DeSantis Defies Ronna McDaniel Threat, Sets Up Showdown Over Debate Participation

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Are candidates feeling emboldened to buck the RNC following yet another disappointing election for Republicans on Tuesday? It certainly seems that way. 

During the third debate, Vivek Ramaswamy called for RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to resign, citing the party's "culture of losing." Now, Ron DeSantis is throwing more gasoline on the fire, announcing that he is going to defy a threat from McDaniel to disqualify any candidate who attends an upcoming forum in Iowa.

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According to an October 28th letter, the RNC has deemed the Family Leader Thanksgiving Forum, hosted by Bob Vander Plaats, to be a "debate." That would supposedly violate the pledge the candidates signed in order to participate in the RNC debates, though there's a good case to be made they are stretching the definition of term to absurd lengths.

“It has come to the attention of the RNC Counsel’s Office that several Republican presidential candidates have been invited to participate in an open-press event in Iowa in November at which they would ‘gather around the table to have a moderated, friendly, and open discussion about the issues.’ In other words, a debate,” the RNC counsel’s office said in a letter obtained by CNN.  

“Accordingly, please be advised that any Republican presidential candidate who participates in this or other similar events will be deemed to have violated this pledge and will be disqualified from taking part in any future RNC-sanctioned presidential primary debates,” the office said.  

From a political standpoint, this is absolutely the right move for DeSantis. His entire campaign hinges on winning Iowa and changing the dynamic of the race going into New Hampshire. If he loses the Iowa caucuses, I feel comfortable predicting that it would officially end any chance he has to win the nomination. 

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Given that, this was probably an easy decision for DeSantis. He stands to gain much more by going to the wall in Iowa than being in another RNC-officiated debate.

Of course, that assumes that McDaniel follows through on her threat. Is a roundtable in which a moderator asks questions of each candidate a "debate?" I suppose it could turn into one if allowed, but the RNC seems to be suggesting that any setting in which two or more candidates find themselves in the same room is a debate. That's a bit aggressive given that candidate forums have long occurred in the early states.

Regardless, DeSantis has put down a marker, and now we'll find out if McDaniel was bluffing. I'm not sure this is a fight the RNC needs right now. It is already an organization under fire. To now take on the second-leading presidential candidate over a questionable technicality doesn't seem to be a move with much upside. 

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