Indian-American loses election to head Republican Party after challenging establishment
Chandigarh-born Harmeet Dhillon has lost her bid to head the Republican National Committee (RNC) despite a spirited fight against the US party’s establishment that drew broad support.
The current RNC chair Ronna McDaniels was re-elected on Friday at the Committee’s meeting in California despite criticism for having led the party through three successive defeats and an underperformance.
Dhillon, who polled 51 votes to McDaniel’s 111 in the 168-member RNC, ran a grassroots campaign that brought out the discontent in the ranks of the party that must face a presidential election next year.
After the election, Dhillon said” “At the end of the day, if our party is perceived as totally out of touch with the grassroots, which I think some may take away from this outcome, we have some work to do.”
The Republican Party has two high-profile women with roots in Punjab — Dhillon, who proudly broadcasts it with the Twitter handle “@pnjaban”; and Nikki Haley, the first Indian-American to be on the US Cabinet, who has said is “looking in a serious way” a run for the party’s presidential nomination.
The run-up to the RNC election was marred by allegations that McDaniels’s supporters had run a whispering campaign against Dhillon based on her Sikh faith.
Dhillon tweeted during the campaign: “No amount of threats to me or my team, or bigoted attacks on my faith traceable directly to associates of the chair, will deter me from advancing positive change at the RNC.”
McDaniels condemned the efforts to use religion against Dhillon citing her own membership in the minority Mormon faith that is often portrayed negatively.
Dhillon received the support of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a rising figure in the party and a likely challenger to former President Donald Trump for the party’s presidential nomination next year.
Endorsing Dhillon, DeSantis said in an interview with the leader of a conservative group within the party, “I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC”.
With McDaniels as chair, the party lost the House of Representatives in 2018 and Senate and the presidential election in 2020 and underperformed in the mid-term elections last year whipping up criticism of the leadership..
Dhillon had picked up support from two state committees, Nevada and Washington, the heads of the party in four states and from several high-profile party donors, as well as media figures influential within the party.
Trump who had connections to both McDaniels and Dhillon stayed neutral in the open, but according to some media reports secretly backed the incumbent.
He had picked McDaniels in 2017 to head the RNC, while Dhillon was one of his lawyers during the last presidential election and the House probe into the January 2021 Capitol riots.
McDaniel is seen as closely aligned herself with Trump and while Dhillon has not openly gone against him, she repudiated Trump’s continued claim that he was the rightful winner in 2020.
But many conservative diehard Trump supporters backed Dhillon and this may have turned off some of the moderate voters.
According to Politico, many had reservations in particular about one “firebrand conservative figure” Charlie Kirk who they feared might exert influence on the party if she were elected.
Dhillon immigrated to the US as a child, said a Sikh prayer at the opening of a session of the RNC in 2016 — the first time a non-Abrahamic religion figured in a national party convention.
Dhillon, whose law practice takes on discrimination cases, mainly by conservatives, has been associated with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is reviled by many Republicans.