Trump takes control of the RNC with mass layoffs, restructuring

Former president Donald Trump took charge of the Republican National Committee this week with the political equivalent of shock and awe — leaving dozens out of work, revamping strategic priorities and raising fears among some former officials about the party’s future support for down-ballot candidates.

The senior leadership has been almost entirely replaced or reassigned, while dozens of lower-ranking officials including state directors were either fired or told to reapply for their jobs. A nationwide network of community outreach centers, once a fixture of the party’s efforts to attract minority voters, will be shuttered or refocused on get-out-the-vote efforts. The much heralded “Bank Your Vote” program, aimed at getting Republicans to vote early, will shift to a “Grow The Vote” program focused more on expanding the party’s outreach to less likely Trump voters.

Trump’s team, led by campaign adviser Chris LaCivita, is bringing in allies with what LaCivita says will be a leaner, more aggressive operation with more political experience.

“It is about changing a mind-set,” LaCivita said in an interview Tuesday. “The RNC is as much a part of the Trump campaign as the Trump campaign is part of the RNC. It is really important from our standpoint that everyone understand in a campaign that will be unprecedented in history that everyone has the same stated goal.”

The RNC’s political director, its lead data officer and communications director have all been replaced, according to people familiar with the moves. The chief of staff and top counsel voluntarily left before LaCivita took over.

One of the most experienced lawyers in GOP politics, Charlie Spies, who recently served as the architect of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s shuttered presidential effort, will take over as chief counsel.

Additionally, LaCivita is installing Christina Bobb — a former OAN reporter who has espoused false claims that the 2020 election was stolen — as senior counsel for election integrity. Bobb is the author of a book called “Stealing Your Vote: The Inside Story of the 2020 Election and What It Means for 2024” and promoted the audit of Arizona elections.

“I’m honored to join the RNC and thrilled the new leadership is focused on election integrity,” Bobb said in a statement. “I look forward to working to secure our elections and restore confidence in the process.”

The new leadership at the RNC has discussed a broader effort over the coming months to challenge voter identification and signature verification rules that were put into place for the 2020 election.

“The RNC’s new posture as it relates to litigation is much more offensive and much less defensive,” LaCivita said in the interview.

Some Trump allies privately questioned the hiring of Spies, a longtime GOP lawyer who previously worked for super PACs that supported the presidential campaigns of Republicans Mitt Romney in 2012 and Jeb Bush in 2016.

LaCivita praised Spies as one of the party’s top campaign attorneys, who is well respected by donors for his fundraising innovations and actively involved in election litigation.

Some former Republican officials — caught off guard by the dramatic changes — have expressed concerns about the takeover, which normally happens in some form at the end of an open primary fight. Former RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, long a close adviser to Trump, was described as blindsided by the scale and speed of the changes, which target her efforts to balance Trump’s interest with the rest of the party’s interests.

“There won’t be a RNC operation to help the greater party. They don’t care about the greater party,” said a former RNC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect future job prospects. “The RNC is important to lots of people in down-ballot elections. They’re cutting off any service that doesn’t provide help to anyone but Donald Trump. It’s just all about Trump.”

LaCivita said in response that the rising tide of Trump’s candidacy would lift all Republican boats this year, and that the RNC would continue to work closely with the Republican Party’s House and Senate committees.

Sean Cairncross, a former White House adviser to Trump who worked at the RNC during the 2016 campaign, is the new chief operating officer. And James Blair, a top adviser to Trump is also taking a senior political role at the RNC. Blair is a longtime Florida operative who is close with Susie Wiles, Trump’s de facto chief of staff.

“If you choose to not reapply, your last day of employment will be March 31, 2024,” Cairncross wrote in an email sent to some fired employees, which was obtained by The Washington Post. The changes at the RNC were described by LaCivita and eight other current and former party officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal changes.

Trump had made clear he wanted changes at the RNC even before he cleared the field of rivals for the Republican nomination. Trump had grown frustrated last year with McDaniel when she stuck by her pledge to remain neutral in the nomination fight and continued to sponsor primary debates long after Trump had made clear he would never participate. McDaniel called for the party to unite behind Trump after he won the New Hampshire primary in late January, but she was soon ousted.

At Trump’s direction, the RNC voted Friday to elect former North Carolina GOP chair Michael Whatley and Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, to senior positions to replace McDaniel. Lara Trump is married to the former president’s son Eric, who now runs the family’s hospitality and branding business.

They have also decided not to use RNC funds over the coming months to pay for Trump’s ongoing legal costs, in part because his status as a candidate would likely mean the funds would have to come directly out of the party’s limited political budget that is coordinated with the campaign. Trump has long argued that his legal prosecutions are politically motivated, suggesting that any spending on his own lawyer is a form of political spending.

The RNC has a cash problem on its hands. The Democratic National Committee, which is functioning as a part of President Biden’s campaign, had $24 million in the bank at the end of January — almost triple the $8.7 million held by the Republican National Committee.

The entire revamp is being led by LaCivita, a combative and experienced strategist who during the 2004 presidential campaign led the group originally known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in an effort against Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, a massive outside spending effort on behalf of Trump in 2020 and countless other state and federal campaigns.

A former Marine Corps sergeant who earned a Purple Heart in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, LaCivita has functioned as the senior political consultant for Trump since the start of his 2024 campaign, though he has not taken a formal title. He will take on a new dual role, overseeing the coordinated campaign effort at the RNC while maintaining his position advising Trump’s campaign.

The new approach is aimed, in part, at avoiding the deep dysfunction in message and advertising coordination that hampered Trump in 2020, when animosity flared between McDaniel and Trump’s second campaign manager, Bill Stepien. Relations got so bad that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top campaign adviser in 2020, had to convene a meeting between the campaign and party teams in October of that year to set an advertising strategy for the final weeks of the campaign.

The firings, according to people familiar with them, were done by LaCivita, who met with employees in the human resource director’s office with the director. In some cases, LaCivita told the employees they hadn’t done anything wrong but he just wanted his own team. Most of the employees were gone within hours.

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