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Who Is Michael Whatley, The Potential Frontrunner To Replace Ronna McDaniel As RNC Chair?

Former President Donald Trump is reportedly eyeing the North Carolina GOP chairman to succeed Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel if she follows through on plans to resign, according to The New York Times.

The outlet reported Tuesday evening that McDaniel has informed Trump of her intention to step down following the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary, where the former president is currently leading former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley by double digits. Michael Whatley, who heads the battleground state’s Republican Party and serves as the general counsel for the RNC, is the leading choice that Trump is expected to support for the position, multiple sources familiar told the NYT.

“Nothing has changed. This will be decided after South Carolina,” Keith Schipper, spokesperson for the RNC, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement.

Whatley was elected as state party chairman in June 2019, where he received over 50% support against former Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, according to The Charlotte Observer. The chairman-elect pledged for a party “reset” ahead of the 2020 election, where he vowed to help re-elect Trump and keep the Senate seat now held by Ted Budd in Republican hands.

During his time as state party chairman, Whatley saw Republican wins for Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis in 2020 and Budd in 2022, as well as the regaining of a GOP supermajority in the state legislature and the flipping of the state Supreme Court, according to the North State Journal.

Trump reportedly favors Whatley for the position, as he’s “a stop the steal guy” who could deliver election integrity efforts as RNC chair ahead of November, when the former president is likely to face-off with President Joe Biden again, the NYT reported. The former president admires Whatley’s leadership in the swing-state that Trump narrowly won in 2020, according to the NYT.

Trump has already led Biden in eight polls for North Carolina this cycle anywhere from 1 to 11 points, according to the RealClearPolitics survey compilation.

Whatley, who has been reelected twice to the chairmanship, previously served as senior advisor to the transition teams for the Trump-Pence campaign, according to the state party’s website.

In January 2023, Trump endorsed Whatley to be the RNC co-chair, but he eventually withdrew his candidacy before South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick secured the position, according to the NYT.

Whatley has supported the former president’s claims that the previous election was stolen. The chairman has touted his party’s proactiveness ahead of the 2020 election, which he has argued prevented Democrats from interfering in the state’s elections.

Ahead of the 2022 midterms, Whatley’s state GOP created an Election Integrity Committee to recruit volunteers and poll watchers, as well as provide “statutory and administrative rule recommendations,” according to The News & Observer.

Whatley held numerous positions before running for state party chairman, including serving as a federal law clerk, on the Florida Recount Team for George W. Bush’s recall effort, as a senior official in Bush’s administration and as chief of staff to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, according to his campaign website.

The chairman attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for his undergraduate studies, and received a Masters degree in religion from Wake Forest University. Whatley later graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a law degree and a Masters in theology.

While Trump could advocate on behalf of Whatley’s potential candidacy, a special election would have to take place for all of the RNC’s 168 members nationwide to vote on a new chair, according to NBC News.

Trump’s campaign, Whatley and the North Carolina GOP did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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Mary Lou Masters

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Mary Lou Masters

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