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Trump is about to complete his takeover of the RNC and install a key ally and his daughter-in-law as leaders

HOUSTON (AP) — Donald Trump will complete his takeover of the Republican National Committee Friday when GOP officials vote to install the former president’s handpicked leadership team — including his daughter-in-law Lara Trump.

Michael Whatley, a North Carolina Republican who has repeated Trump’s false theories about voter fraud, will be elected the party’s new national chairman in a vote Friday morning in Houston. Lara Trump becomes co-chair.

Trump’s team vows not to use the RNC to pay his mounting personal legal bills. But once the leadership changes are completed, Trump and his lieutenants will have firm control over the party’s political and fundraising apparatus, with limited or no internal pushback.

Whatley will hold the top title and replace the old chair Ronna McDaniel after she fell out of favor with key figures in the former president’s “Make America Great Again” movement. But he will be surrounded by people closer to Trump.

Lara Trump is expected to focus largely on fundraising and media appearances. The functional head of the RNC will be Chris LaCivita, who will take on the role of committee chief of staff while retaining his job as one of the Trump campaign’s top two advisers.

With Trump’s blessing, LaCivita promises to make sweeping changes and personnel changes at every level of the RNC to ensure it runs seamlessly as an extension of the Trump campaign.

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In an interview Thursday, he sought to assuage concerns among some RNC members that the already cash-strapped committee would help pay Trump’s legal bills. Trump faces four criminal charges and a total of 91 counts, as well as a $355 million civil fraud judgment, which he is appealing. His affiliated political action committee Save America has spent $76 million on lawyers over the past two years.

People who speculate about the RNC paying for legal bills, LaCivita said, do so “purely because they are trying to hurt donors.” Trump’s legal bills are instead largely covered by Save America, a separate political entity.

“The fact of this case is not a cent of the RNC’s money, nor that the campaign’s money has gone or will go to pay legal fees,” he said.

The RNC paid some of Trump’s legal bills for cases in New York that began while he was president, The Washington Post reported, but McDaniel said in November 2022 that the RNC would stop paying once Trump became a candidate again and declared himself joining the 2024 presidential race. .

When Trump announced his plans to replace the party’s leadership, it raised new questions about whether the committee would pay his bills. Those questions intensified after Lara Trump said last month that she was not familiar with the party’s rules on paying her father-in-law’s legal fees, but she thought the idea would have broad support among Republican voters.

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Faced with such mixed messages, some RNC members remain skeptical.

Republican committeeman Henry Barbour of Mississippi proposed a non-binding resolution explicitly stating that RNC funds could not be used for Trump’s legal bills. Still, the resolution died when Barbour failed to gain the support of RNC members from at least ten states.

“People I’ve spoken to privately on the committee all agree that donor money should be spent on winning elections, not on legal fees,” said Republican committeeman John Hammond of Indiana. “I’m sure the committee would welcome some more certainty and clarification on that.”

The new leadership team is also expected to more fully embrace Trump’s focus on voter fraud and his debunked claims about the election he lost to President Joe Biden. Multiple lawsuits and Trump’s own Justice Department failed to reveal any evidence of significant voting irregularities.

Whatley, a lawyer, has largely avoided using Trump’s characterization of Biden’s victory, saying in a 2021 interview that Biden was “absolutely” legitimately elected and won the majority of Electoral College votes. But he said in another interview in the weeks after the 2020 election that there was “tremendous fraud.” He has also made a focus on “election integrity” a top priority for his state party in the years since.

In a letter announcing her candidacy for co-chair, Lara Trump wrote to committee members telling them she plans to focus on battleground states, win the election in close races, to turn over the RNC’s finances digging, including all its contracts and agreements and cuts “that do not directly contribute to winning elections.”

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A key priority, she wrote, is ensuring the election is secure, something her father-in-law has placed a major focus on.

In some ways, the Republican Party’s takeover of Trump represents a typical transition for major political parties as they move from the primary to the general election phase of the presidential election. Candidates are typically given the keys to their national parties once they win the presidential nomination. For example, Biden effectively controls the Democratic National Committee.

Still, some privately worry that Trump is creating unnecessary drama and distraction for the party.

McDaniel will be replaced on Friday after Trump pressured her to resign. She was Trump’s hand-picked choice in 2017. And he supported her re-election, just like last year, every two years.

But McDaniel increasingly drew the ire of MAGA leaders who blamed her for Republican losses in recent years. Other Republicans have blamed Trump, who remains broadly unpopular with Americans and especially vulnerable among suburban and college voters. Fifty-eight percent of American adults said they would be dissatisfied if Trump were nominated for president, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll released in December.

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