Trump tightens grip on US Republican Party with daughter-in-law poised to take key post

By Thomson Reuters Mar 8, 2024 | 5:04 AM

By Nathan Layne and Alexandra Ulmer

HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) – Donald Trump will cement his grip on the Republican National Committee on Friday when his daughter-in-law and another ally assume top leadership posts amid a debate among members over whether the organization should help pay his legal bills.

RNC members meeting in Houston are expected to appoint North Carolina Republican Party head Michael Whatley and Lara Trump as chair and co-chair of the organization, which will play a key role in marshaling voters and funds for the Nov. 5 general election.

The move comes after Trump swept the Super Tuesday primary contests, prompting Nikki Haley to drop out of the race and all but assuring the former U.S. president will be the nominee and face off against President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

The reshuffling, which is expected to see Whatley replace current Chair Ronna McDaniel, will potentially highlight divisions over whether the RNC should help pay for Trump’s legal bills. Trump’s legal expenses and penalties have ballooned to hundreds of millions of dollars.

His push to have the wife of his younger adult son Eric as second-in-command symbolizes Trump’s takeover of a political institution whose mission is to get Republicans elected up and down the ballot. Not since President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Maureen Reagan was RNC co-chair in the 1980s has a family member of a president or nominee served in such a position of power.

Lara Trump has proven herself as a capable communicator and fundraiser and is natural fit for the role, said Josh McKoon, Georgia Republican Party chair and an RNC member.

“These moves make a lot of sense,” McKoon said, dismissing concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest with a member of Trump’s family in a position of influence. “As we head into a presidential year, we need all the financial resources we can challenging an incumbent president.”


One of the new leadership’s most pressing tasks will be money. After recording its lowest fundraising year in 2023 in a decade, the RNC had less than $9 million in the bank at the end of January, a little more than a third of the Democratic National Committee’s $24 million, federal filings show.

Last month Lara Trump vowed to spend “every single penny” of RNC funds to elect her father-in-law, raising concerns she would neglect down-ballot candidates. She later promised to spend for House of Representatives and Senate races as well.

Boris Heersink, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said an RNC that focused its spending too heavily at the top of the ticket could undermine the important work the organization does for down-ballot candidates.

“You could see that backfire for candidates in really tight races in either the House or the Senate. Because they do rely on party support,” said Heersink.

Lara Trump also created a stir last month by saying she believed Republicans have a “big interest” in paying the former president’s legal bills and by not ruling out using RNC funds.

Trump’s legal costs are expected to mount this year as he grapples with 91 criminal counts across four cases and faces more than $500 million in damages tied to three civil case judgments in New York.

Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi, drafted a resolution ahead of this week’s meeting that would have barred the committee from covering Trump’s legal bills, arguing that all money should go toward winning the election.

Barbour warned that the prospect of Trump tapping the RNC for legal bills was spooking donors. “Rich folks don’t want to pay other rich folks’ bills,” he said.

But Barbour’s resolution failed to gain enough support, and Trump’s campaign co-manager Chris LaCivita, who is expected to join the RNC as chief operating officer, has said repeatedly that committee funds would not be used for legal costs.

Solomon Yue, an RNC committeeman from Oregon, said he has spoken with some 20 members who agree with him that the organization should pick up the bill for Trump’s legal troubles.

Yue said he believed the Biden administration had “weaponized” the Justice Department to undermine Trump’s campaign. Biden has denied any involvement in the criminal cases, and no evidence has surfaced to support Yue’s assertion.

“If our job is to win the election … then we need to do whatever it takes legally to help our presumptive nominee,” Yue told Reuters.

Two RNC donors who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said they planned to wait to see the impact of the leadership changes before contributing funds. Both expressed concerns about their money going to pay legal bills.

“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 of the donors said.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Alexandra Ulmer and Jason Lange; editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)