Politics / March 26, 2024

NBC’s Hiring of Ronna McDaniel Is a Total Catastrophe

She’s a proven liar. She’s caused a PR nightmare. And she wasn’t even good at her job. What was NBC thinking?

John Nichols
Ronna McDaniel appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, March 25, 2024.

Ronna McDaniel appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, March 25, 2024.

(NBC News)

The reviews are in for ousted Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel’s first appearance as a $300,000-a-year political commentator for NBC—and they’re bad.

How bad?

Bad enough that even McDaniel’s new colleagues are delivering blistering on-air critiques of the Donald Trump apparatchik.

[Update, 3:55 pm, March 26: NBC News is now planning to cut ties with Ronna McDaniel, according to Puck.]

McDaniel made her debut as an NBC contributor on Sunday’s Meet the Press, and it was so appalling that the show’s former host Chuck Todd was brought on to absolve current host Kristen Welker from any responsibility for the fiasco.

“Let me deal with the elephant in the room: I think our bosses owe you an apology for putting you in this situation because I don’t know what to believe,” Todd told Welker.

Noting that McDaniel—who for years worked to amplify defeated former President Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was “rigged” against him, and who defended Trump even as he embraced increasingly fascistic rhetoric and proposed to begin a second term as “a dictator”—had suggested in her interview with Welker that viewers should trust her even though she didn’t actually believe much of what she was saying while serving as party chair, Todd said: “I don’t know what to believe. She is now a paid contributor by NBC News, but I have no idea that any answer she gave to you was because she didn’t want to mess up her contract. She wants us to believe that she was speaking for the RNC when the RNC was paying for it. So she has credibility issues that she still has to deal with. Is she speaking for herself or is she speaking on behalf of who’s paying her? Once at the RNC she did say that, ‘Hey, I’m speaking for the party.’ I get that. That’s part of the job. So what about here?”

Todd explained that “there’s a reason why there’s a lot of journalists at NBC News that are uncomfortable with this because many of our professional dealings with the RNC over the last six years have been met with gaslighting, have been met with character assassination. So that’s where you begin here. And so when NBC made the decision to give her NBC News’ credibility, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘What does she bring NBC News?’”

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Todd wasn’t alone. In a remarkable public display of dissent, MSNBC anchors railed against McDaniels’s hiring from morning until night on Monday. “The fact that Ms. McDaniel is on the payroll at NBC News, to me that is inexplicable,” Rachel Maddow said on her show. “And I hope they will reverse their decision.”

Todd, Maddow, and the rest of their colleagues understand something their bosses appear to have missed: that what McDaniel “brings” to NBC News are liabilities that would harm any network that’s trying to cover the 2024 election—or, for that matter, any election.

First off, there’s her well-documented inability to tell the truth, which was clear during her seven-year tenure as RNC chair—a position she was invited to exit this year by Trump and his associates—and was still obvious during her agonizing interview with Welker, in which the host was forced to fact-check the network’s newest paid contributor in real time. For instance, when McDaniel claimed that as party chair she had defended the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president “many times,” Welker played a tape from July of 2023, in which CNN’s Chris Wallace asked McDaniel, “Are you saying, as the chair of the Republican Party, that you still have questions as to whether or not Joe Biden was the duly elected president in 2020?”

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McDaniel tried to dodge the question. “Joe Biden’s the president,” she said.

But Wallace wasn’t falling for that one.

“No,” said Wallace, “I didn’t ask you whether he’s the president.”

McDaniel then said of the 2020 election, in which her candidate lost the popular vote by 7 million ballots, and lose the Electoral College by an overwhelming 306-232 margin, “I think there were lots of problems with 2020.”

Wallace asked McDaniel to say what meant, and she did.

“Ultimately, he won the election,” McDaniel said of Biden. “But I don’t think he won it fair. I don’t. I’m not going to say that.”

Less than a year later, after she acquired a different paymaster, Romney was suddenly telling Welker that Biden had, in fact, won “fair and square.” But no serious observer was prepared to believe her.

“Her credibility is completely shot,” said Kimberly Atkins Stohr, a columnist for The Boston Globe who joined the Meet the Press roundtable discussion after the McDaniels interview. “So I have to do what Maya Angelou said: I believe what they do and not anything that she said today. And in that I know that she habitually lied, she habitually joined Trump in attacking the press—members of the press, including this network—in a way that put journalists at risk, in danger. And we do know that she carried water for Donald Trump, and we knew that she did participate in efforts to keep votes in Detroit, my hometown…to keep the votes from mostly Black voters in Detroit from being counted that night.”

