DANA POINT, Calif. — The Republican Party is preparing to release in early spring its review of why key candidates were disappointed in last fall’s midterm elections.

But while members of the Republican National Committee agree on the need to wrap up the investigation before the presidential primary moves into full swing, disagreement remains over a key part of the review: a focus on «candidate quality,» which is considered an understatement. for failed endorsements of former President Donald Trump in key swing-state races.

The split played out during the panel meeting at this week’s RNC meeting, with Arizona committee member Tyler Bowyer arguing behind closed doors with Mississippi committee member Henry Barbour that the issue in 2022 is not it was not the quality of the candidates but the lack of resources offered to a series of high positions. -profile of the nominees who lost last fall. Both men, who are part of the RNC team tasked with reviewing the midterms, confirmed the discussion to NBC News.

“We had a little debate between myself and Henry Barbour about the quality of the candidates versus the support of the candidates,” said Bowyer, who is also chief operating officer of Turning Point Action, a conservative group. “And I take the position that we can never tell Donald Trump what he has to do. President Trump can support whoever he wants to support.

«It’s not our ability to influence that,» he continued. “The only thing we can influence are the things we control. And what we control here at the NCR is money coming in and money going out. And that is the prevailing force.”

Barbour, whom Ronna McDaniel, the newly re-elected RNC chair, named to co-chair the review along with California caucus member Harmeet Dhillon, Kansas caucus member Kim Borchers and Delaware Republican Party chairwoman, Jane Brady said that he and Bowyer «talked along those lines.»

Earlier this month, Barbour said in an interview with NBC News that the committee would take a close look at what role Trump had played in the party’s disappointing 2022 midterm results as part of his audit, which he said would also investigate a myriad other issues, such as participation. and ticket division.

“What we intend to do is get into the weeds, have data to confirm or certainly to give weight to the assessments we make,” he said at the time. “This has to be a sincere effort. We cannot ignore things. Or it’s just not worth doing.»

Their debate echoes a broader split in the party over who is to blame for disappointing midterm results in which the underlying fundamentals favored Republicans. In the end, the GOP won few swing state races across the state and entered 2023 with only a slim majority in the House.

Many in the party have cited the quality of the candidates as the main reason for a mediocre performance. Others have pointed out that the party and outside campaign groups invest comparatively little in frontline candidates like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and hardline Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who closely aligned with the election claims. Fake Trump.

Trump himself blamed the party’s midterm shortcomings on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as hardline anti-abortion activists who called for no exceptions to the new bans after the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision made possible by his appointment of three judges to the high court.

Bill Palatucci, a New Jersey RNC committee member who has criticized Trump and is participating in the review, said that while the effort is «a monumental task» that was just getting started, he didn’t think it would be too difficult. to find out what happened last fall.

“I hope we don’t go so deep that we lose the forest for the trees,” he said. “I think it’s pretty simple. We had a bunch of terrible candidates. I don’t know what more there is to say than that.»

Palatucci, who endorsed Dhillon in the presidential race, praised Barbour and said the panel discussed «every aspect» of the past election, including fundraising, candidates, messaging and tactics.

“I said in our conference call with the RNC in November that I would give Ronna an A in tactics,” he said. “Where we have a failing grade is in messages and messengers. Donald Trump was a terrible messenger.»

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Dhillon said his biggest concern was that the review could take until the summer to be released, adding that such a timeline was «ridiculous given that we have an active primary season coming up.»

“So I urged the committee, ‘We’ve got to get this done fast,’” he said, adding that the timeline had been moved up from July to March for a final report. “I don’t think there is a lack of opinions about what went wrong in the 2022 election cycle. And I think I could have done it in two weeks. Frankly, I already had a litany of reasons.»

In a text message to NBC News, Barbour said the timeline is still “a work in progress,” adding that March was “the earliest probable date, but not off the table.

“It could go to April, but we generally agree that faster is better,” he said. «But I have to be right.»

Barbour also co-authored the audit that followed Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential defeat, which was dubbed the «Growth and Opportunity Project.» Among other takeaways, he called on Republicans to soften their stance on immigration and take a more inclusive stance. The suggestions were largely dismissed during Trump’s first run for the White House.

In his group on Thursday, Dhillon said the group focused on about a dozen research areas with about 50 members participating in the process.

“We are not focusing on or excluding anything in particular,” he said. «The topics were not dictated to us.»

She dismissed concerns that the panel would ignore any role Trump might have played in the midterm shortcomings.

“I don’t think it’s a legitimate concern,” he said. “Henry Barbour is one of the co-chairs. He is not a notorious Trump supporter. So I think we’ll have a fairly objective report. … When people say candidate quality, some perceive it as a code word for Trump’s endorsement. So people are saying that.»

But as for his own opinion, Dhillon, who lost to McDaniel in the chair contest on Friday, said pinning the midterm losses on Trump was too «simplistic.» But he said the RNC had a role to play in ensuring the party fielded good candidates, and appeared to dig into herschel walker Y Mehmed Oz, high-profile candidates who faced accusations of rug hoarding. Both received Trump’s endorsement and lost, costing Republicans Senate seats in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

“I’m talking about persuasion and moral and practical leadership,” he said. «And that means sometimes going to a person who is famous and rich and saying, ‘If you don’t live in the state, maybe you shouldn’t be running for Senate in that state.'»