Mike Lindell is running for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. But no one involved in the RNC, which is gathering for its winter meetings in California this week, seems to know why—or who’s backing him.
Lindell, a close ally of former President Donald Trump and a lead booster of Trump’s 2020 election lies, is one of three candidates vying for the chairmanship. The MyPillow CEO and election conspiracy theorist has been publicly endorsed by exactly one of the committee’s 168 voting members. And many of the RNC’s voting members are rolling their eyes at his quixotic bid to take over the party and force it to put his obsession with supposed election fraud front-and-center, just months after candidates he backed cost them winnable races across the country.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told VICE News that Lindell was running a “pseudo-campaign” that didn’t amount to more than some cookie-cutter form emails from fringe activists.
He said that illustrated how bad a job Lindell would do as RNC chairman if he won at the core part of the job: winning elections.
“His candidacy for the RNC shows he doesn’t know how to campaign for an office. Do you see the irony here? He’s campaigning to be the RNC chair for more campaigns, and his campaign for RNC chair is a bunch of boilerplate emails that have come very, very late,” Kaufmann told VICE News. “Making pillows and winning elections—I don’t think there’s a correlation there.”
Lindell told VICE News that he has qualified to appear on the ballot, which two RNC members said they’d confirmed with the committee. That means that at least two members from three states or territories have signed his paperwork. But Lindell refused to say who supports him.
“I wouldn’t tell you that in a million years. What, so you could go attack them? I’m not stupid. You guys must really think I’m dumb,” he told VICE News. “I’m going to win.”
Current RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel is the heavy favorite in the race, with public endorsements from two-thirds of the RNC members who will vote in Friday’s election, to be held at the end of the RNC’s three-day winter meetings that begin in Dana Point, California on Wednesday. Former Trump campaign attorney and California Republican National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon has racked up dozens of endorsements from members and is running a dark-horse campaign blaming McDaniel for the party’s lackluster election results in the past three cycles. And then there’s Lindell.
The election comes as one of the first tests of what direction Republican leaders want to head following the third straight election disappointment. Republicans lost the House in 2018, the White House and Senate in 2020 and blew a number of winnable gubernatorial and congressional races last winter, leaving them in the Senate minority and a razor-thin House majority. All three election cycles took place on McDaniel’s watch.
The party isn’t looking to pivot hard away from MAGA. But many RNC members recognize that a backward-looking obsession with election conspiracy theories cost them at the polls last cycle. Most want a leader who can help refocus on the future, which includes navigating a contested presidential primary between Trump and numerous other candidates without appearing to pick sides, while doing the tedious and unglamorous work of fundraising, list-building, and field organizing to be ready for 2024.
Lindell, whose political brand is based on unswerving fealty to Trump and a backwards-focused obsession with voting machine conspiracy theories, doesn’t fit that description.
This race could not be worse-designed for a fringe, bomb-throwing conspiracy theorist like Lindell whose power lies in his appeal to the hardline anti-establishment activists in the party’s base, and who has few allies among the actual group that picks the RNC chair.
While the organization’s membership grew more MAGA in the last six years—many state chairs remain fierce Trump defenders who echoed his false claims about the 2020 election—it’s still a group that knows the first goal of the organization is to raise gobs of money and build a field operation to help the party win elections (and in presidential election years like the upcoming year, fairly run a primary process).
Lindell insisted that he’s “been trying to get ahold of every one of the 168” voting members. But multiple RNC members told VICE News that they hadn’t heard anything from him—and didn’t know of anyone who had.
“I don’t know a single member who’s heard from the guy,” said one RNC member who hasn’t publicly committed to a candidate but told VICE News that he planned to vote for McDaniel.
That committeeman expressed frustration that Lindell had secured enough support to even be allowed on the ballot, which gives him a chance to speak at this week’s RNC meetings.
“I frankly think it’s embarrassing that he’s even officially nominated,” the committeeman said. “He’s done nothing but run his mouth about something he doesn’t understand, and now he wants to run the party? I’m not going to run his business just because I sleep on a MyPillow."
Another RNC committeeman who backs McDaniel said there’s no appetite for an outsider—especially one with so little understanding of what the RNC actually does.
“The committee wants one of their own, especially when there’s no White House to tell them what to do,” said the committee member. “They’re not going to elect someone who has no real understanding of the RNC."
