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US Republican party meets to choose chair amid squabbles

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Ronna McDaniel faces a challenge for her job as chair of the Republican National Committee, in a fight that is being seen as a proxy battle between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis./AFP
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Jan 28, 2023 - 10:32 AM

DANNA POINT, UNITED STATES — America’s deeply divided Republicans were meeting Friday to elect a national committee chairperson, a vote seen as a test of Donald Trump’s hold on the party.

The Republican party has been in disarray since a predicted “red wave” failed to materialize in November elections, with the party eking out a slim majority in the House, but failing to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats.

Senior figures have blamed the poor showing on the caliber of candidates backed by Trump, many of whom appeared qualified solely by their endorsement of his discredited election conspiracy theories.

Trump has already declared himself a candidate for the 2024 presidential election, but momentum has been growing behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The party’s 168-strong national committee huddled Friday at a luxury resort in Dana Point, California, where incumbent chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, believed to be Trump’s choice for the job, is fighting to keep a position she has occupied since 2017.

She faces challenges from Mike Lindell, a conspiracy-peddling pillow salesman, and Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer who has the backing of some of the more right-wing members of Congress — and DeSantis.

“There are a lot of changes that need to be made for us to be in fighting shape to win in ’24,” Dhillon told the Los Angeles Times ahead of the meeting.

“I’m tired of Republicans losing elections.”

Dhillon on Thursday received the backing of DeSantis, who said he thought the Republican National Committee needed a change of direction.

“I think we need a change, I think we need to get some new blood,” he told Florida’s Voice.

“I like what Harmeet Dhillon has said.”

Political scientist Wendy Schiller says the fight between Dhillon and McDaniel, with Lindell is believed to lie a distant third, amounts to a proxy battle between DeSantis and Trump.

By supporting the outsider who has the backing of the more extreme members of Congress, the Florida governor is trying to “out-rightwing Donald Trump,” she told AFP.

“DeSantis is trying to project himself as a future leader of the party,” Schiller said.

“There’s no other reason for wanting to weigh in on this election, unless you’re planning to run for president.”

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