The Florida GOP plans to hold a no-confidence vote in Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel next month, a crucial test of the embattled leader’s strength just days before her own re-election.
Republican insiders say Florida has deep symbolic importance because it has consistently outperformed the national party in resisting the blue wave in 2018, re-electing Donald Trump when he lost the White House in 2020 and generating a red wave that failed to materialize nearly everywhere else in November.
After those three disappointing elections nationwide for the GOP, McDaniel began to face withering criticism from grassroots activists, party officials and conservative commentators. Earlier this month, the Texas GOP voted unanimously against her in a nonbinding vote, and then on Wednesday, members of the Florida GOP's executive committee successfully petitioned for the straw vote on whether to “terminate” her as leader, according to the petition.
“Florida’s the most-talked-about Republican state and we’re going to vote Ronna down,” Anthony Sabatini, the GOP chair in Lake County who gathered the no-confidence petition, told NBC News. “It’s going to cause a cascading effect. She’s just steadily losing support. She knows people are just really mad. They all want her gone.”
The yet-to-be-scheduled vote by the Republican Party of Florida’s executive committee is expected to take place Jan. 14 to 20. The poll by the 256 voting members of the committee is nonbinding on the RNC, which will hold its chair election in late January.
McDaniel is being challenged by Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman. McDaniel announced this month that she had the support of 101 of 168 RNC voting members.
But Sabatini said he expects members will peel from her. He issued the petition in response to Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters sending out a letter Tuesday endorsing McDaniel.
In a statement issued after this article was published, McDaniel’s re-election spokeswoman, Emma Vaughn, said support for her campaign has grown, describing it as “member driven … because of her unprecedented investments in the grassroots, election integrity, and minority communities, and for taking on Big Tech and the biased Commission on Presidential Debates.”
Dhillon couldn't be reached for comment.
Regardless of how the state party vote shakes out, Gruters said he’s sticking with McDaniel, whom he partly credits for Florida’s GOP gains in recent years.
“Whatever we’ve asked for, she has given us,” Gruters said. “Some of the people throwing the stones at Ronna have been the biggest failures in their own states. There should be some self-reflection by these people.”
An elected state senator and a CPA by profession, Gruters is running for RNC treasurer.
The messy race for national chair reflects broader troubles in the Republican Party. GOP members of the House are paralyzed over whether to pick Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as speaker when the party assumes control next month. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is under fire from grassroots party activists for not winning the Senate, which establishment Republicans tend to blame more on Trump or National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott of Florida. And Trump is increasingly preparing for a nasty primary fight against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has yet to say whether he’ll seek his party’s nomination in 2024.
A Trump ally who has served under DeSantis, Gruters is one of three Florida Republicans who will vote on the RNC chair race in January along with the RNC’s committeeman and committeewoman from Florida. Gruters endorsed McDaniel earlier this month with Kathy King, the RNC committeewoman from Florida. She did not return a call and text message seeking comment.
The party’s national committeeman in Florida, Peter Feaman, wouldn’t say whom he supported for party chair, but he said McDaniel faces a tough re-election.
“Harmeet has a lot of support from grassroots members. It’s amazing,” Feaman said.
The two candidates vying to succeed Gruters as chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Leon County Chair Evan Power and Sarasota County Chair Christian Ziegler, both said they support Dhillon.
Ziegler said by text message that "changes must be discussed ... and changes made."
Power was more critical of Gruters.
“I don’t know where Gruters is getting his political advice from, but it’s bad. The grassroots here doesn’t want Ronna,” Power said in a phone interview. “We’ve had three losses nationwide, and that’s enough for a lot of people.”
Some Republicans have speculated the chair races at both the state and national levels also reflect the party divisions between Trump and DeSantis, but informed Republican insiders say it hasn’t manifested, at least not yet. Gruters said he endorsed McDaniel because she did a good job and he did it without the input or urging of either Trump or Trump’s adviser, Susie Wiles, who some Republicans speculated was involved.
“No. She had nothing to do with it," Gruters said. "This is about who is best to be RNC chair, and that's Ronna."