Florida Rep. Byron Donalds will encourage Republicans to engage with a broader swathe of the American public in new media formats if he is elected conference chairman, he told the Daily Caller in an exclusive interview.
Donalds, a first-term representative and member of the Freedom Caucus, is challenging New York Rep. Elise Stefanik to lead the House Republican Conference’s messaging strategy. Stefanik reportedly told other Republicans that she would only serve out the remainder of the 117th Congress after replacing Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, but announced in September she would seek a second term in the position. Donalds argues Republicans are limiting themselves in their messaging, most importantly by not engaging with voters who could be open to conservative ideas and the GOP.
“The one thing we don’t really touch in my view is social, digital, internet, memes, internet media, internet responses,” Donalds explained. That cedes the playing field to Democrats, he continued, since most television networks and social media sites are dominated by left-wing content.
“It’s the subtle political narratives that are being pushed by Comedy Central, by Saturday Night Live, that might be over on the HBO shows and shows up on ESPN or Fox Sports. We all know about The View, what happens on The Today Show,” he said. “You want to engage far more across the board than just the Times or the Post or Fox or Newsmax. Not to denounce them, but there’s so many more outlets because of the internet and social media that you know, we really have to dig in and find those opportunities.”
The race for Republican conference chair has flown under the national radar, especially compared to the whip race, which includes National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Banks of Indiana and Chief Deputy Whip Drew Ferguson of Georgia. Some Republicans, including those close to former President Donald Trump, argue Emmer is not conservative enough to effectively serve the conference.
Stefanik faced similar complaints during her first bid for conference chair, and Texas Rep. Chip Roy challenged her for the position. Trump supported Stefanik’s first bid, and may do so again. A two-term member of the Florida legislature before his 2020 election, Donalds said Republicans’ governing success in the long-purple state can serve as a model nationwide. (RELATED: Dem Donors Give Up On Florida Ahead Of Expected Midterm Bloodbath)
“I want conservative governance to become the state of play in the U.S. We’ve done it in Florida. That’s why we’re the envy of the other 49 states. You know, like even our Democrats don’t wanna leave. They say that they do, but they want to be here too. And so I think that when you look at what consistent conservative governance does for a state, we need to be doing that for the country,” he said.
National Republicans are quick to tout growing support from Hispanic voters. The Republican National Committee opened Hispanic outreach centers in South Texas, where Republican Mayra Flores won a special election for a district that her Democratic predecessor carried by 13 points in 2020. Republicans running in swing states, like Adam Laxalt and Joe O’Dea, are also advertising in Spanish.
An ex-Democrat and one of three black Republicans in Congress, Donalds believes the GOP should conduct similar outreach to African-American voters. While 92% of black voters supported President Joe Biden in 2020, a CNN analysis found roughly 74% of African-Americans expect to vote for Democrats in the midterms. (RELATED: ‘All We’ve Gotten Is The Cold Shoulder’: Republican Rep. Reportedly Being Blocked From Joining Congressional Black Caucus)
“We’ve got to be more responsive with black media. The Breakfast Club is one of the largest morning shows in the country, syndicated throughout the U.S. Republicans are never on there. I know because I listen to The Breakfast Club. And so I think you have to go and you have to really try to put yourself into these areas and be confident about your positions. All you want people to do is to start thinking,” Donalds explained.
Stefanik declared Sept. 13 she would seek a second term as conference chair, the same day Politico reported Donalds’ candidacy. She denies making the one-term pledge, chief of staff Patrick Hester told Politico.
“She never committed to only running for one term,” he said.
Donalds is unfazed by the challenge, even though people close to the New Yorker claim she holds support from two-thirds of House Republicans.
Donalds will draw support from the Freedom Caucus, which reportedly has around 35 members but does not publicize its rolls. An advisor to Donalds told the Daily Caller the congressman expects to receive support from a majority of Florida’s Republican delegation, as well as a majority of incoming freshmen. Donalds has endorsed candidates like Jennifer-Ruth Green in Indiana’s First District and George Logan in Connecticut’s Fifth District.
“There’s no member off the table. We’ve had productive conversations with members from every aspect of the party,” the advisor said.
Donalds stressed his run for conference chair is not about Stefanik’s performance in leadership, but about his positive vision for GOP messaging.
“I was making calls and having meetings; nobody really knew what Elise was going to do. And I think that’s when it was kind of clear that I was in the running, Elise, you know, made a quick announcement. So to me, it’s not really about what Elise did wrong. It’s just about what I think I bring to the table and what I do,” Donalds said.
“I don’t mind competition, I actually enjoy it. And so to me, if it helps Elise to be better, great. And if it doesn’t, then that’s a decision, you know, that the conference has got to make,” he continued. (RELATED: Rep. Elise Stefanik Backs GOP Women Targeting Vulnerable Incumbent Dems)
Republicans did not face a true leadership choice during Stefanik’s initial candidacy, Donalds added. Instead, they were forced to “triage” away “dysfunction” stemming from the performance of Cheney. Stefanik received votes from 134 Republicans in May 2021, while 46 supported Roy.
“Now that that’s gone, the members have a choice in where they want to see that position go. And I think that I’m just trying to give them a choice. It’s really not about Elise. It’s more about, ‘Here’s my vision, here’s my ideas.’ I know that the members trust my ability to message up front,” Donalds said.
Congressional correspondent Henry Rodgers contributed to this report.