At RNC rally, rift grows between Trump and GOP interests
SALT LAKE CITY — None of the officials gathered here for the Republican National Committee’s winter meetings are dismissing former President Donald Trump. Everyone recognizes his singular influence on the electoral base of the party.
But a distinct chasm is looming between Trump’s obsessions and the issues that many GOP operatives see as crucial to winning the midterm elections in November. Republican candidates must put voter concerns front and center, as opposed to Trump’s daily attacks, RNC members suggested this week.
Few people will put it so bluntly; they are loath to antagonize Trump and possibly drive out his die-hard supporters. Yet in interviews, party officials have shown little appetite for organizing the GOP around Trump’s grievances.
A winning message would focus on inflation and parental rights, they said — not the 2020 election, which Trump wrongly insists on winning. Strengthening the party would require opening it up to new voters — not punishing Republicans who disagreed with Trump, they added.
The sentiments echo those of local GOP leaders, who said late last year they were ready to move past the 2020 election, even if Trump was not. They wanted to put issues like border security, the withdrawal of Afghan troops and education at the forefront.
One of the goals of the RNC’s winter meetings, members said, was for Republicans to project “unity.” Still, Trump remains a divisive that has spilled over into the party rally. One of his allies, RNC member David Bossie of Maryland, submitted a symbolic resolution that would call on congressional Republicans to expel Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., from the House GOP conference. Both voted last year to impeach Trump.
The resolution was watered down to a censure on Thursday amid criticism from some members that it undermined efforts to show the party tolerated dissenting views.
“The Republican National Committee hereby formally censures Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and will immediately cease all support as members of the Republican Party for their behavior, which has been destructive to the institution of United States House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic, and is inconsistent with the position of the conference,” reads the resolution, obtained by NBC News.
This version was passed unanimously by the RNC Resolutions Subcommittee on Thursday evening. It’s unclear whether the full RNC will approve it at its general meeting on Friday, and a source familiar with the process said there could still be additional changes.
“I believe if you’re trying to build a big church, like I’m trying to build in Illinois, you don’t excommunicate people suspected of sin,” GOP Chairman Don Tracy said Wednesday. “Politics is addition, not subtraction.”
The model campaign that Republican donors and strategists are studying and hoping to recreate in their own states is that of Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political novice who won the race for governor of Virginia last year against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“The most important thing that struck me was [Youngkin] talked to voters about this they or they wanted to talk,” said Michael Whatley, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party.
By keeping Trump at bay and focusing on local issues, Youngkin prevailed in a state that President Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points. His “hyperlocal focus on what Virginia voters cared about and talked about at home — that’s the model our candidates need to implement and we’re focused on implementing as well,” said Caleb Heimlich, the Republican from Washington State. President.
New Jersey RNC member William Palatucci said there were things Trump could do to help the party head into midterms that he shouldn’t do either.
Trump “needs to find a way to be constructive and not destructive: help the party raise money; stay out of the primaries unless there’s a really good reason,” Palatucci said. “Choosing fights with very good candidates is not a good idea!”
Trump remains the most popular figure in the party, and since leaving office he has looked and sounded like he would run again in 2024. But even if he does, RNC members would prefer that the primary should be an open competition rather than a crowning achievement, they said.
“We are probably going to have more of a traditional primary for the presidential election, that is to say three or four candidates who are in [and] have strong platforms,” said Paul Farrow, chair of the Wisconsin GOP. “If the president decides to run again, I think he will be great. … We’ll see if we have new people who have good platforms that they can work on.”
Whatever Trump decides will have a huge influence on the shape of the GOP field. He would scare away some hopefuls if he intervened and create opportunities for a large number of candidates if he stepped down.
“The race in 24 will largely depend on what President Trump decides to do,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview last week. “And I expect everyone to react accordingly when they make that decision.”
Some RNC members have said they would like former Vice President Mike Pence to enter the race no matter what Trump chooses to do. Trump is angry with Pence for refusing to reject the 2020 election results before the January 6, 2021 riot. He released a statement this week calling on the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol to go after Pence. This upset some RNC members, who said they did not appreciate this kind of treatment from a loyal Tory.
Trump’s statement “diminishes him further,” said one member, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid a backlash from Trump loyalists. “It’s beyond what we would call common Midwestern courtesy. None of us get it. Pence is a conservative Republican. If anyone’s a RINO [Republican in Name Only], it’s Donald Trump. Think about it.”
Since RNC members began arriving here this week, Trump has made statements that stray from the forward-looking, issue-focused message that a number of members have embraced. He welcomed the abrupt resignation of Jeff Zucker as chairman of CNN, a network he belittled throughout his presidency, and he wondered why the Jan. 6 committee wasn’t reviewing the “evidence of large-scale fraud”, even if none exists.
“Voters, for the most part, are ambitious and want to see candidates who will speak about tomorrow, not yesterday,” said a state party chairman who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “I think the more you try to look back, the less likely you are to succeed in this business in the future.”
None of this is to say that the 2020 elections were banned. Several RNC members were seen carrying conservative author Mollie Hemingway’s new book, “Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections,” in the lobby of the Grand America Hotel, where she spoke at an unofficial event on Wednesday. In his story, the 2020 election was not stolen; instead, he unfairly advantaged Democrats due to increased efforts to train Democratic voters and pandemic-inspired changes to election laws allowing for more mail-in votes.
One of the ways RNC members have sought to appease Trump loyalists is to call for changes to election laws and improvements to the “integrity of the ballot” without embracing conspiracy theories that the election was stolen. Their goal is to keep the Trump vote intact without driving out constituencies Republicans need to win the election, like suburban women — a balancing act that GOP leaders are struggling to pull off.
“The focus is really on the lessons you take from 2020? And then how do you apply them to protect ’22? And ’24?” Whatley talked about the changes to the election rules. “For us right now, the economy really, really matters. Inflation really, really matters. High gas prices really matter. What’s happening in Russia right now. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan. last year, that’s what people are talking about today.”
While Trump is not leaving, there are still undeniable signs that his influence within the party is waning. An NBC News poll released last month found just 36% of Republican-leaning voters said they were more supportive of the former president than the GOP – down 18 points from the day before the 2020 election. .
“We have hardcore Trump supporters in the party on one extreme, and on the other extreme we have strong Republicans, except they don’t like Donald Trump,” said state chairman Tracy. Illinois. “I think most people are more in the middle.”