Republican National Committee chair defends party unity as divisions grow

"I am seeing more enthusiasm than I saw in 2016," Ronna McDaniel said.

October 18, 2020, 4:54 PM

With more than 27 million votes already cast in November’s election and national polls showing former Vice President Joe Biden with a double-digit lead over President Donald Trump, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel projected confidence on ABC's "This Week" that momentum was swinging back toward the president and hinted of an Election Day surge at the voting booth.

"I am seeing more enthusiasm than I saw in 2016. I study the data every day," the RNC chair told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, when pressed, on Sunday. "We know that our voters are going to turn out on Election Day. They don't trust mail-in balloting as much."

As pessimism grows about the president’s reelection prospects, he has come under recent attacks from members of his own party. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who is up for reelection in November, was recorded telling supporters in a phone call that Trump has routinely sold out U.S. allies, disrespected women, mocked evangelicals behind closed doors and "spends like a drunken sailor."

Stephanopoulos asked McDaniel, "As RNC Chair, are you concerned that the president is in kind of open warfare with his own senators?”

“Ben's been there for a long time. It's not surprising. It's the only time he gets news is when he criticizes this president,” McDaniel said. “But the party, and the energy we're seeing on the ground, and the rallies, and what we're seeing for this president is unprecedented in terms of the support he's receiving from Republicans across the country.”

PHOTO: Chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel stands on stage in the the Mellon Auditorium while addressing the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020. in Washington.
Chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel stands on stage in the the Mellon Auditorium while addressing the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020. in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

Several GOP senators running for reelection in tight races have started warning about potentially large losses for Republicans in November. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Democrats have a good chance of winning the White House. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., argued a Republican Senate is a necessary check on a potential President Biden.

Stephanopoulos noted that on Friday, Trump tweeted that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is "not worth the work." She is up for reelection and was among two GOP senators who suggested waiting until after the election to select a replacement for late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat.

“Are you starting to see Republican senators running on a separate track from President Trump?” Stephanopoulos pressed.

“I'm not. I think all of them have been running those similar races along,” McDaniel replied. “And any Republican that doesn't recognize that running with the president is going to help them is hurting themselves in the long run.”

McDaniel's uncle, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also called out Trump last week for again refusing to condemn QAnon, the far-right group that has alleged conspiracy theories that Trump is facing a global network of evil elites, Democrats, celebrities and their "deep state" bureaucratic counterparts. The FBI has said the group poses a domestic terror threat.

The RNC chairwoman said the president's supporters don't care about a "fringe group" like QAnon when challenged by Stephanopoulos, even though in a nationally televised town hall the president said QAnon followers are "very much against pedophilia" and agreed with the sentiment.

McDaniel also defended the president’s rhetoric after he prompted a "lock her up" rally chant targeting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer while campaigning Saturday in the state. Whitmer was recently the target of an alleged kidnapping plot.

At the Michigan rally Saturday, Trump said of Whitmer, "I guess they said she was threatened and she blamed me. You've got to get your governor to open up your state. And get your school's open. The schools' have to be open. Right?"

People in the crowd began applauding and chanting "lock her up."

Trump responded, "Lock 'em all up."

Whitmer later released a statement that said, "This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that has put me, my family and the lives of other government officials in danger."

McDaniel said it was "inappropriate" for Whitmer to blame Trump for putting her in harm's way.

Stephanopoulos continued to challenge McDaniel on the president's statements, saying, “He’s saying ‘lock them all up.”

"First of all, the president and his FBI foiled this plot," the RNC chairwoman said. "I think Gov. Whitmer is really inappropriate to try and lay blame at the president. These were sick individuals, there was no political affiliation. They were attacking the capital, as well. We're glad she's safe, her family is safe."

McDaniel claimed the chant was spurred by the frustration of Michigan residents over being locked down for months by Whitmer's restrictions to fight the coronavirus.

"She has locked us down. Open it up," said McDaniel, who lives in Michigan and recently had a bout with COVID-19.

McDaniel, however, tried to deflect the comments from Whitmer and Pelosi by turning the tables on the Democrats.

"Democrats attack us too," she said, adding that threats against Republicans are also up.

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