Ronna McDaniel, RNC Chair
Former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Ron­na Rom­ney McDaniel used a famous fam­i­ly name as she rose in Michi­gan pol­i­tics, until she was tapped by Don­ald Trump to chair the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee. Trump direct­ed her to stop using the name “Rom­ney”. McDaniel not only com­plied but went on to attack Uncle Mitt for “feed­ing into what the Democ­rats and media want.”

Ulti­mate­ly, it didn’t help McDaniel. Despite aid­ing in Trump’s effort to over­turn results of the 2020 elec­tion, buy­ing into the fake elec­tor scheme, she was deemed insuf­fi­cient­ly loy­al. Trump deposed McDaniel and installed his daugh­ter-in-law Lara as co-chair of the party.

The Trumpi­fi­ca­tion of the Repub­li­can Par­ty has proven a char­ac­ter test for its office­hold­ers and candidates. 

“The Don­ald” insists on absolute, unques­tioned loy­al­ty. He works to purge those who leave the cult, wit­ness Washington’s six-term U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, now a can­di­date for state-lev­el office (Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands). 

He also stiffs those who’ve done his bid­ding, wit­ness Attor­ney Gen­er­al William Barr.

Some Repub­li­can politi­cians have met the chal­lenge of history. 

Mar­garet Chase Smith, R‑Maine, deliv­ered a famous “Dec­la­ra­tion of Con­science” against the Red-bait­ing of Sen­a­tor Joseph McCarthy. Tail Gun­ner Joe would sneer at Smith and her Repub­li­can fol­low­ers as “Snow White and the six dwarfs.” In the sum­mer of 1974, Sen­ate GOP Leader Hugh Scott and col­leagues went to the White House, telling Pres­i­dent Nixon to vol­un­tar­i­ly leave or face con­vic­tion in an impeach­ment trial.

Such folk are a crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered species now. 

Sen­a­tor Mitt Rom­ney, R‑Utah, was the only Repub­li­can sen­a­tor to vote for con­vic­tion at the first Trump impeach­ment tri­al. Even after the Jan­u­ary 6th, 2021, insur­rec­tion, only sev­en of fifty Repub­li­can sen­a­tors vot­ed “Guilty”. Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki, R‑Alaska, has said she did not and will not vote for Trump.

Oth­er­wise, today’s Repub­li­can politi­cians have scram­bled to recast them­selves. Entre­pre­neur-author (“Hill­bil­ly Ele­gy”) J.D. Vance in 2016 scorned Trump as “nox­ious” and “rep­re­hen­si­ble,” vot­ing for Hillary Clin­ton in 2016 and say­ing at one point: “What an idiot.”

Vance turned acolyte in 2022 as he ran for Sen­ate in Ohio, and received both an endorse­ment and scorn from the ex-pres­i­dent. Trump came to the Buck­eye State to cam­paign for Vance, only to say: “J.D. is kiss­ing my ass. He wants my sup­port big time.” Vance would become an ear­ly Trump-in-2024 supporter.

Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Trump for “dis­grace­ful” acts in the Jan­u­ary 6th insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, say­ing he was “moral­ly respon­si­ble” for the siege and the assault on Amer­i­ca’s citadel of democ­ra­cy. In McConnell’s words, Trump’s “actions pre­ced­ing the riot were a dis­grace­ful dere­lic­tion of duty.”

Yet, McConnell refused to vote to con­vict and remove Trump from office. Ear­li­er this month, McConnell endorsed a Trump return to the White House, say­ing: “It is abun­dant­ly clear that for­mer Pres­i­dent Trump has earned the req­ui­site sup­port of Repub­li­can vot­ers to be our nom­i­nee for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.”

Why the lack of courage? There is the fear of being purged, pri­maried, or chal­lenged, as hap­pened with Her­rera Beut­ler in this state. Trumpi­fi­ca­tion has pro­duced a hard-right Repub­li­can lead­er­ship. Con­sid­er the exam­ple of Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Jim Walsh. The North Car­oli­na Repub­li­can Par­ty cen­sured Sen­a­tor Richard Burr in 2021 – he vot­ed to con­vict Trump – and cen­sured Sen­a­tor Thom Tillis last June.

When Burr retired from the Sen­ate, GOP vot­ers spurned ex-Gov­er­nor Pat McCro­ry in favor of Trump-endorsed Ted Budd.  Numer­ous tra­di­tion­al, coun­try club Repub­li­cans have cho­sen to leave Con­gress, like House Speak­ers John Boehn­er and Paul Ryan.

Oth­ers have cut the cloth of their con­science to fit the fash­ion of the times. Elise Ste­fanik was a young Har­vard grad­u­ate and aide to Speak­er Ryan. She won elec­tion, run­ning as a busi­ness-friend­ly Repub­li­can with some rea­son­able posi­tions, as one of Con­gress’ youngest mem­bers.  She became, almost overnight, a Trump zealot. Why? When Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Liz Cheney, R‑Wyoming, was purged from her post in the House Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, Ste­fanik was posi­tioned to take her place. 

The Trump move­ment is a major­i­ty in the Repub­li­can Par­ty but a minor­i­ty in the coun­try. Extreme can­di­dates are cap­tur­ing Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tions but los­ing winnable gen­er­al elec­tion races. Con­sid­er Kari Lake’s failed guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­da­cy in Ari­zona or MAGA extrem­ist Joe Kent’s loss to Marie Glue­senkamp Perez in this state.

North Car­oli­na Repub­li­cans have just giv­en their guber­na­to­r­i­al nom­i­na­tion to Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Mark Robin­son, who once opined on Face­book: “This fool­ish­ness about Hitler dis­arm­ing mil­lions of Jews and then march­ing them off to con­cen­tra­tion camps is a bunch of hog­wash.” Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the Democ­rats’ nom­i­nee – Attor­ney Gen­er­al Josh Stein – enjoyed a full house on a recent fundrais­ing for­ay to Seat­tle. So, two years ago, did Pennsylvania’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al Josh Shapiro, who was elect­ed gov­er­nor by a land­slide over a MAGA elec­tion denier.

Ulti­mate­ly, too, Trump acolytes find them­selves excom­mu­ni­cat­ed from the Trump cult. With The Don­ald, it’s all about Trump all of the time.

Biden’s pre­de­ces­sor put it best, once declar­ing: “The show is Trump and it is a sold-out per­for­mance every­where.” He will turn on polit­i­cal sup­port­ers just as he has for years hung his con­trac­tors and lawyers out to dry.

Ron­na McDaniel has learned the hard way. 

In 2019, Trump described her as “the most aggres­sive human being I’ve ever met.” He told a 2020 ral­ly: “We love her. She’s fan­tas­tic.” By this Feb­ru­ary, how­ev­er, he was show­ing her the door, telling a Fox News inter­view­er: “I think she did O.K. ini­tial­ly at the RNC. I will say right now there will prob­a­bly be some changes made.”

Hav­ing been boot­ed from the RNC, McDaniel signed up last Fri­day to be an NBC pun­dit at a report­ed $300,000 a year. She went on Meet the Press to acknowl­edge for the first time that Joe Biden won the 2020 elec­tion. But years of car­ry­ing water for Trump brought a del­uge of reac­tion. Ex-host Chuck Todd blast­ed his own net­work for the hire. Top-rat­ed MSNBC host Rachel Mad­dow fol­lowed on Mon­day with a half-hour critique.

NBC News jet­ti­soned McDaniel four days after she was hired. 

She, and oth­er Trump pan­der bears, will not be treat­ed kind­ly by history. 

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Adjacent posts