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How Trump soured on Ronna McDaniel after seven years of unyielding loyalty

Donald Trump and Ronna McDaniel at a fundraising event in New York City in 2017 (AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Ronna McDaniel at a fundraising event in New York City in 2017 (AFP via Getty Images)

Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, has told former President Donald Trump that she’s planning on leaving her role after the South Carolina primary on 24 February.

Mr Trump is set to push for the chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, fellow election denier Michael Whatley, to replace her, according to The New York Times.

Ms McDaniel has been under pressure for several months to step down as Mr Trump’s allies have attempted to push her out amid concerns about the RNC’s finances ahead of the general election campaign.

After she met Mr Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Monday, Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform that Ms McDaniel was “now Head of the RNC, and I’ll be making a decision the day after the South Carolina Primary as to my recommendations for RNC Growth”.

Ms McDaniel has reportedly been thinking about resigning before the end of her term for quite a while.

So how did we get here?

As an organisation, the RNC focuses on turning out Republican voters and raising funds for the party. In 2016, the committee was forced to work with Mr Trump after he shocked the entire Republican field when he won the nomination and subsequently the general election. In 2020, the Trump campaign handed over a number of important functions to the committee, and during the 2024 campaign, the Trump team is expected to attempt to completely subsume the committee, The New York Times notes.

Ms McDaniel was the chair of the Michigan Republican Party between 2015 and 2017, taking the helm of the national committee just a day before Mr Trump’s inauguration in January of that year. Her predecessor, Reince Priebus, left the post to become Mr Trump’s first White House chief of staff.

The Romney name

Ms McDaniel, niece of Republican Utah Sen Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, stopped using the Romney name after the 2016 election, The Washington Post noted. The paper reported that Mr Trump pressured her to stop using the Romney name, something Ms McDaniel has denied.

McDaniel speaks during a press conference in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 2020 (Getty Images)
McDaniel speaks during a press conference in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 2020 (Getty Images)

“He joked about it with my husband,” Ms McDaniel told The Detriot News about Mr Trump in 2018. “And my husband was like, ‘Hey, it’s nice to not have my name forgotten.’ My husband was thrilled about it, and the president knows that I emphasize the McDaniel more.”

“The president and I have disagreed about things. We have robust discussions. We have a great relationship. But there’s no person on the planet who would tell me, ‘Change your name’ — even the president of the United States — and I would say, ‘okay’,” she added at the time.

Mr Romney’s father and Ms McDaniel’s grandfather George Romney served as the governor of Michigan in the 1960s before joining the Nixon administration.

‘Failed to preside over a single positive election cycle’

During Ms McDaniel’s leadership of the RNC, which has coincided with the Trump takeover of the party, the Republican Party has seen a net loss of seven governorships, three US Senate seats, and 19 US House seats.

In December 2022, Axios noted that Ms McDaniel was heading to a fourth term as RNC chair, which the outlet called “an unprecedented vote of confidence for a leader who has thus far failed to preside over a single positive election cycle”.

Former Director of National Intelligence and Congressman John Ratcliffe, McDaniel and congresswoman Elise Stefanik at the America First Agenda Summit (Getty Images)
Former Director of National Intelligence and Congressman John Ratcliffe, McDaniel and congresswoman Elise Stefanik at the America First Agenda Summit (Getty Images)

Ms McDaniel has strongly supported Mr Trump during her time as RNC chair, which included paying Trump campaign staff using RNC funds, spending money at properties owned by Mr Trump, and paying his legal fees in connection to the Russia probe.

The RNC and Ms McDaniel joined in with Mr Trump’s baseless claims of fraud following the 2020 election and his attempt to overturn the election. She organized the censure of then-Reps Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for joining the House Select Committee investing the January 6, 2021 insurrection, a censure which referred to the rioters’ actions as “legitimate political discourse”.

‘A Romney who is unfailingly loyal to Trump’

The second woman and longest-serving RNC chair since the Civil War, Ms McDaniel won re-election in 2019, 2021, and 2023.

A January 2018 New York Times profile of Ms McDaniel bore the headline “A Romney Who Is Unfailingly Loyal to Trump”.

Under her leadership, the RNC began placing ads for Mr Trump’s 2020 campaign as early as 2018 and it hosted Mr Trump’s so-called “Fake News Awards”.

Rep Mark Sanford, a Republican critic of Mr Trump, lost his 2018 primary to a pro-Trump candidate, after which Ms McDaniel wrote on X: “Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

She was widely criticised for what many interpreted as a threat.

Ms McDaniel was reportedly surprised by Mr Trump’s decision to endorse accused child molester and former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore in the special election to fill a Senate seat in the state in December 2017. (Moore denied any wrongdoing.)

Virginia Republican Bobbie Kilberg told Politico at the time that Ms McDaniel “disagreed. She felt it was her responsibility as chairman of the party, in agreement with the entire Alabama delegation in the House and Senate, and the Alabama RNC delegation” to fund the Moore campaign.

Calling uncle Mitt’s op-ed ‘disappointing and unproductive’

In January 2019, Mr Romney wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post slamming Mr Trump’s moral character, to which Ms McDaniel responded that he was “an incoming Republican freshman senator” and that his ope-ed “feeds into what the Democrats and mainstream media want”, adding that it was “disappointing and unproductive”.

McDaniel greets Vice President Mike Pence on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in August 2020 (Getty Images)
McDaniel greets Vice President Mike Pence on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in August 2020 (Getty Images)

But despite all her efforts, it seems her unyielding support for Mr Trump wasn’t enough for an ex-president who values nothing more than loyalty.

Mr Trump has told allies that he thinks the RNC has to spend more of its funds on “election integrity” issues, meaning that the former president wants the organisation to keep pushing his false and baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. This comes despite that the RNC has set up a so-called “election integrity department”, which has pushed 77 lawsuits in 23 states, the party has said.

Trump: McDaniel ‘understands’ she needs to step down

While Ms McDaniel was set to serve until 2025, her relationship with Mr Trump began deteriorating as they squabbled over the Republican primary debates this campaign season, which featured Mr Trump’s challengers but not the former president who refused to take part.

Mr Trump pushed Ms McDaniel to cancel the debates, but she refused, according to The Washington Post.

Mr Trump was then on the receiving end of a long stream of criticism aimed at Ms McDaniel coming from rightwing donors, activists, as well as from his aides, worried about fundraising, with the RNC having about half the cash of the DNC at the end of last year.

Mr Trump has remained cordial in private with the outgoing chair, The Post reported. He hasn’t strongly urged her to leave despite the pushing from aides and donors.

But about two weeks ago, Mr Trump started telling people it was time for a change at the RNC.

And on Monday, a Newsmax reporter asked Mr Trump: “Is it time for Ronna McDaniel to step aside?”

Uncharacteristically gently, Mr Trump said: “I think she knows that, I think she understands that.”