Trump hopes to reshape RNC into "seamless operation" with leadership changes

A Trump-backed trio of leaders is expected to take the helm at the Republican National Committee, effectively strengthening former President Donald Trump’s iron grip on the party going into the general election.

Trump announced last week a new effort to unite the RNC and his campaign. He’s installing Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, and Chris LaCivita, a senior campaign adviser, in top leadership positions in the party as part of an effort to merge his reelection campaign and RNC into a “seamless operation,” according to a high-ranking Republican source with knowledge of the decision. 

Lara Trump will stand for election as RNC co-chair, along with Michael Whaley, who’s been tapped to be the new chairman, replacing Ronna McDaniel, the current RNC chair. She’s expected to step down soon after the South Carolina GOP primary on Saturday. LaCivita’s position as chief operating officer is an appointment.

LaCivita, one of the Trump campaign’s top senior advisers, will be the key liaison between the campaign and the RNC. He is expected to split his time between the RNC and the Trump campaign, which he runs along with Susie Wiles, another top adviser. 

A long-time Republican operative and former U.S. Marine, LaCivita has worked on a number of state and federal campaigns, including Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. He was a senior strategist at the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. before moving to Trump’s reelection campaign in late 2022.

Several former Trump officials told CBS News that LaCivita is seen as a “go-getter” with a sharp  focus on winning races, rather than on the internal politics that can sometimes bog down the party. Trump campaign leaders are looking to him to bring structure to RNC spending and fundraising, which has been lackluster in the last several election cycles under McDaniel.

In 2023, the RNC had its worst fundraising year in a decade, and it entered 2024 with just $8 million, its lowest cash on hand since 2014, according to FEC reports. 

Sources tell CBS News that one of LaCivita’s key goals will be unifying the different factions in the party, including some who may have been at odds with McDaniel. 

McDaniel often feuded publicly with Charlie Kirk, a conservative media figure who leads the well-funded group Turning Point USA and tried to oust McDaniel from her post last year. Kirk and Turning Point USA built a conservative grassroots activist network focused on driving youth turnout. 

“Reaching out to independent organizations that are involved in getting out the vote and advocating on behalf of Republican candidates is something that new leadership in the RNC is very interested in pursuing,” a high-ranking Republican source with knowledge of the move said. 

Sources also tell CBS News that the Trump-backed leaders are eyeing the RNC’s early voting initiative, called “Bank Your Vote” and launched last June, as a potential area for change. 

This is a nationwide GOP campaign to boost mail and early in-person voting and ballot harvesting in this year’s presidential race. These are all voting initiatives that have traditionally been dominated by Democrats. The Republican strategy included launching websites in all 50 states and in several different languages to increase voter outreach. 

For years, Trump has railed against early voting and ballot harvesting as tools of election rigging. At campaign events, he still expresses distrust of them, calling for only in-person voting on Election Day and paper ballots. 

“We have to get rid of mail-in ballots because once you have mail-in ballots, you have crooked elections,” Trump said in his victory speech after winning the Iowa caucuses in January. 

Privately, Republicans say the current initiative is flawed because it relies on old voter registration data and does nothing to bring in new voters to the party. 

“They’re getting people to vote that are going to vote, and then they count that as a success,” a high-ranking Republican source with knowledge said. “When you don’t have electoral success, you’ve got to look at the tactics that you’re using.” 

But other Republicans have embraced early voting, like Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin. In 2023, ahead of crucial state elections, Youngkin invested heavily in an effort called “Secure Your Vote,” which encouraged Republicans to take advantage of Virginia’s early voting system. 

Although Republicans still lost the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate, they were still able to cut down early voting deficits significantly, due in part to Youngkin’s effort. In a state President Biden won by double digits in 2020, Republicans were able to come within a few thousand votes of taking control of both legislative chambers. 

Republicans hope that LaCivita’s move to the RNC will force the party to expand early voting efforts that would build upon the Virginia Republicans’ approach.

“Chris LaCivita knows how to run an operation,” said Zack Roday, a former spokesperson for Youngkin’s political action committee Spirit of Virginia. “He will make this a major focus. He’s going to bring immense discipline to this effort and plenty of fundraising.” 

Fin Gómez contributed to this report.

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