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Former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel is the latest Trump ally to change tune

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Ronna McDaniel was recently replaced as chair of the Republican National Committee, and now she's got a new job. She was hired by NBC News as a commentator, and it is stirring all kinds of controversy. NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us now to discuss the controversy and the broader context. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So bring us up to speed. What happened at NBC?

MONTANARO: Well, you said NBC News hired McDaniel as a conservative commentator at, by the way, a clip of $300,000 a year for a contract. But executives in New York apparently didn't consult with the journalists in the Washington bureau. A lot of those journalists would have told them that McDaniel doesn't really have much of a constituency. I mean, Trump allies don't like her very much, neither do never-Trumpers who have seen McDaniel as an enabler of the former president.

DETROW: Yeah.

MONTANARO: But mostly people are unhappy with her because of her past actions in election denialism. You know, she tried to strike a very different tone on NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday, saying, for example, that the January 6 siege at the Capitol was, quote, "unacceptable" and that she disagrees with Trump wanting to pardon the rioters. When asked why she hadn't said so as plainly before, she tried to defend herself this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

RONNA MCDANIEL: When you're the RNC chair, you kind of take one for the whole team, right? Now I get to be a little bit more myself, right? This is what I believe.

MONTANARO: Well, and the problem is there that, as Chuck Todd - who, full disclosure, was my boss at NBC when I worked there - said on the show, what is it that exactly McDaniel believes now?

DETROW: Yeah. I mean, taking one for the team, I think many people would argue, doesn't really usually extend to saying outright lies about big things like an election. I mean, this is much different than how she spoke as RNC chair, right?

MONTANARO: Definitely. I mean, we put together just a few things she's said since the 2020 election. Let's take a listen to her on Fox News shortly after the 2020 presidential election, and then just last year with Chris Wallace of CNN, who you'll also hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

MCDANIEL: So many things that are causing uncertainty. And they used COVID as an excuse. And it was allowed to happen. And it is just wrong. And it is rigged. And it's wrong against the president. And it's wrong against Republicans. And...

CHRIS WALLACE: Are you saying, as the chair of the Republican Party, that you still have questions as to whether or not Joe Biden was the duly elected president?

MCDANIEL: Joe Biden's the president.

WALLACE: No, I didn't ask you whether he's the president.

MCDANIEL: No. I don't think that - I think there were lots of problems with 2020. I don't think he won it fair, I don't. I'm not going to say that.

MONTANARO: So this is someone who was a former state party chair in Michigan who, after the 2020 election, pressured officials in that state not to certify results. When it came to Republicans who joined the congressional committee investigating January 6, she said that they had, quote, "crossed a line" and that Democrats with those hearings were persecuting, quote, "ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol." And now she wants to sort of I'll call it media wash her reputation, saying now that the violence at the Capitol was unacceptable.

DETROW: And this is interesting because McDaniel is not the first former member of Trump's administration or circle to do this. What does that tell you about the Republican ecosystem and how it operates around Trump?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, obviously she's not the only one. McDaniel is a good example of so many people who morphed from during and after their time with Trump. It's really indicative of Trump's takeover of the entire Republican Party. I mean, lots of spokespeople who had been professional in their interactions with reporters before Trump then became antagonistic, echoing their boss's posture. Lots of people who joined on with Trump thought that they could keep him in line or that he was something different, and then came out on the other side having fallen out with him.

DETROW: And you could list former secretaries of state, attorneys general, secretaries of defense, on and on in that category.

MONTANARO: Yeah, so many others. You know, they've all engaged in this sort of reputation management, you know, writing books, signing on with cable news outlets as commentators, changing their tune significantly about their boss. A lot of them went into Trump's orbit and apparently weren't really students of Greek mythology, Scott. You know, they tried to get close to power, thought their wings weren't made of wax, only to find themselves back on the ground, their reputations often worse off than when they started. And I don't know what the plural of Icarus is, Scott.

DETROW: I'm a big fan of the "Greeking Out" podcast, so I appreciate that. Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You got it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.