LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) — Facing a cash crunch and harsh criticism from a faction of far-right conservatives, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Friday called for the party to unite behind the goal of defeating President Joe Biden.
McDaniel spoke at the RNC’s winter meeting in Las Vegas behind closed doors on Friday, addressing a gathering of state chairmen and other top party members in what’s expected to be a critical swing state in the November election.
“We Republicans will stick together, as united as the union our party long ago fought to preserve,” McDaniel said, according to people who were in the room and disclosed her remarks on condition of anonymity to discuss a private gathering. “We’ll have our battles ahead of us, but they’re good battles, and they’re worth fighting for.”
McDaniel’s appeal for unity comes as former President Donald Trump and his allies push the party to get behind him and effectively end the primary even though he still faces a final major rival, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. While McDaniel has fought off opponents before, winning a competitive race for a fourth term as chairwoman last year, she’s now facing Trump supporters on the far right who are creating parallel efforts that could conflict with the national party.
Campaign finance disclosures released this week show the RNC had just $8 million in the bank and $1 million in debt. While the Trump campaign heads into 2024 with $42 million cash on hand, Biden’s political operation reported raising $97.1 million in the final months of 2024 across the various committees it uses to fundraise and ended the year with $117.4 million on hand.
Biden is already working with the Democratic National Committee, which partners automatically with the incumbent president. An effort by Trump allies to have the RNC this week declare Trump the “presumptive nominee” was withdrawn after it drew criticism because Haley is still running.
Trump has previously backed McDaniel, though his campaign and the RNC have disagreed at times. Trump declined to participate in party-sponsored primary debates before this year’s Iowa caucuses.
But there’s long been tension between the party establishment and some people who consider themselves Trump’s strongest supporters.
McDaniel faced a week of withering attacks launched by far-right figures spearheaded by the group Turning Point, a glitzy and well-funded organization founded by 30-year-old media figure Charlie Kirk, who was part of an unsuccessful effort to oust McDaniel last year.
Days before the party’s winter meeting convened, Turning Point hosted a counterprograming event and training session at a casino across Las Vegas Boulevard dubbed “Restoring National Confidence,” a play on the RNC’s initials. The invite-only event drew nearly 400 attendees aligned with the group, including some RNC members, as well as state and local Republican Party chairs.
Kirk, who hosts a popular radio show, is part of a faction of conservatives who’ve openly stoked a feud with the RNC, which they have blasted for spending lavishly and being out of touch with the party’s grassroots base. That, they argue, led to losses in 2018 and 2020 as well as underwhelming results in 2022.
Some Turning Point supporters have become RNC members, while the group is actively recruiting others, an effort that, if successful, would give the group more sway over the direction of the party and perhaps a stronger say in the party’s chair.
“We know a pack of losers when we see it: top to bottom, the entire RNC staff in its current form,” Kirk said Thursday on his radio show.
“They don’t even know what winning is,” he added.
Inside the RNC meeting, some members, including those who have been critical of McDaniel, said the Turning Point effort was ill-advised.
“Attacking the brand and the chair doesn’t advance our fundamental goal of winning elections,” said Mississippi national committeeman Henry Barbour, who has at times criticized McDaniel.
And McDaniel’s allies note that the Democratic National Committee was in debt to the tune of $5 million in the early days of the 2020 race, when the party was trying to return a Democrat to the White House.
Turning Point is looking to expand its influence and reach beyond the youth movement, with mixed results. The group has struggled in its adopted home state of Arizona, where many of its preferred candidates failed to win in statewide races that many saw as winnable.
Its leaders have also come under scrutiny over their own spending practices, including charter jet travel, offering lucrative salaries and paying to host Kirk’s wedding reception in 2021. Turning Point is currently trying to raise $108 million for a three-state get-out-the-vote campaign in Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia that would operate parallel to efforts that are already underway.
RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn dismissed the challenges as coming from people complaining online.
“Outside noise might be what keyboard warriors and the Democrats are focused on,” she said. “Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the entire Republican National Committee are laser-focused on beating Biden this fall.”
Slodysko reported from Washington.