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Trump zeroes in on RNC chair pick

The Republican National Committee may sit on Capitol Hill, but its fate is being decided in Manhattan, where the field of contenders to run it has narrowed to two leading candidates, Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and Nick Ayers, a Republican operative currently serving as an aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

High in Trump Tower, dueling factions in President-elect Donald Trump’s orbit have lined up behind each of the candidates, according to half a dozen people familiar with the discussions.

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The situation is fluid, transition sources cautioned: Others in the mix include RNC official Matt Pinnell and veteran Bush operative Mercedes Schlapp, whose names are being floated as potential co-chairs as the two sides work toward a solution.

McDaniel is the preferred candidate of incoming White House chief of staff and current RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who wants to hand over the reins to a fellow committee member. He is at odds with Pence, Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon and GOP megadonor Rebekah Mercer, who are pushing to put the RNC, which will become the political vehicle of the Trump White House, under the control of an institutional outsider like Ayers or Schlapp.

The two sides represent the establishment and populist elements of Trump’s political world, and they have been jockeying over who will control the committee for nearly two weeks now. But a transition aide said that’s likely to come to an end soon, with a decision expected either Friday or Saturday.

The 168 members of the RNC’s executive committee will officially elect the party’s chair at their meeting in January, but the imprimatur of an incoming president is typically decisive — as a number of committee members acknowledged on Thursday.

“I will support whomever the president-elect tells me to support,” said New Jersey committeeman Bill Palatucci, a longtime ally and confidant of Gov. Chris Christie.

“Normally, when the president takes control, our mission is changed. We become a political arm of the president,” said California committeeman Shawn Steel.

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Priebus, on the one hand — and Pence, Bannon and Mercer, on the other — are essentially battling for Trump’s ear – and waiting for him to give a nod in one direction or the other. Trump’s decision, which is being closely watched by GOP insiders, is one of the first turf wars between the populist Bannon and the establishment Priebus, and its outcome is likely to be interpreted as an indicator of which faction will have greater sway over the direction of the party in the Trump era.

The RNC has typically not been run by somebody like Ayers, who has not previously served as a member of the organization’s executive committee. That’s why transition aides and a number of committee members believe that McDaniel, who is Mitt Romney’s niece and was successful in pulling Michigan into Trump’s column on Election Day, may have the upper hand.

The president-elect is said to have taken a personal liking to McDaniel. On Wednesday, during a closed-door meeting in New York with some 800 top donors, he asked her to stand up and said there were bigger things in store for her in the future, according to two people in the room. McDaniel has spoken frequently to people close to Trump and is expected to see him on Friday, one transition source said.

“It’s a question whether Reince, Bannon or Pence gets their pick, but I think Trump personally likes the person Reince likes the best,” said a different transition aide.

“I’m making the assumption that Reince Priebus, who has the ear of the president, is pretty much going to have 90 percent of the decisionmaking about who succeeds him, because he understands how delicate and how important the vehicle is,” said Steel. “So if it’s some name I’m not familiar with, I’ll have to assume Reince endorses it and that he thinks it’s a good idea.”

Priebus has also floated the idea of a joint chairmanship in which McDaniel and former Oklahoma GOP chairman Matt Pinnell, who directed the RNC’s outreach to the state parties on Trump’s behalf, would run the committee. Mercer and Pence have similarly toyed with the idea of a joint chairmanship between Ayers and former George W. Bush administration official Mercedes Schlapp, who during the campaign emerged as an enthusiastic Trump surrogate.

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The two sides have even discussed a compromise that would involve a co-chairmanship between a candidate representing each faction. RNC rules dictate that any joint chairmanship must be shared by a man and a woman. Priebus currently co-chairs the committee with Florida’s Sharon Day, but historically, co-chairs have not played a major public role.

Over the past two weeks, a number of other contenders, from Christie to Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie and Pennsylvania Republican operative David Urban – who was also spotted in Trump Tower on Wednesday – had also been floated as possible contenders, but transition sources said they are no longer under consideration.

Christie, who was leading the Trump transition until mid-November, when he was replaced by Pence, lobbied for the post last week and was quickly shot down, according to a transition aide. “He has been totally politically decapitated in a sad way,” another transition official said. “Just brutal.”

Bossie, who maintains a close relationship with both Bannon and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, is likely to wind up as the White House political director, according to multiple sources in and around the transition. Bossie did not respond to a request for comment.

The transition team is now considering Urban for other positions in the administration, according to a transition aide. Urban declined to comment.

Josh Dawsey contributed reporting.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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