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Harmeet Dhillon speaks during a news conference in San Francisco
Harmeet Dhillon speaks during a news conference in San Francisco in 2017.Eric Risberg / AP file

Dhillon: RNC chair can't be 'mute vessel' in the face of bad candidates

In RNC race, Harmeet Dhillon, responds to Ronna McDaniel's assertion that she can't deal with troublesome primary candidates.


DANA POINT, Calif. — Harmeet Dhillon, the Republican National Committee member from California challenging Ronna McDaniel for the party's chairmanship, said during a Wednesday gaggle with reporters that she would have "tough conversations" with candidates who look as if they could cost Republicans winnable races.

Speaking at the RNC's winter meetings inside the Waldorf Astoria hotel along the southern California coast, Dhillon spoke in response to McDaniel having earlier said the party chair is sidelined in GOP candidate selection and campaign decision-making. (While detractors compare the RNC to a sports team with McDaniel as coach, McDaniel told Politico: "The coach gets to pick the players, and the coaches call the plays, and the RNC gets to do neither of those things.”)

"To be honest with you, party leaders do have a role," Dhillon said in response to a question from NBC News. "The party's role is not endorsing candidates out of a primary — that's the role of Republican voters. But leadership means leadership. It means sitting down with candidates who have no chance in heck of winning and saying, 'Sorry, dude, you have no chance in heck of winning.'"

"It's making sure that candidates look at their own opposition that's done on them," she continued. "I think that was a failure that we did not do that."

Dhillon did not name individual candidates from the last cycle she would have had such conversations with. But Republicans underperformed in key races across the country last cycle, particularly when their candidates vocally cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 election (something Dhillon has also done in her career).

"While we have leaders in the party like the former president — who I voted for twice and support ... he’s somebody very important in the party — he’s not the only voice in the party," she added. "The party itself is the leader of the party when we don't have the White House. And so I would like to be a leader of this party. And that means sometimes having tough conversations with people. It does not mean being a mute vessel for whatever fate throws at you."

Throughout her campaign, Dhillon has pointed the finger at McDaniel for the party's lackluster results in recent cycles, arguing that Republicans need to replace her atop the RNC as a first step toward course correction.

It's a tall task. McDaniel, who kicked off her re-election bid last year with a list of endorsements from more than 100 of the RNC’s 168 members, has far outpaced Dhillon's level of public support. McDaniel's backers point to initiatives she's launched, her work with state parties and the relationships she's built with stakeholders as reasons to re-elect her to a fourth term leading the party. The voting will take place on Friday.