Trump’s family tightens grip on US Republican Party

Nathan Layne and Alexandra Ulmer |

Lara Trump is the newly-elected co-chair of the Republican National Committee.
Lara Trump is the newly-elected co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

Donald Trump has cemented his grip on the Republican National Committee after his daughter-in-law and another ally assumed top leadership posts amid a debate among members over whether the organisation should help pay his legal bills.

RNC members meeting in Houston voted to appoint North Carolina Republican Party head Michael Whatley and Lara Trump as chair and co-chair of the organisation, which will play a key role in marshalling voters and funds for the November 5 general election.

The move comes after Trump swept the Super Tuesday primary contests, prompting Nikki Haley to drop out of the Republican race and all but assuring the former US president will be the nominee and face off against President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

“The goal on November 5th is to win, and as my father-in-law says ‘bigly’,” Lara Trump said, promising that “every single penny of every dollar raised” would go toward the goal of winning the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate for Republicans.

The reshuffling sees Ronna McDaniel replaced atop the organisation.

McDaniel was a staunch Trump ally but faced pressure to step aside following sluggish fundraising and a weaker-than-expected performance for Republicans in the 2022 congressional midterm elections.

A number of RNC members have called for the committee to help pay for Trump’s legal expenses, which along with penalties have ballooned to hundreds of millions of dollars.

In speeches on Friday, neither Whatley nor Lara Trump directly addressed the issue, which has made some donors wary of writing cheques.

“Donors don’t want to pay some other rich guy’s legal bills. They want to help win elections, because that’s the RNC’s job,” said Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi who drafted a resolution barring using funds for that purpose.

The resolution failed to gain enough support to be put to a vote on Friday.

Trump’s push to have the wife of his younger adult son Eric as second-in-command symbolises his takeover of a political institution whose mission is to get Republicans elected up and down the ballot.

Not since President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Maureen Reagan was RNC co-chair in the 1980s has a family member of a president or nominee served in such a position of power.

One of the new leadership’s most pressing tasks will be money.

After recording its lowest fundraising year in 2023 in a decade, the RNC had less than $US9 million ($A14 million) in the bank at the end of January, a little more than a third of the Democratic National Committee’s $US24 million, federal filings show.

“We have to raise a lot of money,” Lara Trump said, showing a cheque for $US100,000 ($A150,453) she said had been donated on Friday.

Lara Trump created a stir last month by saying she believed Republicans have a “big interest” in paying the former president’s legal bills and by not ruling out using RNC funds.

Trump’s legal costs are expected to mount this year as he grapples with 91 criminal counts across four cases and faces more than $US500 million in damages tied to civil case judgments in New York.

On Friday, Trump posted a $US91.6 million ($A137.8 million) bond to cover the defamation verdict in favour of writer E. Jean Carroll.