Who Is the Election-Denying Trump Loyalist Expected To Replace Ronna McDaniel as RNC Chair?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this week, Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel officially announced her upcoming resignation, paving the way for  a Trump loyalist with a history of election denialism to take the Republican Party’s top post.

McDaniel, who was reelected to lead the RNC in a unanimous vote in 2021, has faced increased backlash from the hard-right faction of the Republican Party, in large part due to fears that she has not done enough to address baseless concerns about voter fraud. Rumors of her departure have been spreading for weeks, and on Feb. 12, former President Donald Trump announced his preferred picks to lead the party’s national arm. McDaniel, who herself was hand picked by Trump years ago, made her impending departure official on Monday, announcing in a statement that she would step down on March 8, three days after Super Tuesday. 

Widely expected to take her place is Trump-endorsed Michael Whatley, who currently serves as the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and as general counsel for the RNC. 

Trump’s endorsement of Whatley signals that the party is continuing down its path of pushing false election fraud narratives ahead of the November general election. The former president also endorsed his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, for the party’s co-chair position. Lara Trump, who made her candidacy official yesterday, has shown no hesitancy in promoting the same fraud falsehoods — she spoke at the “Stop The Steal” rally that served as the precursor for the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. 

According to CNN, “Two sources close to Trump said that the former president’s interest in Michael Whatley…stems directly from Whatley’s work and intense focus on claims of election fraud.” The New York Times also reported that Trump took interest in Whatley because he was a “stop the steal guy,” a reference to false claims that Democrats somehow stole the 2020 presidential election.

In endorsing Whatley, Trump said that the North Carolina Republican “is committed to election integrity, which we must have to keep fraud out of our election so it can’t be stolen.”

Former President Donald Trump, left, is welcomed by Michael Whatley, Chairman of the N.C. GOP, before he speaks at the North Carolina Republican Convention Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

No widespread fraud took place in the 2020 election or in any election since, but Republicans have used the false claims to push restrictive voting laws and fuel conspiracy theories. Ironically, “Whatley has been accused by some Republicans of essentially manufacturing his win as state party chairman last year following a chaotic vote, which resulted in a legal challenge that offered evidence some ballots were improperly cast,” according to the Associated Press.

Whatley has a history of troublesome comments on democracy. He falsely alleged that “massive fraud” took place in Democratic-leaning cities in the 2020 presidential election, supported objections to the Electoral College vote and argued that Trump had no role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Whatley also spoke on an “election integrity” panel at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he recalled his legal work for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount, claiming that “it was really the first time that Republicans got down into the trenches and fought,” and that “if we were not there, they were going to steal it.”

In February 2021, Whatley, as chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, worked on an effort to censure then-Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC.) for his vote to impeach Trump over his role in the insurrection. At the time, Whatley said it was “important for the party to go ahead and put out a vote and a statement that it disagrees with Senator Burr’s vote.”

When Whatley was awarded the general counsel post in 2023, McDaniel cited his “election integrity expertise” in describing what he brought to the position. During his tenure, the RNC has ramped up its legal activity centered around elections and voting as part of its “Protect the Vote” initiative.

The RNC has attempted to play both sides especially when it comes to mail-in voting — since June 2022 it has pushed its hypocritical “Bank Your Vote” initiative to “encourage, educate, and activate Republican voters” to vote early and by mail. Donald Trump and other top Republicans have even cut ads for the campaign, all the while the RNC has attacked mail-in voting in the courts — according to our case database, the RNC has been involved in 30 mail-in voting lawsuits across 12 states since 2021.

Anderson Clayton, the chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, wrote in an op-ed on Monday that “[i]t’s clear that Trump is looking for an RNC leader who won’t hesitate to disenfranchise voters, rig elections or dismantle our democracy. And Whatley certainly fits that bill.”

The vote to replace McDaniel is expected to take place during the party’s spring meeting held in Houston, Texas from March 7 to March 9. Although Trump has endorsed Whatley, the position is ultimately elected by members of the RNC.

Read about the RNC’s Bank Your Vote Initiative Here.