Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel unequivocally endorsed mail-in balloting Tuesday, distancing herself from former President Donald Trump on an issue that is fracturing the GOP in the wake of disappointing election results this fall.
"What we do need is our voters need to vote early," McDaniel, a longtime Trump ally, said during a televised interview on Fox News. "I have said this over and over again. There were many in 2020 saying, 'Don't vote by mail, don't vote early.' And we have to stop that."
McDaniel's comments came as part of an extended discussion on ballot harvesting - the third-party collection of completed absentee ballots. McDaniel said the RNC has "perfected" the practice in states where it's legal before making her broader point about taking advantage of early and mail-in voting.
"The discussion was about Democrats having a month to bank votes while Republicans expect to get it done in one day," RNC spokesperson Nathan Brand said in a statement to NBC News. "We were not talking about the former president, who has encouraged his base to vote early and has himself voted by mail."
But Trump, who already has launched a 2024 presidential campaign, also is the most prominent skeptic of voting by mail. He continues to raise false and unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, in part through vote-by-mail programs in battleground states. As recently as last week on his Truth Social website, he wrote, in all capital letters for emphasis: "YOU CAN NEVER HAVE FAIR & FREE ELECTIONS WITH MAIL-IN BALLOTS - NEVER, NEVER, NEVER."
McDaniel's comments Tuesday came as voting was set to end in Georgia's Senate runoff between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker. Early voting there has shattered records, suggesting an edge for Warnock.
The GOP's early voting deficiencies have come under greater scrutiny after losses in 2020 and 2022. What many believed would be a Republican wave this fall ended with Democrats losing the House but maintaining control of the Senate, while holding onto -- or picking up -- governorships in key states.
"Let's be clear the GOP did an exceptional job at targeting, pushing and winning vote by mail and early vote before Trump, without merit, cast all vote by mail as suspect and not reliable," Chris McNulty, a former RNC political director, tweeted Tuesday. "If you're looking for someone to blame … it's Trump more than anyone."
McDaniel is seeking a fourth term as RNC chair. She faces several possible opponents, including Rep. Lee Zeldin, who lost a surprisingly close race for governor in New York; MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a 2020 election conspiracy theorist with a right-wing following; and Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC member from California.
Trump, who handpicked McDaniel as RNC chair after the 2016 election, has not weighed in on the upcoming race. The RNC's 168 members are expected to vote on the matter at their winter meeting next month.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com