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Morning Glory: Ronna McDaniel was the best hire NBC could make

As a lifelong Republican I was sorry to see Ronna McDaniel depart as Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee because I’ve been around GOP grassroots activism since my first campaign —for then Congressman Paul Cronin in Massachusetts in 1974 (he lost in the ‘Watergate wipeout’ of that fall to Paul Tsongas)— and McDaniel was as good as it gets in this new political world. The GOP is so big and so wildly diverse that it takes a great deal of balance and dexterity to keep everyone happy most of the time.

McDaniel did. She also ran a very fair primary system and debate schedule as did her colleague David Bossie and the debate committee of the RNC. I participated in that process as well as just generally interviewing Republican electeds of all sorts and just almost always voting Republican and know, again, that McDaniel, Bossie and their entire committee had to navigate a lot of white water over the past four years. That is because there aren’t just the ‘five families’ of the House GOP Causus to contend with, there are the 74 million plus folks who voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020. The degree of diversity within that 49% of the 2020 electorate is wildly more complicated than the very complicated House Republican dynamics.

Ronna did a very good job doing just that. The GOP got the House back over the course of two elections in four years. They did so despite COVID arriving on the GOP watch in 2020, which is like a recession arriving on a party’s watch. It does not help. It hurts. Badly. Disasters and hard times impact incumbent parties more than the out-of-power party. But despite that, and despite a raft of bad-to-terrible candidates that McDaniel did not select, the GOP made progress in 2020 and 2022.

The former and possibly future president wanted to make a change at the RNC and that’s fine too. Nominees merge their organizations with the national party structure in place at the time a nomination is secure. So McDaniel retired, Team Trump came in and Ronna—who knows everyone in the party leadership in Washington D.C. and at every state party level and among the funders—became a free agent in the world of analysts for hire.

Like former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, former President Biden press secretary Jen Psaki and former Communications Director for President Clinton George Stephanopolous—and many others too numerous to name—who are now MSNBC and ABC News employees respectively, McDaniel changed jobs. When she changed jobs she became eligible to become a on-air journalist. Just like every other single person in the media, she brings her political views to every conversation. She’s a center-right conservative Michigan mom who knows everyone in GOP politics. And everyone knows that. She’s not a ‘sleeper agent’ who infiltrated NBC News. Her hiring was a smart, actually a strategically brilliant move for a news division desperate to appeal to all Americans.

In a reaction that shocked many but not me, some folks at MSNBC and a few people at NBC don’t want to talk to McDaniel on air and are upset she was hired. They don’t even want her on their air anywhere at anytime. This shocks many sales professionals because half—half!—of the desired audience is either Independent or Republican. Not to want to have a connected, if not the single-most connected former Republican operative on your channel is, well, self-destructive.

The late Michael Kelly was, until his untimely death in Iraq in April of 2003, widely regarded as among America’s best journalists. He was also a near weekly guest on my radio show from 2000 when it launched until his last trip to Iraq. Michael always took pains to remind the audience that ‘Journalism is a craft, not a profession.’ There is no licensing test for ‘journalists’ like there is for doctors, lawyers, and (in most states) barbers. Craftsmen, including every journalist in America, come in all ages, genders, races and sizes. The morning announcement student in every high school in America (some have closed circuit television too) is a journalist. Every college newspaper is staffed by journalists. These people aren’t paid but they are still journalists because they are putting forward their opinions on what is ‘news’ and how to understand that ‘news.’

Ronna McDaniel is now a paid journalist and, I can say from personal experience, more knowledgeable about the GOP than every other paid journalist inside the Beltway that I have worked with. It’s a fact. She knows everyone and talks to everyone and understands every coalition within the party and, crucially, every breaking point in that coalition. You could not have a better journalist commenting on how Republicans understand a particular story or controversy. Most Manhattan-Beltway journalists are not only on the left, they are on the ‘way left.’ Not only do they not routinely consult GOP sources, they don’t have any.

Got that? Most have no sources. None. They may talk to a Republican senator, staffer or lobbyist or an interest group president, but do any of them have friends —real friends— who are candid with them about the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ of the GOP? Do they even hang out with, say, Mass-attending Catholics who are also Knights of Columbus fish fry guys or Presbyterian choir members or softball league players who play, say, in western Pennsylvania or Scottsdale Arizona?

Or are they, in fact, not only trapped within the Blue Bubble but also happy to be there because it’s comfortable and nobody pushes them very hard on any canard of the left?

The problem with Manhattan-Beltway media elites is not just that 95-100% voted for President Joe Biden (my informed guess). That’s unfortunate for the health of the Republic, but news execs can work to overcome that.

The problem is that a large majority of that 95-100% don’t actually want to know much less report fairly and accurately what Republicans generally and Trump supporters specifically think about anything much less the most important issues in 2024. Doing so is unpleasant for them because they get yelled at by their very online pals and text friends on the left when they allow those views to get spoken in their presence. ‘How dare you!’ must get old to get from the usual suspects in the group text, but it’s very real thing.

NBC brass made a bold and very smart choice to bring on McDaniel. It was the first sign I’ve seen in a long time that any legacy network cares about reclaiming the middle more than they do about losing the progressive left audience. I don’t think a lot of viewers are going to leave NBC because they see Ronna McDaniel commenting on the news weekly on Meet the Press. But I can guarantee you that traditional TV ‘news’ is deader than dead until a quarter of the analysts at the networks and perhaps one in six anchors are at least as conservative as Ronna McDaniel.

The networks are publicly-traded companies. They owe their shareholders their best efforts to increase profits. Announcing that their news organizations are hostile to ‘center-right’-to-conservative analysts is akin to a restaurant posting signs asking Republicans not to dine there. Sure, some restaurants may do that. But not for long. The networks that reject mainstream Republican voices—especially the most wired ones, the ones with the most ‘news’ to bring from sources that otherwise won’t talk to them—are just riding the long train down to irrelevance and hoping that the diminishing demand signal for their product doesn’t disappear before their contract renewals come up.

Hugh Hewitt is one of the country’s leading journalists of the center-right. A son of Ohio and a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, Hewitt has been a Professor of Law at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law since 1996, where he teaches Constitutional Law. Hewitt launched his eponymous radio show from Los Angeles in 1990, and it is today syndicated to hundreds of stations and outlets across the country every Monday through Friday morning. Hewitt has frequently appeared on every major national news television network, hosted television shows for PBS and MSNBC, written for every major American paper, authored a dozen books and moderated a score of Republican candidate debates, most recently the November 2023 Republican presidential debate in Miami and four Republican presidential debates in the 2015-16 cycle. Hewitt focuses his radio show and this column on the Constitution, national security, American politics and the Cleveland Browns and Guardians. Hewitt has interviewed tens of thousands of guests from Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump over his 40 years in broadcast, and this column previews the lead story that will drive his radio show today.

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