A chal­lenge for a Rom­ney loyal to Trump

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Jeremy W. Pe­ters

NORTHVILLE, Mich. – She is the very pro­file of the voter Pres­i­dent Trump tends to re­pel: a soft-spo­ken, col­lege-ed­u­cated mother of two who lives in an up­scale sub­urb in one of the most con­tested bat­tle­ground states.

This was not lost on Trump when he picked Ronna McDaniel to be the chair­woman of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. Nei­ther was the fact that her father is Mitt Rom­ney’s old­est brother, and that bring­ing her into the fold would put an ex­cla­ma­tion point on his sub­li­ma­tion of the es­tab­lish­ment wing of the party.

McDaniel, who is 44 and only the sec­ond woman to lead the na­tional com­mit­tee, now faces a chal­lenge that is as per­sonal as it is po­lit­i­cal. She has to for­tify her party in a hos­tile elec­tion en­vi­ron­ment as it tries to keep con­trol of the House, the Se­nate and 13 gov­er­nor­ships where in­cum­bent Repub­li­cans are leav­ing. That job has been com­pli­cated by a wave of re­tire­ments by dis­af­fected Repub­li­cans, putting more seats at risk in dis­tricts like her own in Michi­gan.

Then there is the fault line run­ning right through her fam­ily.

Her un­cle, who has been one of Trump’s most un­flinch­ing crit­ics, is likely to run for the Se­nate in Utah. His re-emer­gence on the na­tional stage threat­ens to set off new quar­rels in the party over ques­tions of loy­alty to the pres­i­dent.

McDaniel has tried to leave lit­tle doubt about where her loy­alty lies. She even stopped us­ing her full name – Ronna Rom­ney McDaniel – pro­fes­sion­ally af­ter the pres­i­dent joked with her and her hus­band about drop­ping her given sur­name.

“You know the job you’re sign­ing up for,” she said in an in­ter­view one re­cent morn­ing at a diner near her home, re­fer­ring obliquely to the fact that com­mit­tee lead­ers typ­i­cally have to toe the pres­i­dent’s line when their party holds the White House.

And she has in­deed been highly def­er­en­tial. She fell in line af­ter Trump in­sisted last month that the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee put re­sources back into the Se­nate race in Alabama to aid Roy Moore, who had been ac­cused of prey­ing on girls as young as 14.

Alabama re­jected Moore and elected a Demo­crat to the Se­nate for the first time in a gen­er­a­tion. But even now, McDaniel will not say whether she be­lieves the com­mit­tee’s move was a mis­take. “I un­der­stand why the pres­i­dent did what he did,” she said. “He wants to keep that ma­jor­ity.”

She stressed that dis­putes in the party were an un­wanted dis­trac­tion. “If you’re spend­ing more time at­tack­ing your fel­low Repub­li­cans, you’re not help­ing us win in Novem­ber,” she said. “I would pre­fer,” she added, “that we don’t al­ways air those dif­fer­ences. I used to say if you have a fight within your fam­ily, you don’t go on ‘Jerry Springer.’”

So far, McDaniel has man­aged to hold to­gether the fac­tions of the party that are split over their feel­ings about Trump but united, for now, in pur­suit of con­ser­va­tive pol­icy goals. A re­lent­less fundraiser who spends up to six hours a day on the phone wring­ing money from donors, she has helped put the party in a for­mi­da­ble fi­nan­cial po­si­tion. The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee has nearly $40 mil­lion in the bank, com­pared with the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s $6.3 mil­lion.

“It’s not been easy for her for a lot of rea­sons,” said Ron Kauf­man, who rep­re­sents Mas­sachusetts on the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. “The good news is Ronna un­der­stands to­tally the down­side of where we are, as well as the up­side. And she un­der­stands that our job is to make what­ever po­ten­tial wave there is a rip­ple.”

That “she’s raised a ton of dough” only helps her po­si­tion in the party and with the pres­i­dent, he added.

She has a close re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent that is per­haps un­likely for a Mor­mon from sub­ur­ban Detroit. She has de­liv­ered some­thing Trump in­tu­itively un­der­stands: quan­tifi­able re­sults. Not only has she raked in money, but his nar­row vic­tory in her home state also helped put him over the top in the Elec­toral Col­lege. “She won,” he has told peo­ple. He has also been known to re­fer to her as “my Rom­ney.”

“The pres­i­dent has a pretty ster­ile view of re­sults,” said Reince Priebus, the for­mer White House chief of staff and party chair­man who pushed Trump to pick McDaniel as his suc­ces­sor. “And if the re­sults are the money is be­ing raised and the ap­pa­ra­tus is run­ning well, the pres­i­dent is go­ing to be pretty happy.”

Pol­i­tics be­ing in her blood, McDaniel worked her way up through var­i­ous po­si­tions in the Michi­gan Repub­li­can Party be­fore be­ing elected as the state chair­woman in 2015.

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