RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel could be stepping down: Why it matters, and who could replace her

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(WASHINGTON) —¬†Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel looks increasingly likely to leave her leadership role in the party amid frustration from some committee members and very public prodding from former President Donald Trump.

Multiple sources familiar with a conversation between her and Trump have told ABC News that they discussed the possibility of her resigning from her position after the South Carolina primary, on Feb. 24.

And while the talks remain fluid, Michael Whatley, who serves as the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, has emerged as a prominent contender to serve as McDaniel’s replacement. (“Nothing has changed. This will be decided after South Carolina,” an RNC spokesperson said in a statement.)

The uncertainty over McDaniel’s role and the RNC’s direction in general — also given its poor fundraising last year — is playing out as Trump gears up for a likely general election battle against President Joe Biden.

What does the RNC chair do?

While the chair of the RNC ostensibly has a big title, leading the main party organ, the job is not quite as significant as it sounds.

For example, the Republican chair is not in constant communication with congressional leaders guiding legislation on Capitol Hill — nor are they inside the White House every day or helping direct the choices of the party’s numerous elected state and local officials.

However, the RNC head does play a significant role in fundraising and organizing for state parties to help solidify infrastructure for the party’s candidates up and down the ballot. And on top of that, the chair serves as a significant megaphone to amplify whatever the GOP’s message is for that particular election cycle.

“Basically, the RNC’s job is to raise money to then do essentially two things: One, pump it directly back into targeted states to set up voter targeting operations; and the other is to build out a political structure in D.C. to aid those efforts. And yes, then there is some more kind of nationalized things like that, communications being an important part,” said Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director.

Does it matter that this is happening in an election year?

Such turmoil at the top of the RNC during an election year may seem like it could cause issues with the winning chances of the party’s 2024 nominee — but it’s unlikely to register in the polls in November, experts said.

The presumptive nominee typically has significant sway over how the RNC functions. And Trump, the current front-runner for the nomination, is not a typical presumptive nominee. He’s a former president who helped remake the GOP’s image and platform to match his own.

Party experts predicted that it’s possible Trump, given his influence, pushes McDaniel out entirely and replaces her with other allies. It’s also possible that McDaniel remains at the RNC in “more of a figurehead role,” while Trump-backers take on more of the party’s heavy lifting. But neither would be particularly unusual.

More broadly, the uncertainty may be drawing attention because of how loyal McDaniel has been to Trump.

“Whenever we have somebody become a nominee, they essentially take over the party. That’s what usually happens. That may be a new chair. That may be just bringing in your own people to actually run the thing while the current chair stays there in more of a figurehead role. It can be both,” Heye said.

“We’re paying more attention to it because Ronna Romney McDaniel has been very loyal to Donald Trump, and we see yet again that that that loyalty is misplaced,” Heye told ABC News.

“Part of it is the completely normal cycle of what happens in presidential years. The other part of it is the abnormal reality around Donald Trump,” he argued.

Who is Whatley?

Should McDaniel leave her role and Whatley be tapped to replace her, the North Carolinian would have to be elected by a majority of the 168 RNC members.

Such a victory is no sure thing, given that Whatley lost out to the current RNC co-chair, Drew McKissick, when the two ran for that role last year — but now, Whatley could be supported by the party’s presumptive nominee, who is given a particularly large amount of deference in a presidential year.

His elevation would mark the promotion of a bona fide election denier after Whatley vociferously endorsed Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud in 2020.

“There are gonna be a lot of overwrought things. ‘Election denier RNC chair!'” Heye said, mimicking reactions to Whatley’s hypothetical elevation. “What … do you expect? It’s Donald Trump.”

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