Trump endorses North Carolina GOP chair and Lara Trump to lead RNC

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Former President Donald Trump announced a slate of endorsements to lead the Republican National Committee Monday night in a move that will shake up current leadership of the GOP.

Trump said he is backing Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, to lead the RNC as its chairman and his daughter-in-law Lara Trump to serve as co-chair. This would be Lara Trump's first leadership position within the party.

Trump also announced he asked one of his campaign's senior advisers, Chris LaCivita, to move over to the RNC to assume the role of chief operating officer.

"This group of three is highly talented, battle-tested, and smart," Trump wrote in a statement Monday night. "They have my complete and total endorsement to lead the Republican National Committee."

Former President Donald Trump, flanked by son Eric Trump and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024. / Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump, flanked by son Eric Trump and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024. / Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

LaCivita would not be leaving the campaign, however, if he becomes COO of the RNC, according to a senior GOP source with knowledge of the proposed plans by the former president. LaCivita and another top Trump adviser, Susie Wiles, run the Trump campaign, and LaCivita would still split his time between the RNC and the campaign. Trump asked LaCivita directly during a meeting with his close adviser, the GOP source said.

Trump, who has so far decisively won the first GOP primary contests, believes the RNC has not been effectively run and thinks that placing close allies whom he trusts, including his daughter-in-law, can improve how the organization is run — and in a way that is in lock-step with Trump and his campaign as they turn to the general election. Critics inside and outside the RNC believe that this would also stamp out any intraparty dissent toward Trump, and they say these moves would not address the trajectory of GOP losses over the past few election cycles. 

The chair and co-chair positions are not appointments — Whatley and Lara Trump must be elected by RNC committee members. The party's elections are expected after Ronna McDaniel steps down as RNC chair, which is expected to after the South Carolina Republican primary on Feb. 24.

Nikki Haley's campaign manager Betsy Ankeny called the moves "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

"Nikki Haley's plan for the RNC? Blow it all up," Ankeny said. "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. The days of overpaid consultants getting rich off of the RNC while losing elections will be over, and Republicans will finally get back to WINNING."

The shakeup comes amid low fundraising numbers and party underperformance in recent national elections under the leadership of Ronna McDaniel, the RNC's current chair. McDaniel has been in charge of the RNC since 2017, and she just won a fourth term as chair in January.

In 2023, the RNC had its worst fundraising year in a decade, and it entered 2024 with just $8 million in its coffers, its lowest cash on hand since 2014, according to FEC reports.

McDaniel met with Trump last week at his home in Mar-a-Lago, where sources told CBS News that McDaniel assured Trump she's a "team player" and will do what's in the best interest of the party, including stepping down as chair.

After the meeting, Trump announced he would make a decision about the future of the RNC leadership after the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24.

The New York Times first reported that Trump considered tapping Whatley to lead the RNC.

Whatley echoed Trump's unproven claims of fraud in the wake of the 2020 election, stating in a North Carolina radio interview that "we do know there was massive fraud that took place." He currently serves at the RNC as the group's general counsel, working on "election integrity" efforts.

Lara Trump, who is married to Trump's second son, Eric, was featured prominently on the campaign trail for Trump before the Iowa caucuses and was floated as a 2022 North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate.

LaCivita is a long-time Republican operative who has worked on a number of state and federal campaigns, including Sen. Rand Paul's 2016 presidential run. He worked as a senior strategist at the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. before moving to Trump's reelection campaign in 2022.

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