New York Times
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Ronna McDaniel Gets the Trump Treatment
By Frank Bruni
Mr. Bruni is a contributing Opinion writer who was on the staff of The Times for more than 25 years.
Donald Trump claims to be the best, most or first in countless laughable ways, but there’s one endeavor at which he really is peerless: Nobody dishes out humiliation in such heaping, merciless measures.
Just ask Ronna McDaniel. She’s the one feasting miserably on it now.
The chair of the Republican National Committee, McDaniel is responsible for its presidential primary debates, including the one next week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Trump is skipping it. Dismissing her wishes, ignoring her entreaties, he has made other arrangements, just as he did in August, when he jilted McDaniel and pointedly took a pass on the first Republican primary debate, in Milwaukee.
But that’s just the half of it. When Trump snubs you, he snubs you in neon.
He’s actively competing with her debate by counterprogramming it — again, a repeat of his antics last month, when he did an interview with Tucker Carlson that was shown just as Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley and the gang stood behind their lecterns, unfurling their talking points.
Only this time, he’s staging his rival event, a prime-time speech to striking United Auto Workers members that he could have scheduled for any other night, in McDaniel’s own backyard. She lives just outside Detroit, where Trump reportedly plans to make his remarks, and Michigan is where her grandfather George Romney was governor; where one of her uncles, Mitt Romney, grew up; and where the Romney clan has long been royalty. That’s why she went by Ronna Romney McDaniel until Trump came along and his contempt for Uncle Mitt complicated the luster of that middle name.
Michigan, in other words, is Romney territory. And Trump will be trampling all over it.
What a priceless turn of events. What a perfect spectacle — in the sense that it so vividly captures the mess of the Republican Party and the mortification of Republican “leaders” in the Trump era, when courtesy is obsolete, traditions are damned, loyalty flows to Mar-a-Lago but never from it, and all prosper or perish in accordance with their orange overlord’s whims.
Once upon a time, being the chair of the Republican Party was a prize and McDaniel’s duration in the job (she’s in her fourth term) would have been a triumphant validation of her political acumen and power. Now it just pegs her as a toady. It’s her ticket to disrepute.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from Uncle Mitt. He didn’t mention his niece in his withering remarks about Republican officials to the journalist McKay Coppins, at least to go by the excerpt from Coppins’s forthcoming book, “Romney: A Reckoning,” that The Atlantic published last week. But Romney’s lament about those Republicans’ disregard for the Constitution and his insistence that the party’s current caretakers must go indisputably applied to McDaniel.
She has richly earned that censure. Right after the 2020 presidential election, she was alternately squishy about and indulgent of Trump’s bogus claims that it had been stolen. As Tim Alberta recounted in a November 2020 article in Politico titled “The Inside Story of Michigan’s Fake Voter Fraud Scandal,” McDaniel “sanctioned her employees, beginning with top spokesperson Liz Harrington, to spread countless demonstrable falsehoods.” Alberta also noted that the R.N.C., “on McDaniel’s watch, tweeted out a video clip of disgraced lawyer Sidney Powell claiming Trump ‘won in a landslide’ (when he lost by more than six million votes nationally) and alleging a global conspiracy to rig the election against him.”
That was just a continuation of McDaniel’s fealty to Trump, who handpicked her to ascend to the chair of the R.N.C. after the 2016 election. She thanked him by dutifully playing the sycophant, as two headlines in Politico two years in a row neatly illustrated.
From January 2019: “R.N.C. Chair McDaniel Sides With Trump Over Uncle Mitt Romney.” That was when Romney, freshly elected to the Senate from Utah, wrote an opinion essay for The Washington Post that disparaged Trump’s performance as president. McDaniel in turn tweeted that Romney’s critique was “disappointing and unproductive.”
From February 2020: “Ronna McDaniel Stands With Trump After Uncle Mitt Says He’ll Vote to Convict.” That was when Romney, alone among Senate Republicans, deemed Trump culpable in the “perfect phone call” with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, which prompted the first of Trump’s two impeachments. McDaniel countered Romney’s vote by tweeting that “Trump did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party is more united than ever behind him.”
How faithful she has been. How little it has netted her. She is being reduced to a laughingstock and is learning what Rudy Giuliani did when he had to trek to Mar-a-Lago with a tin cup in his hand and beg for financial help with legal bills that he’d incurred by promoting Trump’s election lies: With Trump, there are no alms for the addled. He doesn’t spare his friends the kind of humiliation that he visits upon his foes. His favors are contingent not on your past servitude but on your present utility.
And when you sell your soul to him, you get no receipt.
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