Alongside endorsing Whatley, Trump said in a statement that he will also throw his support behind Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, for the role of co-chairwoman at the RNC.
Trump’s endorsement solidifies his effort to bring about a leadership change and exert control over the committee. As part of the plan, Chris LaCivita, Trump’s co-campaign manager, has been tapped to serve as the RNC chief operating officer but will continue in his current role.
“For these reasons, I think my friend Michael Whatley should be the RNC’s next leader. Michael has been with me from the beginning, has done a great job in his home state of North Carolina, and is committed to election integrity, which we must have to keep fraud out of our election so it can’t be stolen,” Trump said in a statement.
“My very talented daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, has agreed to run as the RNC Co-Chair. Lara is an extremely talented communicator and is dedicated to all that MAGA stands for. She has told me she wants to accept this challenge and would be GREAT!” he also said.
The endorsements from Trump come after weeks of behind-the-scenes jockeying to lead the RNC as tensions between the GOP front-runner and the committee spilled into public view.
Trump and his top advisers had recently become dissatisfied with McDaniel’s leadership, resulting in pressure for the chairwoman to step down. That pressure became apparent when the former president met with McDaniel for two hours at Mar-a-Lago just days after the RNC’s annual winter meeting.
As CNN previously reported, McDaniel had offered to leave her position following the South Carolina primary later this month to allow the former president to install his own party chair, according to two party advisers.
It’s not unusual for a party nominee to quickly move to change leadership and install key lieutenants in their national committee after becoming either the de facto or official nominee. While Trump has not yet secured his party’s nomination, he is the far-and-away front-runner in the GOP primary. Polls show the former president leading former Gov. Nikki Haley in the upcoming South Carolina Republican primary.
Trump’s endorsement carries substantial weight among the 168 Republican National Committee members, who elect a new chair and co-chair.
Haley’s campaign responded to the endorsements Monday night, saying that Trump “is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
“Under Donald Trump and current RNC leadership, Republicans lost elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022, and now the RNC is effectively bankrupt,” campaign manager Betsy Ankney said in a statement, adding that Haley would push for everyone at the RNC to be fired.
Whatley had emerged in recent days as a favorite of Trump’s for the chairmanship. South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick and Florida Republican National Committeeman Joe Gruters had also been mentioned, but Trump and his team strongly signaled their preference for Whatley.
A CNN KFile review of Whatley’s comments following the 2020 presidential election found that he promoted lies and supported using the courts to overturn the results. Whatley, who has since acknowledged Joe Biden is the country’s legitimate president, serves as general counsel at the RNC overseeing litigation and what the organization calls its “election integrity” efforts.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Ebony Davis contributed to this report.
™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.