Donald Trump moved to tighten his grip on the Republican party, announcing a slate of endorsements, including his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, for leadership positions within the Republican National Committee.
The approach of turbulence within the RNC – which helps organize the party and its elections – has been apparent since last week, when its chair, Ronna McDaniel, who has held the position since 2017, told the former US president that she would be stepping down.
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Overnight on Monday, Trump posted on his social media site that he is backing Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina Republican party, as committee chair, Lara Trump to serve as co-chair, and senior adviser Chris LaCivita as its chief financial officer.
“This group of three is highly talented, battle-tested, and smart,” Trump wrote in a statement. “They have my complete and total endorsement to lead the Republican National Committee.”
The significance of Trump’s endorsements, and specifically Lara Trump, who is married to his second son, Eric, is interpreted as a move to quell any intra-party dissent toward Trump. The chair and co-chair positions must still be elected by RNC committee members.
Trump is the overwhelming favorite to win the party’s 2024 nomination to go up against Joe Biden in the race for the White House. All his serious rivals, aside from the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, have dropped out and Haley herself is badly behind him in the polls, including in her home state.
But according to federal election commission filings, the RNC had, in 2023, its worst fundraising year in a decade, and entered this year with just $8m in the bank.
In contrast, the Democrat national committee holds $21m, according to Ballotpedia.
Betsy Ankeny, Nikki Haley’s campaign manager, described the endorsements as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. Ankeny said Haley’s plan for the RNC was to “blow it all up”.
“Everyone at the RNC will be fired, there will be a full and complete audit of the gross misuse of funds, and there will be a formal application process to become RNC chair based on MERIT, not on back scratching,” she added.
Haley herself said Trump was trying to steamroller the result of the nomination contest. “He tried to get the RNC to name him the presumptive nominee. We don’t do coronations … Think about what’s happening right now. Is that how you’re going to try and take an election?” she said on the campaign trail in South Carolina.
But Whatley, Lara Trump and LaCivita are nothing if not loyalists to the Trump cause.
Whatley has echoed Trump’s claims of 2020 election fraud; LaCivita has worked as a senior strategist at the pro-Trump Super Pac Make America Great Again Inc; and Lara Trump was floated as a 2022 North Carolina US Senate candidate, before joining her father-in-law on the campaign trail.
She married Eric Trump in 2014 while working as a producer on Inside Edition. In 2016, she spearheaded the Trump-Pence Women’s Empowerment Tour and was a Trump fundraiser and consultant to his 2020 re-election bid, a job that included being a warmup speaker at the 6 January 2021 “Save America” rally that preceded the Capitol riot.
In 2021, she joined Fox News as a contributor but left the next year when Trump declared his re-election bid.