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MAGA Is Enjoying This Ronna McDaniel Mess

NBC News’s disastrous decision to hire the former Republican National Committee chair shows how media organizations still don’t understand the Trump phenomenon.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

NBC News’s recent hiring of Ronna McDaniel, the former chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, has baffled Democrats, journalists, and pretty much all of MSNBC’s star anchors. But to those who remain deep in the thrall of MAGA—and those, like me, who escaped it—it was utterly unsurprising that a mainstream (i.e., “fake”) news organization would shell out $300,000 a year for McDaniel’s point of view.

I became a MAGA activist in 2015, shortly after Donald Trump famously descended that golden escalator. For the next half-decade, I not only vociferously supported Trump and those who pledged fealty to him, like Ron DeSantis, but I also volunteered my time to write part of the Trump campaign call script to prospective voters; made and received calls for Trump and DeSantis; directed citizens to their polling places; helped get others registered; never missed a MAGA-inspired local event; and often spoke at, and financially supported, some Trump clubs. I also donated to Trump.

So I knew a lot of MAGA Americans, as well as their views of various Republican politicians. And I never met anyone who had a kind word to say about Ronna McDaniel. In fact, we all loathed her nearly as much as we did the Democratic Party. To us, she wasn’t Ronna McDaniel, but Ronna Romney, the niece of U.S. Senator Willard Mitt Romney—that quisling RINO who was worse than any Democrat, save for Barack Obama.

Though Trump in 2017 had handpicked McDaniel to run the RNC, we privately mocked McDaniel because we regarded her as a Democrat lite: someone who operated with malleable principles, refused to fight as we and Trump fought, and yearned to be liked. Our desire was to be feared, not liked.

Publicly, we rarely admonished her, because to do so would be to criticize Trump—which would lead to exile, as a MAGA heretic.

McDaniel was finally cut loose in March. (Officially she resigned, but let’s be honest—Trump engineered it as part of his broader overhaul of the RNC, which included installing daughter-in-law Lara Trump as a co-chair.) At that point, the stopwatch started in the race to scoop up McDaniel—even if many journalists, within NBC and elsewhere, couldn’t hear it ticking. But to me and many of my former peers on the right, this outcome was as inevitable as it was predictable because when it comes to Trump, the GOP, and the American right wing broadly, the political press still doesn’t really get it.

When Trump in 2015 announced his candidacy for president by saying migrants are drug-dealing criminals and “rapists,” the political press—once it had lifted its collective jaw off the floor—dismissed his chances on account of extremism. When he called for a Muslim ban, they doubled down. Even after he routed the competition on his way to the GOP nomination, he was seen as a certain loser against Hillary Clinton—even more so after his ugly treatment of her in three debates and then the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape a mere month before the election.

And yet, Trump defied them all.

Much of our national press never recovered from the shock of so egregiously underestimating his support in 2016, and will do anything to avoid making the same mistake again. I won’t say the mainstream media want Trump to win, but if he’s elected again in November, they do want to be able to say, At least we didn’t blow it this time.

Meanwhile, the media has also become obsessed with the idea that the Republican Party can somehow be saved from Trumpism. So who better than Ronna McDaniel—who had one foot in the old GOP establishment, one in the MAGA orbit—to enlighten us on both?

That seems to have been NBC’s faulty logic, anyway. The network insisted that McDaniel was brought on to provide “an insider’s perspective on national politics and the future of the Republican Party.” Pray tell: perspective for whom? MAGA Americans? They disdain both McDaniel and NBC.

McDaniel probably knows how MAGA Americans feel about her: She reportedly dropped the use of her Romney name at Trump’s request, before assuming her RNC chairwoman post in 2017. And if she didn’t know before last weekend, she certainly does now—after having said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that (contra Trump) those convicted of crimes related to the January 6 riot shouldn’t be pardoned and that (contra herself in 2023) Biden’s 2020 election victory was “legitimate.”

Why the change of tune? Perhaps she was adopting a more reasonable position to please her new employer. Or, more likely, she was hiding her true feelings all those years at the RNC. It’s safe to say that many, if not most, GOP politicians, pundits, and party officials don’t believe the pernicious and nefarious myths that Trump peddles, but they know the consequences of deviating from Trump’s positions: They’ll have hell to pay with MAGA members.

Though I volunteered for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns (and for DeSantis in 2018), I never believed that the 2016 election was rife with fraud (thereby depriving Trump of the popular vote) or that 2020 was stolen. I spent more than half a decade meeting or communicating daily with Trump devotees. They were kind and decent people, and many were highly intelligent and accomplished professionals—attorneys, doctors, financial executives, small-business owners, former public-sector workers, and Ivy League graduates.

But there’s no two ways about it: They support someone who holds abhorrent views about immigrants, women, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and more; who has wished violence and death upon his political opponents; who has echoed Hitler’s rhetoric and is plotting a fascistic second term as we speak. And so these supporters are hardly blameless.

That goes for me too. I allowed myself to be duped for years, one of millions of MAGA Americans who was fooled into believing Trump’s falsehoods. I neither defend my past nor anyone’s current ignorance, but saying MAGA Americans have been manipulated doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent or turpid. The repetition of lies ad infinitum begins to convince many whose political proclivities aren’t staunchly right-wing.

My doubts about supporting Trump and the MAGA movement didn’t begin until the summer of 2021. The catalyst was DeSantis’s abrupt turn from staunch advocate to ardent opponent of Covid public health measures and the vaccine. Simultaneously, I diversified my news and information sources, and came to better comprehend the well-coordinated groups who incited the January 6 insurrection—as well as Trump’s blessing of them.

I left MAGA a year later. (To learn more about why, read this.) And now I’ve formed a new organization called Leaving MAGA, in the hopes of building a community for those who have also left or are considering it—as well as fostering reconciliations between MAGA Americans and their friends and family.

Perhaps Ronna McDaniel would consider joining our community? Admittedly, it would be difficult for me to accept that she’s truly reformed; she would need to show genuine penitence. She led a Republican Party that described a coup d’état as “legitimate political discourse” and made excuses for—or even encouraged—an immeasurable toll of death and suffering, from the insurrection to the Covid pandemic to the targeting of trans Americans. McDaniel wasn’t the steward of a misguided party who means well. No, the GOP was, and is, unequivocally on the wrong side of life-and-death issues, and though McDaniel is not completely culpable for that failure, she is nonetheless responsible.

In my time in MAGA, one of the most pervasive bogeymen I encountered was the “liberal media” establishment, and the outlandish myth that it colludes with the Democratic Party to suppress the voices of Republicans and conservatives. In fact, the mainstream media suffers from quite the opposite ailment, as organizations are so paranoid about being seen as liberal that they bend over backward to platform right-wing voices, no matter how detestable. The pursuit of fantastical impartiality or “balance” has, in some corners, become more important than a commitment to truth and reason. And when that happens—when you hire someone like Ronna McDaniel who has demonstrably contributed to the weakening of American democracy—you are actually colluding, however indirectly, with MAGA.