The consensus at the 2024 Republican National Committee winter meeting in Las Vegas this week was clear among the pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions alike: Donald Trump will be the party’s presidential nominee this year.
“Let’s be honest about it. Trump is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party unless something drastic happens over the next few months,” said Alabama Republican Party chairman John Wahl. “And so with that in mind, yes, obviously the Democrats are already looking towards the general election. They’ve already started campaigning against Donald Trump. Republicans are ready to get there as well.”
The confidence among the body of 168 RNC committee members reflected the former president’s dominance and enduring grip over much of the GOP. Most members in attendance either said they are Trump supporters or pledged to support the party’s eventual nominee. Few, if any, publicly voiced support for Trump’s last remaining rival, Nikki Haley.
“I would say not only that he’s going to be the nominee, but the RNC is at least if not more pro-Trump than the average Republican,” said Rob Steele, an RNC committee member from Michigan. Steele estimated that the 168-member body is now made up of 70% of people who became chairs and joined the committee since Trump was first nominated in 2016.
Even as Trump nears the finish line of the Republican primary after neatly sweeping up victories in Iowa and New Hampshire last month, he is still facing four criminal indictments and is fighting a jury verdict in a civil defamation case. And Haley has vowed to stay in the race through her home state of South Carolina and beyond.
But members voiced confidence in how the primary would play out and what needed to come after as they also voiced a sense of urgency for the primary to wrap itself up even if it were just nominally. The race between Trump and Haley will come to a head in South Carolina on February 24. Haley and her team have sought to close Trump’s lead in the state by highlighting her record as governor and reminding voters of her roots in the state, and she has sought to downplay the potential results in the state.
But although South Carolina is Haley’s home state where she was elected twice to the top office, Trump has polled ahead of her there. He also has been endorsed by several politicians from the state, including Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, Gov. Henry McMaster, and Rep. Nancy Mace. Trump and his team have also made a point of scheduling fundraisers there to undercut what momentum Haley has had among deep pocketed donors.
At the winter meeting, Republican committee members and chairs again and again voiced an eagerness for the South Carolina primary to happen and an indisputable nominee to emerge.
“I think the process plays out how it’s going to play out but I think it’s coming to a conclusion sooner rather than later,” Florida Republican Party chairman Evan Power said in an interview. “I think when you look at what will happen if the Democrats win. They can control everything. They’ll eliminate the filibuster. They’ll pack the Supreme Court. We need to unite and get involved in this firefight as soon as possible.”
The prospect of Trump clinching the 2024 Republican presidential nominee as he faces his criminal indictments has been looming over the party as the primary nears its end. Still, Shawn Steel, an RNC committee member from California, brushed off the danger of that scenario for the GOP ticket. Steel said Republicans should take comfort in the possibility that none of the major trials Trump faces will come up before the election.
“There’s also the possibility of speculating that a meteorite shower would attack planet Earth and all of existence would go through a sixth major extinction…that would leave a mark no question about it,” Steel said. “But the good news is with all these possibilities, the legal consensus is none of these criminal trials are going to come up this year. That’s a fact of life. One civil trial might – one just did – and that doesn’t have the same force and effect.”
That’s a sentiment that many RNC officials shared.
“Unfortunately, the legal stuff is so out of line that it amounts to election interference,” Richard Porter, an RNC committee member from Illinois, said. “The cases are by and large ridiculous. So I don’t think people are persuaded by the merits of those cases.
Still, other RNC committee members worry that the multiple court cases could distract from making the election about Biden’s record.
“We would like the election to be a referendum on Biden’s failed presidency, but if we nominate Donald Trump, it will be about him rather than Biden,” Henry Barbour, an RNC committee member from Mississippi, said.
Throughout the meeting, the target of open frustration about Republicans’ electoral woes or fundraising numbers has been directed away from Trump – to the frustration of some members.
“The criticisms generally at (RNC chair Ronna McDaniel) are coming from Trumpers,” said Bill Palatucci, an RNC committee member from New Jersey who sometimes clashes with the more pro-Trump Republicans. “To me it’s pretty hypocritical and ironic that Ronna is taking criticisms.”
With the primary largely settled to committee members, concerns throughout the four-day meeting, instead, focused on other topics. RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has made a point lately of trying to direct the party to get a better handle on addressing abortion, following a string of losses for the party in the post-Roe world criticisms.
The theme from the meeting was not to make any gamble on the upcoming presidential election. Some committee members were given fake RNC poker chips and cards that read “Don’t Gamble on the result…Carefully vetted Rules [sic] are the safest bet.”
At the RNC winter meeting, the chairwoman showed three attack ads from Democrats on abortion to preview what Republicans should expect over the next year on the issue. She reiterated the points she had made recently, including that supporting blanket abortion bans without exceptions would spell doom for candidates, according to a source familiar with McDaniel’s remarks. Candidates and Republican campaigns needed to work to define themselves early on abortion rather than let Democrats do that, she contended.
The meeting also highlighted how the pro-Trump wing has created conflict within the party. The ongoing dispute between disparate factions of the state Republican Party was on broad display this week as both Kristina Karamo, the ousted chair of the Michigan GOP, and her replacement, former Ambassador Pete Hoekstra, were both credentialed as guests. Neither were fully recognized as the official chair or could vote as other chairs.
Critics among the RNC committee people also took aim at McDaniel’s handling of the organization’s budget and finances. That frustration came to a breaking point with a vote over a resolution that tried to add stipulations on what could go into the RNC budget – a move meant to handcuff the chair. That resolution failed decisively, according to a Republican in the room.
Party leaders have become increasingly vocal in condemning conservative critics of the RNC and whether it is prepared for the toughest months of the 2024 election cycle. When Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo delivered a speech on Thursday, he made a point of saying he had no patience “with actors taking misleading shots at the RNC” and highlighted the “critical role the RNC played in his election,” according to a Republican who attended that speech.
Lombardo, who flipped control of the Nevada governor’s mansion in 2022, emphasized in his speech the importance of matching a campaign’s message to the state or district that campaign is competing in, according to another Republican who attended his winter committee meeting speech.
“He was basically saying everybody needs to quit complaining and beat Democrats,” a committee member who attended the speech said.