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Ronna McDaniel's expected departure as RNC chair will happen early March

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, announced today that she will step down next week. It's not a surprise. She has been forecasting this for a while now. Donald Trump handpicked McDaniel for the job after she helped him win the swing state of Michigan in 2016. Now, she seems to have fallen out of favor with the presumptive nominee. So what does her departure say about the state of the party? Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post is here to help us answer that question. He has profiled Ronna McDaniel. It is good to have you back on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Josh.

JOSH DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What are Trump's biggest complaints about Ronna McDaniel right now?

DAWSEY: There's a confluence of things that he's frustrated with, with Ronna McDaniel. One is that he thinks she should have canceled the primary debates this fall. They had four debates with the other candidates. She tried to convince him, these debates are not hurting you; in fact, they might be helping you. But he did not buy it.

SHAPIRO: He, of course, didn't participate in any of those debates.

DAWSEY: That's correct. He also has been frustrated that she's not done enough to promote his false claims that the election was stolen in 2020. He believes that the RNC should have spent more money and should have amplified more of his claims that year and that the party should be spending more money this year on, quote-unquote, "election integrity efforts." What he wants to see is entire lawyers across the country to get ready to challenge the results. And Ronna McDaniel says she's done some of that, but Trump wants her to do more. And I think there's also been some concern about money. He doesn't have nearly as much money as the DNC and President Biden. RNC officials will say they've spent money in the past paying Trump's legal bills, which they have, and that some donors haven't given because of Trump, which also is true. But the party is not in a great spot financially.

SHAPIRO: So those are some of Trump's ideological complaints, some of his priorities. But part of the job of the RNC chair is to win elections. And Ronna McDaniel has held this post for four terms. What does her track record actually show?

DAWSEY: Well, the party has not had a great track record in winning elections. Trump won in 2016. Then McDaniel was put in place. Republicans lost in the midterms in 2018 by a large margin, lost the presidency in '20. Those 2021 special elections in Georgia lost both Senate seats, lost the Senate. As you know, in 2022, they were predicting a red wave. That did not happen. So the results so far have not been great during her tenure. Now, what her defenders would say is that in a lot of those places, Trump was the one driving up Democrats to vote. But she's becoming sort of a familiar scapegoat for a lot of her critics, particularly folks who do not want to acknowledge maybe what Trump's role has been at some of these elections.

SHAPIRO: Now, Trump has endorsed a slate of candidates to step into leadership positions at the RNC. Tell us about them and what they say about the direction the party might be going.

DAWSEY: Right. So the two most prominent folks that he has endorsed include his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, and Michael Whatley, who he believes has done more on, quote-unquote, "election integrity efforts." He says, you know, the election in North Carolina was not stolen from me - as he's made all sorts of other false claims about stolen elections. And he wants to install one of his top aides, Chris LaCivita, as essentially the chief operating officer of the party. So what I think you can see is that he's trying to consolidate control over the Republican Party. He's putting a loyalist state chair in. He's putting a member of his family, and he's putting one of his top advisers as sort of a triumvirate to run the Republican Party going forward as he becomes the nominee.

SHAPIRO: When you look broadly at the arc of the Trump presidency/post-presidency campaign, is there a pattern here where somebody who was his very close aide, confidant, right-hand person suddenly gets kicked to the curb pretty unceremoniously?

DAWSEY: Yeah, it was sort of a trademark of his presidency, as you know, Ari, and has happened again throughout his post-presidency. I mean, Ronna McDaniel was basically as subservient as you would want. She used to be known as Ronna Romney McDaniel. She dropped her name after he became president.

SHAPIRO: She is the niece of Mitt Romney.

DAWSEY: (Inaudible) Romney, yes. She agreed to pay his legal bills. She moved RNC events to Mar-a-Lago. You know, Joe Palatucci (ph), a member from New Jersey, said to me, she's just his bud for four years, but loyalty is a one-way street with Donald Trump. And I think what Palatucci says is what many people feel watching the situation - is that for a long time, she sort of did almost whatever he wanted her to do, but it was never enough, you know, heading into 2024.

SHAPIRO: That's Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post. Thanks as always.

DAWSEY: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAPSODY SONG, "ASTEROIDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Elena Burnett
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.