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Southern states rebel against RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel

The air of inevitability around another term for McDaniel has been punctured by a series of votes against her in four states.
Ronna McDaniel speaks in Las Vegas
Ronna McDaniel speaks in Las Vegas in 2021.Bridget Bennett / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

A growing Sunbelt uprising among GOP activists at the state and local level has emerged as a threat — or at least a noisy nuisance — to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s bid for another term.

From Arizona to Florida, state parties are passing or considering votes of no confidence in McDaniel, demanding new leadership after three disappointing elections.

The latest signs of rebellion are in the Deep South, in Alabama and Louisiana. State parties there rebuked McDaniel this week after rank-and-file Republicans made their displeasure known. Roger Villere Jr., an RNC member from Louisiana who supports McDaniel rival Harmeet Dhillon for chair, confirmed Tuesday that his state party approved an anti-McDaniel resolution at his urging on Saturday.

"The grassroots is firmly supporting a change," Villere said. "Every vote, every call every day, I hear from people who want someone other than Ronna. … We've had three cycles where we've underachieved significantly, and it's just time."

On Monday, the Alabama GOP announced that its steering committee had lost confidence in McDaniel and was urging "RNC members across the country" to vote against her.

Those states joined a list that already included Arizona, where Republican leaders in December passed a resolution calling on McDaniel to resign, and Texas, where the GOP executive committee called on its three RNC representatives to vote for new leadership. Florida’s GOP, meanwhile, will vote on a similar measure next week.

How big or consequential these votes are remains unclear. McDaniel and her allies still point to months-old endorsements from more than enough of the 168 RNC members to clinch her re-election during a secret-ballot vote this month. But the air of inevitability has been punctured by an airing of grievances about the entrenched party establishment and its losing record.

The condemnations by a handful of state parties have done nothing to deter McDaniel, according to Emma Vaughn, the spokesperson for her re-election campaign. 

"Member support for the chairwoman has grown since her announcement and she will continue speaking with each and every member about how the party can continue building upon our investments and make the necessary improvements to compete and win in 2024," Vaughn said in a statement. 

McDaniel faces two main rivals for chair: Dhillon, an attorney and RNC member from California, and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO and staunch defender of former President Donald Trump who has repeatedly advanced the lie of a stolen presidential election in 2020. None of the resolutions recently advanced by the state parties explicitly endorsed another candidate.

Much of the organized discontent with McDaniel is concentrated in the South. Anti-McDaniel Republicans in several of the states where Republicans already have issued no-confidence votes told NBC News they were aware of similar efforts in neighboring states, but officials in those states did not respond to requests for comment.

Alabama’s no-confidence vote followed a survey sent to members of the state GOP’s executive committee asking if they were satisfied with RNC leadership or preferred a change, said one leading party activist who requested anonymity to share candid opinions and details of internal conversations. More than 90% of respondents favored new leadership, the activist said, prompting the state party’s smaller steering committee to issue a statement to vote against McDaniel.

"Our record at the RNC is not good," the activist said. "We’re fighting World War II with horses and cannons pulled by horses. The opposition is leaving us in the dust."

The anti-McDaniel votes in Alabama and elsewhere are not binding on the RNC representatives from those states. Under RNC rules, three members from each state and U.S. territory — the state or territory’s party chair, one committeeman and one committeewoman — cast ballots for chair, accounting for the 168 votes.  

"Just like the RNC, Chairwoman McDaniel’s decision to run for re-election was member driven," Vaughn said. "Members of the 168 rallied around the chairwoman 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."

Alabama's three RNC members all sit on the steering committee that declared no confidence in McDaniel. But only one, Paul Reynolds, explicitly said he planned to vote against her when asked this week by NBC News. John Wahl, the state chair, "supports and respects" the decision and will take it into consideration when he votes, a party spokesperson said. Vicki Drummond, who along with 100 other RNC members signed a November letter endorsing McDaniel for another term, did not respond to requests for comment.

In other states, party leaders are putting pressure on RNC members to vote against McDaniel. 

Louisiana's no-confidence resolution points out that its three voting members "have been elected by and are accountable to the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee."

"Chairwoman McDaniel's leadership has been an 'exercise in failure,' with the Republican Party losing the majority in the House of Representatives in 2018, losing control of the Senate in 2020 and drastically underperforming in 2022 ... even though a 'wave election' was expected since an overwhelming majority of voters when polled, responded that America is on the wrong track," the resolution said.

The anti-McDaniel resolutions also omitted any mention of Trump's unpopularity, which polls indicate was a drag on Republicans in the prior election cycles. Echoing other party members, Villere, the Louisiana committeeman, said activists faulted McDaniel because her job was solely supposed to be focused on the "nuts and bolts" of building party infrastructure and making sure candidates had the tools to win across the country.

"Trump was the president, but she was running the party," Villere said.

Tony Perkins, a member of the Louisiana GOP and president of the Family Research Council, told NBC News that he had voted against the no-confidence resolution and is standing by McDaniel because he believes she has done a good job listening to evangelical voters like himself, in part by refusing to engage in "identity politics" with LGBTQ groups.

"Why would I change? Why would I want to change leadership?" Perkins said. "She has done a good job.”

Not every Southern Republican Party is taking action to condemn McDaniel. There is no such move afoot in Mississippi, where Chairman Frank Bordeaux backs McDaniel, according to a Republican source familiar with the state party's machinations. Jeanne Luckey, another committee member from the state, also supports McDaniel, while committeeman Henry Barbour has not made a public endorsement in the race.

In Georgia, where McDaniel has not yet faced a public condemnation campaign, RNC member Jason Thompson said criticism of her tenure has been nonetheless robust.

"From all the emails I've received, I have not received one email in Georgia or across the nation from someone that wants Ronna McDaniel to be re-elected," Thompson said. "People are looking into why there are losses, there are a lot of questions — that's what's going on."

Asked if he would support McDaniel, Thompson, who has tweeted that he shares concerns he has heard from others, declined to offer a yes or no answer. 

"You can probably read in between the lines."