Harmeet Dhillon's bid for RNC chair is a battle for the soul of the GOP
How many elections does Charlie Kirk have to lose before he gets to run the Republican party himself? If Harmeet Dhillon becomes the next RNC chair, we might find out.
Charlie Kirk and his Turning Point USA (TPUSA) operation may have performed poorly in the midterm elections, but you wouldn’t know that from the recent moves they’ve taken. Kirk acted as a sort of shadow campaign manager for Kari Lake in Arizona in her bid for the Governor’s seat. He also threw his weight behind a number of other candidates for local office in that state. For the most part, incumbents endorsed by TPUSA won their re-elections—often in heavily Republican districts—but the challengers like Lake and Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters lost their general election bids. Logic would seem to dictate that Kirk and the political advisers he considers close allies would take a moment’s pause and reconsider their positions. Perhaps their embrace of Trump and the Big Lie was too polarizing for moderates to accept, and they should consider moving themselves closer to the political center in future elections? If such a path was even considered, and I doubt it ever really was, the folks over at TPUSA have emphatically chosen to go another way.
Instead of looking for more inclusive options, Kirk is now throwing his weight behind a takeover of the RNC chairmanship itself. He’s put forth another MAGA activist and attorney named Harmeet Dhillon as the replacement for current RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and while Dhillon is perhaps more polished than the average pro-Trump election denialist, the appearance of credibility appears to be the only real distance between her and the average right-wing troll.
The race is on.
Ms. McDaniel has accused Ms. Dhillon, who was co-chair of the election denying group Lawyers for Trump in 2020, of conducting “a scorched-earth campaign” against her by rallying outside activists “to put maximum pressure on the R.N.C. members” who will choose the party leader for the next two years in late January in Dana Point, Calif.
“It’s been a very vitriolic campaign,” Ms. McDaniel said in an interview, adding: “I’m all for scorched earth against Democrats. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do against other Republicans.”
In this intraparty squabble, we’re seeing an intrinsic feature of Trumpism playing out once again. The establishment of the party has been found wanting by the very online Bannonsphere which wants power for its own sake and is increasingly unencumbered by any amount of caution or guardrails. Ronna McDaniel was handpicked for the role of RNC chair by Trump in 2016, but MAGA feels no sense of loyalty to anyone whose answer to the poor showing in the last two elections is to move the party back to the center. That is tantamount to admitting defeat. It is a surrender. They don’t do that.
There is a long list of Trump appointees who have since fallen out of favor and even been cast as enemies of their movement—from FBI director Chris Wray to John Kelly to Jeff Sessions to now Ronna McDaniel herself. None of us should be surprised, nor should we assume Dhillon won’t reach the same fate herself down the road—whether she comes out on top in this race or not. With or without Donald Trump, the legacy of Trumpism without Trump will be the allies turned enemies deemed traitosr left in their wake, and the next batch of true loyalists desperate for their chance at the top.
Kari Lake and the Big Lie 2.0
While Charlie Kirk is far from the only right-wing figure supporting Dhillon’s bid for the RNC chair, by all accounts he and TPUSA are leading this charge. As such, it might be best to check in on their ideal political candidate in the midterm elections—GOP nominee for the Arizona governorship, Kari Lake. As Ari Berman wrote for Mother Jones in October 2021:
On November 30, 2020, Arizona’s Republican governor, attorney general, and chief justice of the state Supreme Court certified the state’s electoral votes for President Joe Biden.
If Donald Trump has his way, that will not happen again for the Democratic candidate in 2024.
Kari Lake, a former news anchor who is now the Trump-endorsed candidate for Arizona governor in 2022, told One America News on Friday that she “would not have certified” the votes had she been governor at the time. She cited debunked lies about “serious irregularities” that were spread by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, whom she noted was in Arizona “at that very moment” of certification. (A New York court suspended Giuliani’s law license this year for making “demonstrably false and misleading statements” about the 2020 election.) Lake previously told the Arizona Republic that Trump was “the real winner of Arizona.” Her latest comments follow the much-hyped and highly dubious “audit” authorized by Arizona’s state senate recently that nonetheless confirmed Biden’s victory in the state.