McDaniel’s credibility was not just “completely shot” by her habitual dishonesty as party chair. It was shot by her lying even after she left the RNC fold to take a contract with the National Broadcasting Company. That contract stirred outrage last week, when an internal NBC memo announced that McDaniel would appear “across all NBC News platforms.” Amid pushback from hosts, staffers, and regular guests on MSNBC, which has been in the forefront of calling out the Big Lie that Trump and his associates peddled about the 2020 election, the network backtracked. According to The Washington Post, “MSNBC President Rashida Jones and other executives called network anchors to reassure them that they maintain editorial independence over their shows and are free to book—or not book—whatever guest pundits they please, according to a person at MSNBC close to these conversations.” A Wall Street Journal report went even further, suggesting that “Jones told employees the cable network has no plans to have McDaniel on the channel, according to people familiar with the conversations” (emphasis added). (Maddow echoed this on Monday night, insisting, “We were told in clear terms Ronna McDaniel will not be on our air. Ronna McDaniel will not be on MSNBC.”)

But even if McDaniel was not a habitual liar, she’d be an absurd choice as a political analyst, for NBC or any other network.

That’s because she’s no good at politics.

When McDaniel—the granddaughter of former Michigan governor and 1968 Republican presidential contender George Romney and the niece of Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee—took charge of the RNC in January of 2017, she was a reasonably well-connected party fundraiser who had served two years as chair of the Michigan GOP. Overcompensating for concerns that no Romney could be a sincere “MAGA” conservative, McDaniel went all in as a Trump loyalist. She made the RNC an extension of Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020 and scrambled to get the party organization on board for his 2024 run. She filled party posts with Trump loyalists, booked party events at Trump-owned properties, and agreed to an outrageous scheme by which party funds paid for Trump’s mounting legal bills. She even stopped using “Romney” in her name, lest it remind anyone of her heretical roots.

All along the way, she was losing elections. Lots of them.

When McDaniel took charge of the RNC, the party had just won a presidential election, for the first time in a dozen years. It had also gained control of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. And it dominated the states, controlling 33 governorships, including those in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin—states with long records of voting Democratic in presidential elections that had narrowly backed Trump in 2016.

As McDaniel took charge, the GOP juggernaut began to falter. In November of 2017, Democrats flipped control of the governorship in New Jersey and retained the governorship of Virginia. Democrats also expanded their majorities in the New Jersey General Assembly and Senate and made major gains in races for the Virginia House of Delegates. In a special election that month, Democrats won control of the Washington Senate. And, that December, Democrat Doug Jones flipped a Republican-held US Senate seat.

In 2018, Democrats flipped 41 US House seats, gaining control of the chamber and making it dramatically more difficult for Trump to advance his agenda. In the states, Democrats picked up seven governorships. It did not go unnoticed that the Democrats won key races in the swing states that gave Trump the presidency two years earlier: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and McDaniel’s own state of Michigan. At least 350 Republican-held state legislative seats flipped to the Democrats, and Republican-led legislative chambers were taken over by Democrats in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York. The election was described as a Democratic “blue wave.”

In 2019, Democrats won the highest-profile gubernatorial election of the year, regaining control of the Kentucky statehouse. They also retained control of the governorship in Louisiana, and took full control of the Virginia legislature for the first time in two decades.

In 2020, Democrats retook the White House, held the US House, and gained control of the US Senate.

In 2022, when Republican Party leaders and Fox News commentators predicted a GOP “red wave,” Democrats retained control of the US Senate and picked up governorships in Arizona, Maryland, and Massachusetts. And, in one particularly striking statehouse result, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2008 and of the state Senate for the first time since 1984, giving them and their Democratic governor the power to advance a sweeping progressive agenda. Democrats then overturned an anti-labor “right to work” law and restored the prevailing wage, enacted a Reproductive Health Act to lock in abortion rights protections, expanded LGBTQ+ rights, and approved groundbreaking gun control measures. That state? McDaniel’s Michigan.

It’s indisputable: Over the course of her seven years as chair, McDaniel led the GOP to defeat after defeat after defeat. Even where things went her way (as with the election of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin over hapless Democrat Terry McAuliffe in 2021), they were undone in short order (in 2023, Democrats, running as defenders of abortion rights, gained complete control of the Virginia legislature, leaving Youngkin disempowered and marginalized).

In an assessment of McDaniel’s record after the red wave failed to materialize in 2022, Axios referred to her as “a leader who has thus far failed to preside over a single positive election cycle.” Conservative commentator Erick Erickson argued, “If she were an SEC football coach, she would have been out a long time ago.”

Now, finally, McDaniel is out as RNC chair. And she’s in, for now, at NBC, as a “political analyst.”

The problem for NBC is that, even if she were to start telling the truth, it is unimaginable that anyone looking for credible political analysis would turn to Ronna Romney McDaniel—unless they’re looking for advice and counsel on how to lose.

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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