Tensions between Vivek Ramaswamy and Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), have been on full display since the GOP presidential candidate called out his party as a “party of losers” on the RNC’s third debate stage Wednesday.
The infighting comes after Republicans lost several key races in Tuesday’s elections — and as the RNC has raised the requirements for the fourth debate next month.
Early in the two-hour debate in Miami, Ramaswamy — who has branded himself as a political outsider — lashed out at the chair of his party, expressing frustration the party got “trounced” during the elections held the previous day.
“We’ve become a party of losers at the end of the day,” Ramaswamy said.
“Since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022, no red wave, that never came. We got trounced last night in 2023,” he said.
The 38-year-old presidential hopeful then spoke from his podium directly to McDaniel, offering up that he’d yield his time for her to “come on stage” and announce her resignation.
Top Stories from The Hill
Afterward, McDaniel hit back that Ramaswamy “needs a headline” to make up for low polling as the Republican White House hopefuls head toward the fourth debate, which will require the candidates to meet even higher polling and donor requirements to qualify.
Strategists were split on which of the third-debate contenders would make the next cutoff.
“He’s at 4 percent. He needs a headline,” McDaniel told anchor Stuart Varney on FOX Business Network’s “Varney & Co.” She said the RNC wasn’t involved in Tuesday’s state-level races, quipping that “Vivek’s kind of newer to the party” and claiming he voted for former President Obama. Ramaswamy has said that claim is false.
Strategists pointed to Ramaswamy’s on-air shot at the RNC chair as an effort to snag an attention-grabbing moment as the GOP contenders try to climb in the polls and get closer to the party’s front-runner, former President Trump — who has notably skipped all the debates so far.
“With Iowa just around the corner, Vivek knows he has to do something to break out of the pack,” said Mark Weaver, a GOP strategist.
Weaver said Ramaswamy’s debate lines appeared “deployed for the precise purpose” of catching a viral moment and standing out from his fellow candidates.
But strategists also said McDaniel’s low name recognition — given that the party chair doesn’t typically have the same high profile among everyday voters as presidential candidates or other figures — is one reason Ramaswamy’s shot might not help him as he gears up for the Iowa caucuses in January.
“It felt like headline chasing. … I have trouble believing that McDaniel has [enough] significant name ID among primary voters that making her a foil is a campaign strategy for success,” said GOP strategist Brian Seitchik, a former Trump campaign staffer.
Asked on CNN about Ramaswamy’s debate comments, McDaniel argued that the “Republican-on-Republican infighting” is hurting the GOP.
“We lost races in 2022 because of vitriol within our party. We need every Republican and then some to win elections,” McDaniel said.
In Tuesday’s elections, Republican candidates lost key races in several states — including Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio. The results came a year after a so-called “red wave” failed to materialize for the party in the 2022 midterm elections.
The party lost the House in 2018, lost the Senate and presidency in 2020 and secured just a slim majority in the House in 2022. McDaniel won reelection to a fourth term as RNC chair in early 2023.
“Many Republicans certainly feel the frustration in losing” over the last few cycles, said Seitchik. But the best way to handle that, he argued, is “not just going after the chairwoman of the RNC.”
Ramaswamy has doubled down on his calls for the RNC chair to step down in the days after the debate and reaffirmed in a statement shared by a spokesperson Friday that “Ronna should resign.”
Strategists said his words may resonate with voters wary of the party establishment or frustrated with the party’s losses in recent elections.
“Whenever the team is on a losing streak, people start thinking about replacing the coach. That’s not a perfect analogy because the RNC chair doesn’t have control over most campaigns, but people still have that concern that perhaps the leadership of the party is not doing what it should do,” said Weaver.
Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative Turning Point USA, said on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, that “when an NFL team keeps losing games, the coach gets fired” and called for “major change in the GOP’s leadership.”
Republican strategist Rina Shah called Ramaswamy’s move part of a “rage-against-the-establishment schtick.”
He’d previously called for the RNC to cut the number of candidates down to the top four — and later indicated he might skip the third debate altogether, arguing the second one in Simi Valley, Calif., did not “serve the voting public.”
“He is very much relying on that anger that still resides within most of the MAGA base,” Shah said.
She also noted that Ramaswamy singled out three women during his time on stage — including McDaniel, fellow candidate Nikki Haley and one of the night’s moderators, NBC News’s Kristen Welker.
Haley called the entrepreneur “scum” after he brought up her daughter during talks about the video-sharing app TikTok and data security concerns relating to China.
Shah said those exchanges may have appealed to some voters but likely pulled him down overall.
A 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll found Haley won and Ramaswamy lost the third debate among likely Republican primary and caucus voters who tuned into the program.
The White House hopeful got a lot of traction out of the first debate in August, said Lilly Goren, a political science professor at Carroll University. But she observed that onlookers have come to think of Ramaswamy as “a bomb-thrower,” with his numbers falling as the debate process has continued.
“It’s like being invited to dinner, and you sit down at dinner and start attacking the person at dinner,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak of Ramaswamy’s move to knock McDaniel and the third debate’s hosts.
“That doesn’t mean that the RNC has been perfect,” he said, acknowledging “legitimate criticism” of the party over the past few years, but he contended Ramaswamy made an “ill-mannered” move to attack the platform he was taking part in.
He also shrugged off the candidate’s overall concern about Tuesday’s election results, saying that “in the end, no one’s going to remember what happened in the 2023 off-year elections” as the party heads toward 2024.
To make the fourth debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., presidential hopefuls will need to poll at 6 percent or higher in two national polls, or at 6 percent in one early state poll from two separate “carve out” states — listed as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to get behind a podium in December, according to an RNC release, among other requirements.
That’s 2 points higher than the 4 percent benchmark for Miami.
The fourth debate will come weeks before the Republican presidential nominating process kicks off with Iowa caucuses.
In Miami, “you saw these candidates say, ‘This is who I am. I’m not going to change.’ And though there’s a fourth debate coming, this was kind of their last opportunity to really make that play,” Shah said. “Vivek Ramaswamy really revealed who he was.”