A challenge for a Romney loyal to Trump
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.