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RNC Chairwoman McDaniel travels 20,000 miles to lock down delegates for Trump

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 4/17/2019 David M. Drucker
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President Trump’s aggressive campaign to lock down delegates to the 2020 Republican nominating convention in Charlotte, N.C., has sent the party’s top official on a six-day, 20,000-mile journey to remote American areas in the Pacific.

Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee's chairwoman, was set Wednesday to headline a fundraiser for the Hawaii GOP near Honolulu on the heels of events earlier in the week with local party and business leaders in Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean. Republicans in U.S. territories hold binding presidential nominating contests and select delegates to the national convention, even though they don’t vote in general elections.

McDaniel’s trip, the first of its kind for an RNC chairman, is part of the Trump campaign’s broader push to secure loyal convention delegates and block primary challengers like Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor who announced his 2020 bid Monday, from gaming RNC rules and earning the right to have their name placed in nomination in Charlotte. Such a move wouldn’t topple Trump, but it could embarrass him.

RNC spokesman Rick Gorka told the Washington Examiner that McDaniel’s travels out west “are a great opportunity to work with and visit local parties and Republican leaders — to help boost fundraising for the local parties and help them have a voice in the Trump administration.” In Guam, McDaniel also met with Republican officials from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, another U.S. territory in the region.

McDaniel was to be in Guam on Monday and Tuesday for fundraisers and other party building activities before heading to the island of Oahu to headline a Lincoln Day fundraising dinner to benefit the Hawaii GOP. As with many Americans in small states and far-off territories that appear politically inconsequential, many Republicans McDaniel is visiting no doubt often feel ignored by Washington.

Her effort could keep Republican delegates in the Trump fold during the convention if a primary challenger tries to make mischief. Under RNC rules, a Republican running to block Trump from renomination could be placed in nomination in Charlotte by winning a plurality of votes in just five states or U.S. territories.

Trump is supported overwhelmingly by Republican voters, with his approval rating around 90 percent in most recent polls. But some Republicans have worried that a primary challenger might sway voters in deep-blue states, like Hawaii or in territories like Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and others.

To protect its flank, the Trump campaign early on assembled an extensive operation to woo convention delegates, with full-time staff led by senior advisers Justin Clark and Bill Stepien.

The likelihood of a serious primary challenge — Weld is viewed as unlikely to make much headway — appears lower since the president was essentially cleared of colluding with Russia in 2016 by special counsel Robert Mueller.

But some of Trump’s opponents inside the GOP believe more shoes might yet drop from other investigations or oversight being conducted by Democrats in the House, opening the door to a nomination challenge. Some of Trump's biggest supporters are urging the president not to take anything for granted, even Weld, a liberal Republican who was recently a member of the Libertarian Party.

"Ronald Reagan weakened Gerald Ford in 1976 and Ted Kennedy weakened Jimmy Carter in 1980. Both of those primary challenges to sitting presidents lead to a general election loss," said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who supports the president. "Trump is very popular with his base but should take a Weld challenge extremely seriously, as history shows it would weaken his general election chances."

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