■Trump calls for RNC leadership change, endorsing Michael Whatley and Lara Trump.
■Current RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has no immediate plans to step down.
■Trump’s move reflects his urgency to unite Republicans behind him.
NEW YORK — Donald Trump wants a leadership change at the Republican National Committee in an attempt to install a new slate of loyalists — including his daughter-in-law — atop the GOP’s political machine even before the former president formally secures the party’s next presidential nomination.
Current RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel says she has no plans to leave the committee until at least after South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary election.
Still, Trump on Monday night called for McDaniel to 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 Move and Its Implications
Trump’s move to push out McDaniel — days after the two met at his Mar-a-Lago residence and agreed to delay a decision on her future — reflects his urgency to force Republicans to unite behind him in a likely rematch against President Joe Biden. While Trump has not come close to gathering sufficient delegates to secure the nomination, he is eying a potential knockout blow against Nikki Haley, his last major primary rival, in her home state of South Carolina next week.
Central to Trump’s demands are his false theories of voter fraud. Trump has long complained that the RNC is not focused enough on preventing voter fraud, which he continues to falsely insist cost him the 2020 election, even though his own election officials, Justice Department, and numerous courts found no evidence to support his claims.
Trump, in his statement, noted Whatley is “committed to election integrity, which we must have to keep fraud out of our election so it can’t be stolen.”
Response from RNC and Haley
RNC spokesman Keith Schipper said McDaniel had no immediate plans to step down.
“Chairwoman McDaniel has been on the road helping elect Republicans up and down the ballot and she will continue working hard to beat Biden this fall. Nothing has changed, and there will be no decision or announcement about future plans until after South Carolina,” he said.
That’s even as Haley warned her party against acceding to Trump’s wishes.
Referencing Trump’s efforts to “get the RNC to name in the presumptive nominee,” Haley talked Tuesday about her rival’s moves to replace McDaniel, who has not announced her departure.
“What we saw yesterday was, he took a different approach,” she said. “Now he has decided he has fired the RNC chair, he’s named who’s going to be the new RNC chair, his daughter-in-law will be the co-chair, and he is making his campaign manager the officer that runs the party. Think about what is happening right now. Is that how you’re going to try and take an election?”
Immediately following Trump’s announcement, Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney said Trump is simply “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Haley’s plan if given the opportunity to run the RNC? She’d “blow it all up,” Ankney said, and fire everyone.
McDaniel’s Role and Trump’s Plans
McDaniel, the niece of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, was Trump’s hand-picked choice to lead the RNC shortly after his 2016 election. The 50-year-old from Michigan was a strong advocate for the former president and helped reshape the GOP’s governing body 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 bring benefits for both the committee and Trump’s campaign — at least in theory.
The RNC has been struggling with fundraising, especially after Trump tried to bar it from using his name and image to raise money. An integration would also open the door to more skeptical party donors who remain reluctant to give 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 wishes will come to fruition without an in-person vote by the Republican National Committee, which is expected to meet later this spring.
Trump’s Preferred Arrangement
Under Trump’s preferred arrangement, senior adviser Chris LaCivita would maintain his current role leading Trump’s campaign in addition to becoming the RNC’s chief operations officer.
Whatley, who serves as general counsel to the RNC, would take over for McDaniel.
He has paid particular attention to the prospect of voter fraud in recent years, having taken credit for hiring a large contingent of lawyers ahead of the 2020 election. He failed in his bid last year to become the RNC co-chair despite earning Trump’s endorsement.
Lara Trump would then presumably take over as the RNC’s No. 2.
She is married to Trump’s middle son, Eric, and has taken an especially 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 Trump was considering installing Lara Trump at the RNC.
Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee spokesman Director Alex Floyd said, “Trump is making it clear that the GOP is the home for insurrectionists and extreme MAGA fanatics.”
“Whatley already threatened our democracy once before when he spread lies about the results of the 2020 election,” Floyd said. “Now, Trump is rewarding him in just the latest display that democracy will be on the ballot this November.”