Lindell was a prominent Trump ally and frequent White House and campaign trail guest throughout his presidency, and played a key role in spreading Trump’s election lies. He visited Trump at the White House days after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot to advocate that Trump declare “martial law” (his notes were caught on camera). Once Trump left office, Lindell emerged as arguably the loudest advocate besides the former president himself to try to turn the midterm elections into a crusade against mail voting, electronic voting machines and all the people he thought had stolen the 2020 election.
Candidates who embraced his and Trump’s cause won their primaries in 2022, only to lose winnable statewide races in states including Arizona, Michigan and Nevada.
Lindell’s efforts have brought him some personal headaches as well. He’s currently facing a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, the voting machine company that he falsely accused of rigging the election. The FBI seized his phone in September, which Lindell has said was part of an investigation into possible tampering of Colorado’s election system.
The one RNC member who has publicly endorsed Lindell is Louisiana RNC Committeewoman Lenar Whitney, who like Lindell has pushed false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Whitney, who didn’t respond to a call and text from VICE News, sent a letter to fellow RNC members trumpeting his plans to “secure” elections.
“I am convinced now, more than ever, that the only path to a righteous outcome in American elections will be provided by a return to hand marked ballots printed on secure paper,” she wrote, as first reported by The Baton Rouge Advocate. “THE ONLY PERSON ADVOCATING SUCH A TRUE NORTH COURSE IS MIKE LINDELL.”
But she seems like a clear outlier—and it’s not just McDaniel supporters who are scoffing at Lindell’s bid.
New Jersey RNC committeeman Bill Palatucci has repeatedly criticized McDaniel and said the RNC needed a change at the top after a succession of losing elections. He’s backing Dhillon in spite of some reservations about her own ties to Trump.
Lindell wasn’t even an option for him.
“I don’t consider him a serious candidate,” Palatucci said. “He has no support amongst the committee.”
Some RNC members think McDaniel is partly to blame for this outcome, saying she didn’t do enough to separate the party from Trump and his backward-looking obsession with false claims the 2020 election was rigged. Those backing her say that it was the Trump- and Lindell-backed candidates, rather than anything McDaniel did at the RNC, who caused the party’s disappointing 2022 midterm.
Lindell disagrees that his candidates blew it, claiming without any evidence that they had their elections stolen from them.
“Isn’t it funny that the candidates they stole from all have one thing in common: They were going to fix our elections once they were in,” he said, ticking off a half-dozen election-losing swing-state candidates who he’d endorsed. “You can sit here and you can twist this all you want, but then you’re just wasting my time.”
That’s hard to square with reality.
Republicans nominated election deniers for secretary of state in all but one swing state, and picked election-denying candidates for a number of key gubernatorial and Senate races as well.
Almost all of those running in competitive races lost, costing the GOP control of the Senate, minimizing their House gains and blowing races up and down the ballot even as more establishment Republicans won contests across the country.
In Nevada, for instance, establishment Republican Joe Lombardo won his election for governor, while election-denying candidates including the state’s secretary of state nominee, who Lindell vocally backed, lost their races. In Arizona, a slate of election-denying GOP candidates endorsed by Lindell lost their races, but the GOP swept every race where they put up less controversial candidates, including state treasurer, superintendent for public instruction, and corporation commissioner. Georgia Republicans swept every statewide race except for the U.S. Senate, where Trump buddy Herschel Walker’s personal baggage cost them the election.
But while Lindell worked his tail off for Trump, the man who Lindell insists is still the rightful president hasn’t even publicly acknowledged that his buddy is running for RNC chair.
When the right-wing Breitbart News asked in December who Trump backed for RNC chair—McDaniel or Dhillon—he didn’t even mention Lindell.
“I think they’re both good,” Trump said, referencing only the two women running serious campaigns for chair. “I like them both.”
He made a similar comment last week.
“I like both of them. I get along with both of them. I haven’t taken a stance. Let them fight it out,” he said, once again ignoring Lindell.
Lindell insisted to VICE News that he was running a serious campaign, and expected to win on Friday.
But unlike with the past few election cycles, he said he’ll accept the results of the RNC’s secret ballot and if things don’t go his way on Friday he’ll admit defeat.
“Of course I would accept it,” he said. “There’s no machines involved. There’s no computers involved.”