Lake’s comments came only a few days after Trump endorsed Lake's candidacy in the name of "restoring" election integrity. Thus began the rise of the former news anchor’s campaign onto the national stage. Charlie Kirk and his TPUSA subordinates were already backing Lake’s campaign in a big way before the endorsement. As The Guardian put it in late October 2021, “Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Republican operative in Arizona, said in an interview that Kirk’s groups have taken on roles that historically the party played. TPUSA’s influence in the state is underscored by its chief operating officer, Tyler Bowyer, who was elected in 2020 to be the Republican state committeeman, he noted.” Their work in Arizona was intended to demonstrate Charlie Kirk’s abilities went beyond fundraising, viral tweets and flashy political events. Kari Lake and the other TPUSA candidates were meant to showcase his campaign credentials as well. Nevertheless, Lake, Masters, state Rep Mark Finchem all lost their contested Arizona races as many moderate Republicans found their brand of inflammatory rhetoric and divisive politics off-putting.
Rather than serving as a wake-up call, Lake has once again doubled down.
Though the mainstream media has largely moved on after Kari Lake’s election loss and rather predictable turn into promoting her own version of the Big Lie, it’s worth pointing out here that Lake’s efforts continue, despite her repeated failures to prove election fraud cost her the race. Lake has put forth several Trumpian lawsuits against the state in order to continue claiming she’s “fighting” for Arizonans by contesting these results. One after the other, her lawsuits continue to be quickly thrown out because, you guessed it, there’s no evidence to back up her fanciful claims. That hasn’t stopped Lake from continue to do interviews with Charlie Kirk, Bannon and other right-wind media figures. The “Kari Lake War Room” account on Twitter is still at war apparently, tweeting one baseless claim after the next in an increasingly desperate bid for relevance and attention. However, it does seem as if we’re reaching peak absurdity now with the inclusion into this drama of the Twitter account belonging to one “Tracy Beanz” (real name Tracy Diaz) being quoted by the @KariLakeWarRoom account and Lake’s personal account @KariLake retweeting the @TracyBeanz account as well.
For those of you lucky enough to not know, Tracy Diaz a/k/a Tracy Beanz was a significant figure early on in the QAnon movement responsible for growing that following and turning her newfound fame into a minor political job in rural South Carolina. Diaz’s profile rose even further after Trump’s 2020 election loss when she became a key source for the disgraced former Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. Throughout the two months leading up to the January 6 insurrection, Flynn increasingly cited and implored his supporters to check the articles written up on Diaz’s blog. Her defiance was ever-present on Twitter through January 6 and up to the time when her Twitter account was permanently suspended on January 8, 2021. Now, thanks to Elon Musk’s reinstatement of Twitter accounts involved in all manner of harmful information campaigns on the platform, Diaz is back and Twitter and has now taken up the cause of Kari Lake and the Big Lie 2.0.
Charlie Kirk wants to use his failure in Arizona as a springboard to national preeminence within the Republican Party.
Despite the fact that Kirk’s Arizona candidates in competitive races lost their races, he’s certain they wouldn’t have lost if only the GOP establishment had supported these candidates more vigorously. If Lake, Masters and Finchem had won their races, TPUSA would’ve claimed sole responsibility for these victories. Instead, after their losses, the argument has shifted to something along the lines of “look how well they did despite the lack of support”. As in, if only Mitch McConnell and, in this telling, his lackey Ronna McDaniel had opened up their wallets, America First would have triumphed in Arizona. Thus, the doubling down continues here without any pause for introspection. While it’s true that McConnell avoided throwing much support for a candidate like Blake Masters, this was done after internal polling showed he was a one of the most unfavorable first-time candidates they’d ever seen. Given the fact that Masters aligned himself with groups like TPUSA which have been highly critical of McConell for years, it’s not much of a shock the Senate Minority Leader took his money elsewhere.
Kirk’s answer to this problem of a growing divide between his movement and the more traditional centers of power within the GOP is to put forth a candidate who shares his vision of the future. In steps Harmeet Dhillon. In addition to her work as co-chair of the 2020 election denial group Lawyers for Trump, Dhillon's profile in right-wing circles has been elevated by working as a co-chair of Women for Trump (a group which was involved in planning the official speeches and events that occurred the morning of January 6), her appearances at TPUSA events, her legal representation of right-wing provocateur Andy Ngo and MAGA influencer Logan Cook (also known as Carpedonktum), her legal fights against California governor Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home orders in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and her criticism of public mask mandates. Her client list includes other MAGA media figures such as Mike Flynn, Project Veritas, Don Jr., Dan Scavino, Robby Starbuck, The Daily Wire and Seb Gorka. She’s even recently represented Trump himself. A partner at Dhillon's firm is Ron Coleman, a troll lawyer of some note who has himself represented Gavin McInnes, Alt-Right Twitter alternative Gab and filed various dubious claims with a heavy focus on winning the culture war, not winning actual cases. These forays into overlapping political and culture war flash points has earned Dhillon plaudits from a variety of right-wing media figures, perhaps most notably Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham who have publicly supported her bid for the RNC chairmanship.
