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Ronna McDaniel said the quiet part out loud on NBC

Ronna McDaniel said the quiet part out loud on NBC
When Ronna McDaniel appeared on “Meet the Press,” the focus quickly settled on the outrage at NBC. But for everything her hiring at the network said about the media landscape, it was just as revealing about the state of the GOP.

Freed from former President Donald Trump’s gravitational pull, McDaniel, the former Republican National Committee chair, could now express beliefs that included such bromides as “people who violently attacked Capitol Hill police officers and — and attacked the Capitol” should be held accountable and that in the 2020 presidential election, President Joe Biden won “fair and square.”

It’s unclear whether McDaniel unburdened herself because she had a new benefactor in NBC and not the RNC. “I have no idea whether any answer she gave to you was because she didn’t want to mess up her contract,” said Chuck Todd, Meet the Press’ former host.

But what is clear is that McDaniel seemed to understand those beliefs were unutterable as Trump’s handpicked chair and that speaking them as she did — after his jettisoning of her from the RNC — flouted a large portion of the party. In her NBC appearance, the veil covering the kayfabe of post-2020 election denialism fell, exposing what one of the most prominent party officials thought in private versus what she said in public.

“Sometimes there is a price to be paid for politically expedient bullshit,” said Jason Roe, the Michigan-based GOP strategist whose parents worked for George Romney and who butted heads with McDaniel when he was the state GOP executive director. “It is the unwillingness, the lack of courage to say these things before that matters most, because these things have taken on a life of their own because people who know better didn’t say so, and they gain legitimacy.”

Or as McDaniel herself put it in her NBC interview: “When you’re the RNC chair, you — you kind of take one for the whole team, right? Now I get to be a little bit more myself.”

In that brief moment, McDaniel captured a singular dynamic of operating in a loyalty-driven, get-in-line-behind-Trump GOP where taking one for the team is at a premium. It’s a navigational nightmare for any Republican Party official who disagrees with Trump but seeks to remain relevant in the party he controls.

“In Ronna’s case she was not honest with the American people, or with the national committee members, way too often,” said Oscar Brock, an RNC member from Tennessee who opposed McDaniel’s reelection last year.

Brock said McDaniel told RNC members at a meeting in Amelia Island, Florida, in January 2021 that there were still thousands of affidavits attesting to election fraud, which could serve as proof of an unfair election. And Brock noted that at the RNC’s meeting a year later in Salt Lake City, McDaniel backed a resolution that called the Jan. 6 events “legitimate political discourse” and censured Republican congressmembers who were involved in investigating the attacks.

“She was keeping her audience of one happy,” Brock said. “What she’s saying now is markedly different than what she was saying even a year ago.”

Bill Palatucci, another RNC member who has been critical of both Trump and McDaniel, said his “complaint the entire time” was that McDaniel refused to speak out against Trump’s behavior.

“Particularly after the terrible midterms, I was the person vocally saying your silence means you’re complicit with all the stupid things he’s saying and doing and these terrible candidates he’s recruiting,” Palatucci said. “Obviously, that fell on deaf ears at the RNC.”

McDaniel was hardly alone in the GOP’s rhetorical service to the former president, even among his critics. Take former Vice President Mike Pence. In the Trump administration, he was the picture of loyalty, taking part in the kabuki until Jan. 6 came, and then he wasn’t. But before then he often found himself, like McDaniel, taking one for the team. “I’ve debated Donald Trump a thousand times,” Pence often said during his own short run for president. “Just not in front of the cameras.”

McDaniel, in her telling, also had to keep her disagreements with Trump to herself.

“Her choice and her decision was, ‘I’m going to put my own views secondary to the views of the larger party,’” said David Urban, a former senior Trump campaign adviser who has his own contributor contract at CNN. “I’ve seen people that say, ‘Oh, your job is to represent America, not represent your party. That’s not necessarily true. She’s in large part a spokesperson for the party and the figurehead for the party. If that’s where the party is or was at the time, then that’s that.”

If the outrage over McDaniel’s appearance on “Meet the Press” exposed the tension between GOP officials’ public comments and private beliefs, it also laid bare a fault line — in the party, in Washington and beyond — over Jan. 6. and its aftermath.

To the network’s critics, after all, NBC’s sin wasn’t just platforming a partisan. It had done that many times before: Host Joe Scarborough himself was a former Florida GOP congressmember, and there is no shortage of former Trump and Biden aides who have landed at various networks. And McDaniel herself had been a guest of “Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker’s three months earlier on Nov. 12. Then, Welker had asked McDaniel about whether “the Republican Party stands for revenge.” (“I’m not going to get involved in rhetoric that’s happening during a contested campaign for our presidential nominee,” McDaniel said.)

But when MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” played a reel of McDaniel questioning the results of the election, the show’s producers and talent pointed to her election denialism as the reason her hiring was a bridge too far. The body politic hasn’t yet figured out how to engage with the 2020 election lie.

“There’s a lot of people in the Republican Party who believe that the 2020 election was not fairly conducted — whether that’s right or wrong, whether you believe that or not — a big number of people do believe that, and maybe they should try to understand why they think that,” Urban said.

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