It’s a requirement so vital that just last week, Representative Elise Stefanik, the New York Republican and the most shameless VP wannabe, told CNN that she would have driven that train full speed ahead and refused to certify the 2020 election, unlike that wimp Mike Pence. In case that didn’t clear up any confusion about her remarks before she was running for vice president—the January 6 riot was “un-American,” and the perpetrators “should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law”—the Harvard grad made it official that she no longer believes her lying eyes. She joined hothead Representative Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican, in a congressional resolution declaring “there was no insurrection or rebellion against the United States” that day. With Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, going full hog, it’s no wonder the Mar-a-Lago misanthrope has soured on the less exuberant McDaniel, whom he complains hire better lawyers to prove he was robbed of “election integrity” in 20202 and to keep him from being robbed again.
Trump’s lesser beefs with McDaniel are that her RNC lags Biden’s DNC in fundraising, even though it’s Trump who has gobbled up much of the low-hanging fruit for his legal bills and scared big dollar donors off with his crazy talk about vengeance, retribution, and a civil service filled with cronies. He’s annoyed that the Republican National Committee won’t declare him the nominee immediately, with all the benefits that bestows, although fewer than 300,000 voters have made their preferences known. Just because Trump has turned against McDaniel, whose Romney genes render her more Pence than Stefanik, it doesn’t make her a martyr on the altar of good governance. Under her leadership, the party didn’t do well—Republicans lost the presidency and the Senate, barely held the House, and lost almost a fifth of its governors—but she did, personally. The Real Housewife of Michigan flew around the country with an entourage, sent business her husband’s way, rewarded cronies with contracts, and tripled her annual salary to $400,000, a record for an RNC chair. Her former chief of staff, Richard Walters, pocketed a salary of $238,266 over the table and, under it, $135,000 through a shell company with one employee, Walters, and one client, the RNC.
Donors may not like overspending, but to Trump, enriching oneself, whether at taxpayer or the party faithful’s expense, isn’t a firing offense. Offensive is not jumping to comply with his every whim. He isn’t looking to replace McDaniel with someone who will cut staff, reduce overhead, or work for the greater good of the party but solely for the greater good of him. He is looking for a dead-ender like the Japanese soldiers in the jungle still fighting World War II or another toady willing to go to prison for him like Allen Weisselberg. It now looks like that new hire will be Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina party, who’s been almost as committed to convincing the country Trump’s still president as Trump himself.
For all her self-debasement, McDaniel didn’t survive the banquet. She’s in a compost pile of the similarly discarded without being nearly as patriotic as former representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger or former Pentagon brass Mark Esper, Jim Mattis and Mark Milley. Like the retired Marine General, John Kelly, McDaniel knows the clear and present danger Trump presents, but unlike the former White House chief of staff, she is going quietly into that good night. Kelly, at least, warned us that Trump “has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law…God help us.” Amen to that.
Author: Margaret Carlson