CHICAGO — Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel used an Illinois GOP fundraiser Friday night to deliver a valedictory address of sorts as she prepares for her ouster from the party post later this month under pressure from former President Donald Trump.
Appearing at an event aimed at encouraging Republicans to vote early and by mail, a “Bank Your Vote” program she initiated despite criticism from Trump and other GOP leaders that the practice Democrats have used successfully has been littered with fraud, McDaniel made no mention of the former president or her imminent departure as RNC chair.
She exhorted a crowd of more than 700 people in a ballroom at the Westin O’Hare hotel in Rosemont to pledge to vote early, avoid an Election Day vote deficit and save the party from the expense of pushing them to vote in the campaigns final days.
“Why bank your vote? We in the party must start utilizing mail-in and early voting,” she said. “Please raise your hand and you will pledge to vote early this election. Everybody, we got to do it.”
Recounting how Michigan, where she was state party chair, voted Republican for the presidency in 2016 for the first time in decades after being told the state was unwinnable, McDaniel said, “We turned it red and you can do it here, too.”
Democrats in Illinois have had a long history of successful early vote and vote-by-mail organizing, which has put the state’s declining Republican Party at a deficit on Election Day. The state Democratic Party in a statement called the RNC’s effort a case of “ballot hypocrisy” and noted its support for legal efforts to curb the counting of mailed in ballots that were postmarked on or before Election Day after the day of election.
McDaniel’s appearance came after she met Monday with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Florida property. Afterward, he called her a “friend” but said changes to the RNC would be coming after the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24.
Serving in her fourth two-year term as RNC chair, McDaniel had spent her tenure trying to satisfy Trump, most notably even dropping her maiden name, Romney. She’s a niece of Trump’s GOP nemesis, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
She also moved to convert a rooted establishment party organization into one more reflective of Trump, and backed him even as he falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen.
But party fundraising slowed and the GOP track record has not been stellar, with Democrats taking control of the White House and Congress in 2020 while Republicans underperformed in the 2022 midterm elections.
Attending what she said was her first state party celebration of the “Bank Your Vote” program, McDaniel’s message was a sharp reversal in strategy of urging GOP voters to cast their ballot on Election Day and shun early voting.
The event’s keynote speaker, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, appeared to step on the evening’s message when he declared to loud applause, “I believe that we should have an Election Day, not an election month.”
Kennedy also made the only reference to McDaniel’s departure.
“She is a rock star. She is star-spangled awesome. She’s been one of the best chairs we have ever had and I want to thank her for that,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also made no mention of Trump but heralded Republican policy achievements during his tenure as president, while giving a blistering critique of President Joe Biden and Democrats.
“I believe Republicans are not perfect, but the other side is crazy as hell,” he said. “The American people do not deserve to be governed by a deeply weird, hopelessly woke people who hate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.”
“The Biden administration sucks,” Kennedy said. “President Biden has been spectacularly off. For three years now, he’s been pushing on a door that’s clearly marked ‘pull.’”