Still, there’s an air of establishment and legitimacy about Dhillon’s history that makes her bid at McDaniel’s job plausible—if not now, then perhaps an election or two away. As Jason Paladino writes for Grid News:
Since playing a bit part in the nomination of Trump — she gave a Sikh blessing at the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Trump was picked to run for the White House — Dhillon has cultivated a client portfolio of right-wing causes backed by a coterie of deep-pocketed, right-wing benefactors, including the Republican National Committee itself. She chairs the National Republican Lawyers Association, a 2,500-member interest group for GOP lawyers and law students.
Nevertheless, a look through Dhillon’s recent media appearances, public statements and those endorsing her bid for RNC chair shows Dhillon firmly at the heart of the MAGA movement. In addition to Carlson's endorsement, she's received the endorsement of fake leftist YouTuber Tim Pool and January 6 rally organizer Caroline Wren. She's appeared on Ezra Levant's right-wing Canadian network Rebel News. She's been interviewed by Ben Shapiro, Steve Bannon, Dave Rubin and others in recent days. She attended Charlie Kirk’s latest flashy event, AMFEST, as one of the featured speakers. Her personal Twitter account is retweeting the likes of Ian Miles Cheong, The Post Millennial, Libs of TikTok, James O'Keefe, Kelli Ward, NYYRC president Gavin Wax (who also endorsed her bid in this op-ed) and of course, the Kari Lake War Room account.
Given all this, it was rather unsurprising to learn that Lake hired Dhillon to represent her in November of this year, after her election loss. The show, of course, must go on, and while Charlie Kirk is attempting to move on to bigger and better things, it’s worth reiterating how central TPUSA was to Kari Lake’s Big Lie 2.0 in much the same way as they were with the 2020 iteration.
What this means for the future of the GOP.
I have no particular affinity for Ronna McDaniel’s reign as RNC Chairwoman. She, like so many other establishment figures within the GOP, enabled and apologized for Trump’s alleged crimes, scandals and attempts to overturn the 2020 election. McDaniel, like McCarthy and McConnell, could’ve ended Trump’s political career by barring him from office after January 6—as they indicated a willingness to do at the time. However, this never came to be, and that decision has led us to this moment of ever increasing divisiveness with ever more polarizing figures gaining ground in their attempts to obtain control over the future of the party. Even Mike Lindell, the pillow salesman and comical election denial advocate has thrown his hat into the ring for the RNC chair position. While he’s certainly too crazy to get the job, his involvement does serve a helpful purpose. He makes Harmeet Dhillon appear less radical a figure than evidence seems to suggest. That’s why Kari Lake endorsed Lindell’s bid for RNC chair while simultaneously endorsing Dhillon, being represented by Dhillon and the two women amplifying each other on social media. It is yet more political theater for the MAGA audience which craves the spectacle around politics that groups like TPUSA can certainly deliver. But will they ever deliver on the political results they’re promising? That remains to be seen. As long as TPUSA keeps raking in millions in donations, perhaps winning will continue to be a secondary concern.
If Dhillon somehow triumphs over McDaniel—which does remain a longshot—it will be a clear indication that the GOP is still Trump’s party, and it will be another sign that the party will continue his legacy—such as it is—whether Trump himself is in charge or not. Ronna McDaniel is not a victim here. She signed on to a MAGA movement which has a well-documented history of eating its children. Her failure to follow the direction of people like Charlie Kirk is not based on any sort of moral conviction. It is instead based on a cold calculation that in order to win more elections, the GOP needs to move away from extreme stances and polarizing positions like denying the results of elections which, time and again, have been proven to have no significant instances of fraud. The extremely online right cannot abide this logic, and so the latest target of their scorn has been acquired.
I suppose I’m left wondering how many elections Charlie Kirk has to lose before he gets to run the party himself? If Harmeet Dhillon becomes the next RNC chair, we may know the answer soon enough.
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