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Monday, February 26, 2024

At the RNC, jockeying begins to replace Ronna McDaniel

LAS VEGAS — As Ronna McDaniel mulls whether to step down from her position as chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Drew McKissick — who currently serves as her co-chair, as well as chair of the South Carolina GOP — is actively placing phone calls to other RNC members about replacing McDaniel if she resigns.

Three sources familiar with his calls told NBC News that he is lobbying for support and gauging interest from the RNC’s body of 168 members responsible for formally selecting the party chair. 

If McDaniel resigns, “he certainly wants to be the next chair,” said Robin Armstrong, the RNC committeeman from Texas and an ally of McKissick. “He is the chair of the South Carolina party. He’s currently the co-chair [of the RNC]. I think it’d naturally be the next thing for him to step up as chair of the RNC.”

One of the sources said McKissick spoke with former President Donald Trump this week about the prospect of serving as chair. The Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.

On Wednesday, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign posted an article touting the idea of North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley replacing McDaniel. A senior Trump adviser also told NBC News that Trump likes Whatley as a potential chair. And one year ago, Trump endorsed Whatley to serve as RNC co-chair. 

But in that party election, McKissick handily defeated him when the same body of 168 RNC members voted between the two.

Another one of the sources, an RNC member who requested anonymity to discuss their deliberations, said McKissick is actively “feeling people out to get their opinion.”

“He is trying to obviously just shore his position up, and that’d be a wise thing to do,” the member said. “It comes down to a RNC decision.”

The member noted that Trump is not currently the president and asserted that it is, therefore, not his prerogative to make the selection. 

“If he wants to pick his chair, then go win and then make your pick,” the member continued. “[Whatley] would need a majority of the body, and I just don’t see it.” 

If McDaniel resigns, McKissick would step in as interim chair of the party. At that point, a special election for chair would ensue. 

A potential jockeying for the RNC top spot — without McDaniel having even announced whether she intends to depart — could complicate the party’s winter in a presidential election year and provide reason for McDaniel to hold onto her mantle.  

“I think there’s absolutely a chance [McDaniel] stays around,” the third source engaged in conversations about the future of the RNC said. 

McKissick did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. 

McDaniel sent a message to members Wednesday afternoon telling them that she is “still hard at work” amid reports that she may not be in her job much longer.

“I am still hard at work as RNC Chairwoman and building a machine that will elect republicans up and down the ballot in November,” read the email that two RNC members shared with NBC News. “I am currently on the road fundraising, we’re staffing up with staff on the ground in 15 states, the team is busy making phone calls and knocking doors to get out the vote 

The email comes one day after The New York Times reported that McDaniel told Trump she would resign after the Feb. 24 South Carolina GOP primary. NBC News has not confirmed this report, and two sources said no decisions have been made yet. The RNC also denied it in a statement.

McDaniel could exit the party after South Carolina — but the plan remains to make a decision after that nominating contest, the sources told NBC News. 

Trump’s campaign is mulling two plans for taking over the RNC. The first option would have McDaniel resigning, which would prompt a special election. 

The second option would include creating two additional co-chair jobs with individuals he would appoint — one overseeing fundraising and another overseeing party operations. Under that scenario, McDaniel would remain as RNC chair, but have a new layer of Trump-appointed leadership to deal with.

Trump has prompted speculation over the past week about McDaniel’s future with the party. Over the weekend, he said “some changes” would come to the RNC if he is the Republican nominee, and on Monday night, he acknowledged something is coming — but likely not until after the South Carolina primary. 

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