Trump’s grip on RNC tightens as Michael Whatley and Lara Trump become new leaders

Donald Trump has finalised his takeover of the Republican National Committee as the campaign organisation elected former North Carolina GOP chair and RNC general counsel Michael Whatley as its new chair following the departure of Ronna McDaniel.

Mr Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, was elected vice-chair of the RNC, cementing the Trump family’s control of how Republican campaign cash gets spent.

Members of the RNC met in Houston, Texas to appoint Mr Whatley and Ms Trump to the top posts.

In her departing remarks, Ms McDaniel, who has been in the post since 2017, said “We cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore abortion and the Dobbs decision” in reference to the Supreme Court decision that ended the constitutional right to abortion.

About the 2022 midterms, she said, “Many of our candidates chose to ignore this issue,” according to NBC News. “We cannot win by speaking to an echo chamber of Republicans.”

“The state of our party is strong. Over the last year, the RNC has been building the road for our eventual nominee,” she added.

While the change in personnel was in the works before Super Tuesday, Mr Trump’s sweep of victories on 5 March, losing only Vermont to his former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who left the race on Wednesday, leaves Mr Trump to get on with his general election campaign as the only Republican candidate left.

“We need voters to bank their vote and vote early,” Ms McDaniel argued, NBC reported, even as Mr Trump has spent years baselessly denigrating early voting as a source of fraud.

“We cannot allow Democrats to continue to run up the score in critical states,” she added. “If Republicans succeed in getting Republicans to vote early ... Donald Trump will win in November.”

The new staffing at the RNC comes as the organisation debates if it should pay Mr Trump’s legal bills, which are now in the hundreds of millions.

Maureen Reagan, the daughter of President Ronald Reagan, was the last family member of a president to serve as co-chair of the RNC back in the 1980s.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of the appointments of Mr Whatley and Ms Trump, the chair of the Georgia Republican Party and a member of the RNC, Josh McKoon said: “These moves make a lot of sense.”

“As we head into a presidential year, we need all the financial resources we can challenging an incumbent president,” he added, noting Ms Trump’s fundraising and communications skills and dismissing concerns about conflicts of interest.

Last month, Mr Trump put out a statement backing Mr Whatley, a fellow election denier, to take over from Ms McDaniel.

“I think my friend Michael Whatley should be the RNC’s next leader,” Mr Trump said.

“Michael has been with me from the beginning, has done a great job in his home state of North Carolina, and is committed to election integrity, which we must have to keep fraud out of our election so it can’t be stolen.

“My very talented daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, has agreed to run as the RNC co-chair. Lara is an extremely talented communicator and is dedicated to all that MAGA stands for. She has told me she wants to accept this challenge and would be GREAT!”

The new leadership will have to utilize their fundraising skills as last year was the lowest for fundraising in 10 years. At the end of January, the RNC had less than $9m, just over a third of that of the Democratic National Committee at $24m, according to federal filings.

Ms Trump said last month that she would spend all the RNC cash on getting Mr Trump elected again, prompting worries that she may not provide enough support for down-ballot candidates before she added that she would be spending money on races for the House and Senate as well.

She also created new concerns about cash flow when she suggested it was in the RNC’s interest to pay Mr Trump’s legal bills.

“Rich folks don’t want to pay other rich folks’ bills,” Mississippi RNC member Henry Barbour told Reuters about the concerns of donors.

“They called me to re-up my donation. I said. ‘Until I know how this is going to shake out, I’m not writing a check,’” one anonymous donor told the news agency.

Chris LaCivita, the co-manager of the Trump campaign, has said that RNC funds will not be used for legal fees. Mr LaCivitia will now become the chief operating officer of the RNC.