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The RNC leadership choice: Stay the course? Or double-down on Trump?

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany And RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel Hold News Conference At RNC HQ
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Nov. 9, 2020 in Washington.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... Democratic allies groan at the White House’s response to the discovered classified documents found at President Biden’s home and former office. ... Biden meets with the prime minister of the Netherlands, as well as with the Golden State Warriors, who won the NBA’s 2022 championship. ... Election-denying GOP candidate gets arrested for string of shootings at New Mexico Democrats’ homes. ... Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, draws his first 2024 GOP opponent, NBC’s Henry Gomez scoops. ... And Hoosier senator? GOP Rep. Jim Banks announces Indiana Senate bid.

But first: The race for RNC chair takes place less than two weeks from today. 

And the contest largely boils down to this question: After the GOP’s disappointing midterm performance, do Republicans stay with the status quo? 

Or do they become even Trump-ier than they are now?

Those are the only two choices that the party’s 168 voting committee officials face in the race featuring incumbent RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel (whom Trump handpicked for the role after winning the White House), California RNC committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon (who served as a Trump legal adviser and who’s vowing to defeat the party’s “clique of swamp insiders”) and MyPillow’s Mike Lindell (yes, that Mike Lindell). 

It’s not controversial to state the obvious: Republicans underperformed in the 2022 midterms due to Donald Trump and the candidates he endorsed in battleground states.  

Just compare Brian Kemp and Trump-backed Herschel Walker in Georgia. Or look at Mehmet Oz’s loss in Pennsylvania. Or the defeats of Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona.

They all had one thing in common: Donald Trump’s clear backing. 

But the RNC chair race isn’t about a reckoning with that reality — the only choices facing the body are whether to stay the course or double down.

The party isn’t looking in the mirror about why it lost in 2018, 2020 and 2022.

Or they don’t want to listen to those who are.

Video clip of the day 

Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1966 MTP appearance: "Nothing more powerful … than tramp, tramp of marching feet."

Data Download: The number of the day is … 78

That’s how many times the debt limit has been raised since 1960 — 49 times under a Republican president (including 18 during the Reagan administration alone) and 29 times when a Democrat controlled the White House, per NBC News’ Charles Herman. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the U.S. will hit its debt limit on Thursday. But don’t expect to see Congress move quickly, as Yellen predicts that Treasury’s “extraordinary measures” can keep things afloat until the late spring, and NBC’s Sahil Kapur reporting that conservatives are gearing up for a fight to pair an increase with spending cuts

Other numbers to know:

21: The number of days until President Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.

More than 18 million: The number of veterans in the U.S. who could be eligible for free emergency medical care if they are in suicidal crisis, per NBC News’ Courtney Kube.

$1.6 million: The fines imposed on the Trump Organization after a New York judge sentenced the group for running a 15-year tax fraud scheme.

14: The number of state legislatures that will consider bills this year enacting ranked choice voting.

850,000: Mainland China’s decrease in population in 2022, the first time the nation’s population has decreased in about 60 years. 

7: The number of days an American prisoner in Iran plans to do a hunger strike, after asking President Biden to secure his release and the release of other Americans held there.

7.1%: The percent increase in Covid deaths nationally over the last two weeks, per an NBC News analysis. .

Eyes on 2024: A year of Senate re-runs?

The Ohio Senate race, expected to be one of the most competitive of the election cycle, is starting to take shape NBC News’ Henry J. Gomez reports that former GOP state Sen. Matt Dolan is planning to jump into the race against Sen. Sherrod Brown, a top GOP target as one of three Democrats up for re-election in states former President Donald Trump won in 2020. 

Dolan also ran in 2022, coming in third place with 23% of the vote in the GOP primary after spending almost $11 million of his own money on the race. And he’s not the only unsuccessful 2022 contender considering another Senate run. 

Former hedge fund manager David McCormick is reportedly weighing another bid for Senate in Pennsylvania after losing the GOP primary to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz last year, per the Associated Press. 

Both Dolan and McCormick lost to Trump-endorsed candidates in their primaries. Oz went on to lose in November. “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance won in Ohio, but the GOP had to spend millions to boost his candidacy. 

Trump’s preferred candidates’ struggles in the midterms has raised questions about whether his endorsement will carry the same weight in GOP primaries this election cycle. Dolan and McCormick may just find out. 

In other campaign news:

Hoosier Senator?: Indiana GOP Rep. Jim Banks made his Senate bid official Tuesday, dropping a video on social media touting his biography and military service, while criticizing “radical socialists Democrats” and showing an image of him working alongside former President Donald Trump. It’s the opening salvo in what could be one of the more interesting primaries on the map (the Club for Growth PAC immediately endorsed him, pledging to “spend whatever it takes to help Banks secure the nomination and victory.”

Political pasta-bilities: Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports on how a recent donor dinner put on by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (with Italian food flown in from New York) offers a glimpse into how the possible presidential heavy-hitter is trying to woo insiders despite a reputation for “aloofness.” 

Trump denies rape allegation: In an October deposition unsealed on Friday, Trump denied that he raped E. Jean Carrol in the 1990s and also insulted the writer.

Texas two-step: Former GOP Rep. Will Hurd is traveling to New Hampshire at the end of the month to speak at the state GOP’s annual meeting, per Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser. And Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott responded to Fox’s questions about whether he’s weighing a presidential bid by saying “it’s not something I’m ruling in right now.” 

Leaving the loopholes: NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald and Allan Smith report that the controversy surrounding disgraced former cryptocurrency executive Sam Bankman-Fried’s campaign donations is unlikely to change campaign finance laws

PA postmortem: The Pennsylvania GOP is conducting a postmortem after a disappointing showing in the midterms, Politico reports, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (the GOP half of the team that conducts NBC’s polling). 

Santos saga, part 384: The Washington Post reports that embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., “has deeper ties than previously known to a businessman who cultivated close links with a onetime Trump confidant and who is the cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch.”

Donor drama: A group of about 150 prominent GOP donors are backing RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s re-election in a new letter that comes days after her primary foe, California Republican National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, has touted her own mega-donor support. 

Watch this space: Politico dives into this year’s Supreme Court race in Wisconsin, which the state Democratic Party chairman dubbed “the most important election that nobody’s ever heard of.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

The House Judiciary Committee has opened an investigation into Obama-era classified documents found at President Biden’s home and office.

After a House Republican called to reveal the visitor logs from President Biden’s home, the White House confirmed that no such visitor logs exist.

Russia and Belarus began new military drills as Ukraine prepares for a new offensive near the Belarussian border.