NEW YORK (AP) — Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has discussed leaving her role with former President Donald Trump, with both agreeing to delay a decision until after South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary, according to two people familiar with the matter.
McDaniel has not formally decided to step down and leave her position as head of the GOP’s political machine, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose internal deliberations. But having long faced vocal opposition from a faction of the party, McDaniel is under renewed pressure after Trump publicly questioned whether she should stay in the job.
During what was described as a cordial private meeting Monday in Florida, Trump and McDaniel discussed the possibility that she would step down as one of a range of possibilities for changes within RNC leadership.
But they agreed not to make any final decisions until after South Carolina’s primary, in which Trump is seeking to deliver a knockout blow to his last major challenger, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a native of the state and its former governor.
“Nothing has changed,” RNC spokesperson Keith Schipper said in a statement. “This will be decided after South Carolina.”
McDaniel’s potential ouster highlights the growing influence of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement in GOP affairs on the eve of a new general election season. The 50-year-old from Michigan was overwhelmingly elected to a fourth two-year term just one year ago, becoming the longest-serving Republican Party chair since the Civil War, despite facing some of the very same criticism about her job performance from Trump’s vocal allies in conservative media.
But over the last year, with Trump’s grip on a third presidential nomination tightening, such MAGA voices are carrying more clout.
A potential McDaniel successor being discussed is Michael Whatley, according to a third person familiar with the matter. Whatley has been the North Carolina GOP chair since 2019 and serves as general counsel to the RNC.
Whatley, who has repeatedly raised the specter of voter fraud, ran last year for co-chair of the RNC with Trump’s backing. But he trailed badly and withdrew from the contest for the party’s second top-ranking post.
McDaniel has faced vocal opposition from leading far-right figures who largely blamed her for the GOP’s political struggles since Trump’s 2016 election. That’s even as Trump himself publicly and privately backed McDaniel, who is Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s niece. Trump first tapped her to lead the committee in 2017.
McDaniel recently faced a week of withering attacks from far-right figures spearheaded by the group Turning Point, a glitzy and well-funded organization founded by 30-year-old media figure Charlie Kirk, who was part of an unsuccessful effort to oust McDaniel one year ago.
Days before the party’s winter meeting convened last week, Turning Point hosted a counterprogramming event dubbed “Restoring National Confidence” — a play on the RNC’s initials.
At the gathering, Kirk and many of his Turning Point allies repeatedly called for McDaniel’s ouster, blaming her for the party’s poor showing in recent years, as well as accusing her of lavishly spending RNC money.
The RNC is grappling with a cash crunch after being out of the White House for four years. Campaign finance disclosures released last week showed the RNC had just $8 million in the bank and $1 million in debt.
“We know a pack of losers when we see it: top to bottom, the entire RNC staff in its current form,” Kirk said last week on his radio show.
Under the direction of the party’s presidential nominee, whoever serves as chair this fall will direct the sprawling nationwide infrastructure designed to elect a Republican president while serving as a chief party fundraiser.
With decisive victories in the first two primary contests, Trump is fast approaching a third consecutive presidential nomination.
McDaniel has survived in Trump’s orbit for the last seven years in part by being willing to confront him directly, albeit always in private, about difficult issues. Trump and McDaniel met privately Monday at the former president’s Florida estate amid rising tensions between the GOP establishment and MAGA leaders.
McDaniel cannot be removed from RNC leadership in the middle of a term without a vote of two-thirds of the group’s membership, which includes a handful of elected officials from every state in the nation. And given her overwhelming reelection just one year ago, there likely aren’t the votes to oust her by force.
But there is a sense she would voluntarily step down should the party’s next presidential nominee — presumably Trump — want her to. McDaniel has indicated in recent private conversations that she has no interest in fighting for her position if she is not wanted by the de facto leader of the party.
Trump suggested in an interview aired Sunday morning that McDaniel would leave her job soon.
“I think she did great when she ran Michigan for me. I think she did OK, initially, in the RNC. I would say right now, there’ll probably be some changes made,” Trump said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Still, McDaniel remains popular among many RNC members.
“With what the mission of the RNC is, I think she’s done a good job,” said Iowa RNC member Steve Scheffler, who noted national party fundraising typically falls behind individual campaign spending during competitive primaries. “But whatever Trump decides to do, I’ll be supportive of that.”
Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Las Vegas contributed to this report.