NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump called for a leadership change at the Republican National Committee on Monday night, putting a new group of loyalists — including his daughter-in-law — at the top of the Republican political machine, even before the former president officially secured the party the next presidential candidacy.
Current RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel says she has no plans to leave the committee, at least after the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary.
Still, Trump is demanding that McDaniel be replaced by Michael Whatley, the North Carolina GOP chairman. The new co-chair, Trump said, should be his daughter-in-law Lara Trump.
Trump’s attempt to oust McDaniel – days after the two met at his Mar-a-Lago residence and agreed to postpone a decision on their future – reflects his urgency to force Republicans to face each other in a likely rematch against President Joe Biden to unite behind him. Although Trump hasn’t come close to amassing enough delegates to secure the nomination, he’s hoping for a potential knockout against Nikki Haley, his last major primary rival, in her home state of South Carolina next week.
FILE – President Donald Trump listens as Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel (right) speaks during a campaign event Nov. 5, 2018, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Trump is calling for a change in leadership at the RNC to install a new set of loyalists, including his daughter-in-law, at the top of the Republican political machine even before he officially secures the party’s next presidential nomination. Trump explained his plans on social media on Monday evening, February 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
At the heart of Trump’s demands are his false theories about election fraud. Trump has long complained that the RNC is not sufficiently focused on preventing voter fraud. He continues to falsely claim that he cost him the 2020 election, even though his own election officials, the Justice Department and numerous courts have found no evidence to support his claims.
Trump noted in his statement that Whatley is “committed to the election integrity we must have to keep fraud out of our election so it cannot be stolen.”
RNC spokesman Keith Schipper said McDaniel has no immediate plans to resign.
“Chairwoman McDaniel has been on the road helping Republicans up and down the ballot, and she will continue to work hard to beat Biden this fall.” Nothing has changed and there will be no decision or announcement until after South Carolina give future plans,” he said.
This despite Haley warning her party not to give in to Trump’s wishes.
During a campaign stop in South Carolina earlier in the day, Haley summed up Trump’s involvement in the national party’s problems in a diatribe against Republican failures, including the party’s unsuccessful attempt to impeach the Homeland Security secretary and pass a broader border security bill.
“The RNC has lost its party leadership. “The RNC is broke,” Haley told a crowd. “And he’s got his fingerprints and everything.”
Immediately after Trump’s announcement, Betsy Ankney, Haley’s campaign manager, said that Trump was merely “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Haley’s plan if she gets the opportunity to lead the RNC? She would “blow everything up,” Ankney said, and fire everyone.
McDaniel, the niece of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, was Trump’s hand-picked choice to lead the RNC shortly after his election in 2016. The 50-year-old from Michigan was a strong supporter of the former president and helped reshape the Republican leadership caucus in his image, but Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement increasingly blamed her for the party’s struggles in recent national elections .
The campaign’s effective takeover of the RNC would benefit both the committee and Trump’s campaign — at least in theory.
The RNC has struggled with fundraising, particularly after Trump tried to ban it from using his name and image to raise money. Integration would also open the door to more skeptical party donors who remain hesitant to donate directly to Trump’s campaign or super PAC. Campaign finance disclosures released last week showed the RNC had just $8 million in the bank and $1 million in debt.
None of Trump’s leadership aspirations will be realized without an in-person vote by the Republican National Committee, which is expected to meet later in the spring.
Under Trump’s preferred agreement, senior adviser Chris LaCivita would maintain his current role leading Trump’s campaign in addition to being named the RNC’s chief operations officer.
Whatley, who serves as the RNC’s general counsel, would take over McDaniel’s position.
In recent years, he has paid particular attention to the possibility of voter fraud, boasting of hiring a large contingent of lawyers in the run-up to the 2020 election. His attempt to become RNC co-chair failed last year, despite receiving Trump’s support.
Lara Trump would then probably take over as number 2 at the RNC.
She is married to Trump’s middle son Eric and has taken a particularly active role in all three of her father-in-law’s campaigns. She briefly considered running for Senate in her home state of North Carolina in 2022, but decided against it, saying she wanted to spend more time with her young children.
The New York Times first reported that Trump was considering appointing Lara Trump to the RNC.
Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee spokesman Alex Floyd said, “Trump is making clear that the GOP is home to insurrectionists and extreme MAGA fanatics.”
“Whatley has already threatened our democracy once when he spread lies about the results of the 2020 election,” Floyd said. “Now Trump is rewarding him with the latest demonstration that democracy will be on the ballot this November.”
Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Laurens, South Carolina, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.