Trump Ally, Daughter-in-Law Officially Take Over RNC Leadership

The Republican National Committee on Friday selected new leaders who were handpicked by former President Donald J. Trump, a move expected to tighten the expected nominee’s hold on the party’s machinery ahead of the general election.

The committee elected Michael Whatley, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and the R.N.C.’s general counsel, as its chair and Lara Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter-in-law, as co-chair.

Both Mr. Whatley and Ms. Trump were endorsed by Mr. Trump last month after Ronna McDaniel, the committee’s leader since 2017, privately told the former president she planned to leave the position. Ms. McDaniel was for months the focus of intense pressure from inside and outside the Trump campaign to step down over the committee’s lackluster fund-raising and criticism over Republicans’ performance in 2022.

Many of Mr. Trump’s allies also criticized Ms. McDaniel, whom Mr. Trump originally picked for the position, for being insufficiently supportive of the former president. They cited her neutrality during the Republican primary and her resistance to his push to call off a series of debates that he refused to participate in.

The co-chairs will take the reins of the national party at a critical juncture for Mr. Trump’s campaign, and their elevation is part of his larger effort to effectively merge the R.N.C. with his campaign.

After he dominated the primaries on Super Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s last remaining rival, Nikki Haley, exited the Republican race, effectively handing him the party’s nomination. Mr. Trump is now focused on the general election, and his campaign is expected to begin raising money in concert with the party, allowing him to raise far larger sums and to tap into the existing party apparatus.

During Friday’s meeting, the R.N.C. voted to officially recognize him as the party’s presidential candidate, even though he has not yet locked up the delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

As part of the leadership overhaul, Chris LaCivita, one of Mr. Trump’s top campaign advisers, will be tapped to serve as the chief operating officer of the national committee. He is expected to manage its operations, strategy and spending while continuing to work with the Trump campaign.

As November approaches, raising money is expected to be a major priority for the committee’s new leadership. The committee has historically low cash on hand, reporting $8.7 million at the end of January. Its Democratic counterpart reported having $24 million, nearly three times as much.

One outstanding question is whether the R.N.C. will contribute to Mr. Trump’s ballooning legal bills as he faces four criminal indictments and two high-profile civil lawsuits. The party in 2021 paid for more than $1 million in legal fees after Mr. Trump left the presidency and was being investigated by officials in New York.

Mr. LaCivita told reporters last month in South Carolina that he did not anticipate the committee would pay Mr. Trump’s legal bills. But Lara Trump, at a campaign event elsewhere in the state, signaled an openness to doing so, saying that Mr. Trump’s legal fees were a significant concern for Republican voters.

“I think that is of big interest to people,” she said. “Absolutely.”

One veteran R.N.C. member from Mississippi, Henry Barbour, drafted a resolution that would have stopped the committee from paying Mr. Trump’s legal fees. But the proposal would not have been binding, and it failed to draw enough co-sponsors to be put to a vote.

Mr. Trump — who continues to make false claims about voter fraud as he faces criminal charges over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election — has also told allies that he believed the R.N.C. needed to spend more money on “election integrity.”

Mr. Whatley, who was the committee’s general counsel, has backed Mr. Trump’s false election claims. He has asserted, without basis, that Republicans’ election security efforts in North Carolina prevented Democrats from cheating Mr. Trump out of victory there in 2020.

Ms. Trump has made it clear that raising money will be a major focus for her, telling reporters last month in South Carolina that the R.N.C. needed to have sufficient funds to support what it calls its “election integrity” efforts, which have in past cycles included an aggressive legal strategy and a large poll-watching operation, and to back candidates aligned with Mr. Trump.

Her family ties to the former president, she said, were likely to increase confidence in the R.N.C. for potential donors worried about the committee’s spending.

As a member of the Trump family, she said, “I can assure you that my loyalty is to my father-in-law, and I will make sure that every penny is used properly.”

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