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RNC Chair McDaniel says GOP can't win midterms without Trump

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The Republican Party can't win in the 2022 midterms without former President Donald Trump, according to Michigan's Ronna McDaniel, who chairs the Republican National Committee.

McDaniel said that, even without Trump on the ballot, he would be a "big factor" and "critical" to GOP turnout in 2022 as Republicans aim to regain control of Congress.

"If he left the party, Republicans would lose," McDaniel said, speaking Thursday at the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast. 

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, speaks at the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

"He has built our party. He has added a new base. We've become a working-class party. I saw it in my home state of Michigan in Macomb County," she added.

McDaniel was responding to questions about an anecdote in a new book by ABC News' Jonathan Karl, "Betrayal," in which Trump called McDaniel on his final day as president in January and threatened to leave the GOP behind to create his own political party.

Trump allegedly wanted to hurt the party in retaliation for GOP leaders who he felt had betrayed him, including those who didn't push hard enough to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 victory.

Trump apparently reversed himself days later, according to Karl, after McDaniel and her RNC team indicated they'd quit paying his legal bills in post-election lawsuits and give away his campaign's email list of 40 million supporters, meaning he would no longer be able to rent access to it.

Both Trump and McDaniel dismissed the Karl story as false in statements this week, with McDaniel saying she had "never threatened President Trump with anything." 

"When those rumors really started, he put out that 'I'm not leaving it,' and he's been on the field helping elect Republicans," McDaniel said.  

Asked Thursday what specifically was false about the story, McDaniel dodged the question, saying she doesn't discuss her private conversations with the former president. 

"I've already said what I was going to say, which is the president stayed in the party. This is a non-issue," McDaniel said. 

McDaniel, the former chair of the Michigan GOP, also sought to end the speculation that she could run against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer next year. She noted there's already three Republican candidates in the running. 

"There's zero chance I will be jumping into the Michigan governor's race," she said.

She was upbeat about her party's prospects in the 2022 midterms after successes two weeks ago in the Virginia gubernatorial and other off-year elections. She credited Trump with helping businessman Glenn Youngkin win in Virginia, even though Trump didn't campaign with him in person.

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, speaks to Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor during the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

"I was not surprised to see what happened in Virginia — on top of inflation, on top of gas prices," McDaniel said. "The American people are in a very concerned state right now, and as the Republican Party reaches out to these voters, it's common sense issues that they're dealing with every day that are resonating."

McDaniel declined to comment on whether Trump will run in 2024, on party infighting or Trump-backed challenges to Republican incumbents, including the former president's statement last week that he wants to see an entirely new Michigan "Legislature," while endorsing a primary challenger to a conservative state lawmaker. 

More:Donald Trump, pushing election claims, says, 'Michigan needs a new Legislature'

Trump also called Michigan lawmakers "cowards" and continued to repeat unfounded claims that there was widespread fraud in the battleground state's 2020 election. He lost the Michigan race to Biden by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points.

McDaniel said the RNC in practice doesn't get involved in primary races. 

She did acknowledge that Biden is president but, when asked, did not say Biden won both the popular and Electoral College votes.

“I’ve answered your question,” she told a reporter. “I just told you he’s the president, and it’s very painful. I think the media gave him a free pass. I think there’s a lot to look at and uncover with that election."

Pressed about what problems with the election she was referring to, McDaniel suggested Biden hadn't been sufficiently scrutinized by the news media, which she said underplayed stories such as what was found on Hunter Biden's laptop or the allegations from a former aide, Tara Reade, that Biden had sexually assaulted her. 

McDaniel also was asked if Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump, is still a Republican after her state GOP's decision to no longer consider her a party member. 

"Obviously she’s still a Republican. She’s a Republican in the (GOP) Conference," said McDaniel. "But I get from a state party standpoint, when you have a congressperson or senator who's not supporting your state party, and who's not talking about electing Republicans up and down the ballot."

McDaniel did condemn the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, expressing the anguish she felt learning about a bomb that was planted outside the RNC building on Capitol Hill. A bomb was also placed outside the Democratic National Committee. 

She blames social media in part for the rise in political violence, she said. 

"It's nasty. I've had death threats. We've had to have security. I don't always publicize that, but we've all had moments right now in this public sphere," McDaniel said. 

She said a death threat came in soon after she started her post at the RNC in 2017 and was a "pretty graphic image sent to my home." She reported it to the FBI. 

"I wish everybody would tamp it down. I don't think we have as much of a civilized dialogue," McDaniel said. "If you turn on CNN ... you don't see a Republican viewpoint right now. You don't. And that's the same on other things. And I think people are really really feeling angry that they are not seeing their views expressed."

McDaniel, who's in her third term atop the RNC, said she has not decided on whether to run for a fourth term.

"We don't know yet," she said. "We'll play it by ear after our the midterms. If we win, it makes it a lot easier to consider."

mburke@detroitnews.com