LAS VEGAS — Days before the Republican National Committee was set to convene here, hundreds of Republican officials gathered in a casino ballroom Monday to vent their grievances about the party — and warn that it is ill prepared for the 2024 election.
“We are at war,” one man shouted from a microphone at the event, hosted by the conservative group Turning Point Action, lifting his arm in the air. “Where are the tools? Where are all the little things that the left is doing but we don’t?”
The gathering, in the hotel next door to where the RNC will meet later this week, was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of frustration from some Republicans in and surrounding the committee — about its finances, about its struggles to match Democrats’ organizing efforts, about its four-term leader. A year ago this month, the vast majority of the RNC’s members voted in favor of keeping Ronna McDaniel on for another term as chair, despite an ugly reelection fight that exposed rifts and vulnerabilities inside the committee.
But at this point, many grassroots activists say McDaniel has lost their trust, perhaps permanently. They say they’re tired of losing. And whatever facts and figures the RNC provides to defend its record, the arguments sound to them like excuses.
Terry Dittrich, the chair of the Waukesha County, Wisconsin GOP — the largest Republican county in the state — said he received word from the RNC of a Victory 2024 program they’ll launch there this spring. But he and his county party have been attempting to carry out their own voter outreach efforts since July, and Dittrich said the national party should have already established year-round programs there to compete with what he sees Democrats doing.
“The fact of the matter is the same executive committee, the same leadership structure, the same strategic plans, the same ‘victory programs’ are all in place with the same people, and yet we have lost 22 out of 25 statewide races,” Dittrich said, referring to Wisconsin elections over the last dozen or so years — a period beginning before McDaniel was placed in the job by Donald Trump in 2016.
“And so my question would be simple,” he said. “If you’re in a business and your business lost 22 of 25 accounts that you were after, would you have the same structure continue? Would you have the same people continuing to lead?”
Turning Point, the youth-oriented advocacy group founded by Charlie Kirk, the conservative activist radio show host with a massive following, has long been one of the sharpest thorns in the RNC’s side. McDaniel and Kirk have traded barbs publicly, including when Kirk and those affiliated with his organization opposed her reelection bid.
The title of Monday’s summit was itself a clear knock on the RNC. A prevailing theme among attendees of the “Restoring National Confidence” gathering, which was open to local chairs and GOP leaders from the most consequential counties, was that the actual RNC wasn’t doing enough to train and support the grassroots.
“They’re a bunch of losers. They know it. The grassroots knows it. The donors know it,” Kirk said in an interview. “They lost in ’18. They lost in ’20. They lost in 2022. We have tried to reach out to them many times, and I’m not going to put up with another culture of losing.”
Kirk, who is based in Phoenix, said Turning Point Action is hiring 300 new, full-time workers in Arizona by April to engage in get-out-the-vote work this year.
In response to questions about Turning Point’s criticisms, the RNC pointed to the 73 trainings it held for more than 2,000 local party activists last year; to its “Bank Your Vote” initiative to urge early and absentee GOP voting this year; to the staff it has hired in 15 battleground states for the 2024 election; and to the RNC’s Election Integrity Department that is filing lawsuits across the country.
A spokesperson for the RNC suggested Republicans should keep their focus on Democrats, not intra-party warfare.
“We always encourage outside groups to get involved in get-out-the-vote efforts, in fact, the more the merrier,” said the spokesperson, granted anonymity to speak freely. “We just encourage outside groups to keep their focus on beating Democrats, not each other. After all, there’s a presidential election in 10 months.”
Despite the RNC holding activist trainings throughout the year, the local GOP leaders that attended Monday’s Turning Point gathering in Las Vegas — many of whom received scholarships from the group to make the trip — accused the RNC of putting no clear plan in place to guide them.
“My county is going to flip to blue if we can’t get control,” said Maria Holiday, chair of the Republican Party in Johnson County, Kansas, the state’s most populous county. “And I don’t see any effective strategies coming out of the RNC down to the grassroots, and that’s where the people are going to vote … We’re on our own.”
McDaniel is widely seen within the RNC as safe in her role until after the November election, when the committee will begin the process of electing its next chair. Still, the ex-president’s son Donald Trump Jr. was among Republicans who took the stage here Monday.
One RNC member in attendance said he was gauging interest in calling for McDaniel’s resignation when the committee meets later this week. The member, granted anonymity to speak freely about plans still in the works, said some other members have already agreed to do so, but declined to provide their names.
He said was concerned about how much the RNC actually was doing to ensure that Republicans win elections, “versus saying it with window dressings and putting pretty curtains around it and painting a pretty picture.”
Critics of the RNC and McDaniel have been abuzz in recent days about a line of credit that the committee took out for the year, particularly in light of recent financial reports showing historically low cash levels. Its executive committee this month authorized the potential use of the credit, though a spokesperson said the RNC approves lines of credit as an annual precautionary measure in case money is needed.
While the committee hasn’t needed the credit in recent years, the spokesperson pointed to the RNC drawing millions of dollars from a line of credit during winning cycles in 2016, 2014 and 2010.
Oscar Brock, a member of the RNC’s budget committee and the national committeeman from Tennessee, said fundraising had improved “dramatically” in January after a rough 2023. The RNC’s January financial report is due Feb. 20.
“If that holds up, we may not ever need to access it,” Brock said of the new line of credit.
Trump has been privately critical, at times, with the RNC’s management under McDaniel, though her calls last week for Republicans to unite around him as the likely nominee were well received by top aides to the former president.
Brock, who was among the members who opposed McDaniel’s reelection last year, did not attend Turning Point’s event. He said he has since worked with McDaniel to find areas of common ground. But he called her comments last week about Trump’s inevitability as the party’s nominee a “mistake.”
Jay Shepard, the RNC committeeman from Vermont, said in an interview at the summit Monday that he believes Turning Point is “more right than it’s wrong” when it comes to their outreach strategies. He said he hopes the RNC can have complementary relationships with them and similar grassroots groups.
“I do think it has to be worked out,” said Shepard, who was among around two dozen of the RNC’s 168 members in attendance Monday, with additional members expected to attend the following day.
But every indication Monday was that large swaths of the GOP grassroots aren’t looking for a compromise; but, rather, a more fulsome embrace of sharp-knifed and even conspiratorial politics.
For 90 minutes after lunch, attendees were subjected to a series of presentations by self-described voter fraud investigators associated with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. The session, called “The Lindell Plan,” brought the on-stage moderator to tears as she discussed his efforts to prove the baseless accusation that the 2020 election was stolen. Lindell came out at the end, then again later in the day for an extensive second speech.
Later in the day, Tyler Bowyer, the RNC’s Arizona committeeman and the chief operating officer of Turning Point, suggested that grassroots activists begin asking their state party chairs and other RNC members if they are willing to turn over their tax returns to check the sources of their income.
“If you get pushback, there’s probably a problem there,” Bowyer said.
In the meantime, the fired up grassroots group here vowed to also fight to replace current party leadership.
At the summit’s start Monday morning, Fanchon Blythe, the RNC committeewoman from Nebraska, stood in front of a camera streaming for Steve Bannon’s War Room show, recalling how she and other activists succeeded two years ago at overhauling their state’s GOP — ousting the chair, executive director, district chairs, the former RNC committeewoman and a slew of others deemed too aligned with the Republican old guard.
“I used to be the establishment when I first got started in politics,” Blythe said. “But God awakened me.”