Critics Say the RNC Wasted Money on Flowers and Limos. Will Trump’s Campaign Manager Put It Back On Track?

Mother Jones; Alex Brandon/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.On Monday, former President Donald Trump issued a statement endorsing a slate of candidates for leadership at the Republican National Committee. Earlier this month, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel had offered to step down after the South Carolina primary amid mounting criticism from the party’s far-right flank. Among those Trump proposed taking over key party posts: His daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Chris LaCivita, his campaign co-chair and senior adviser. “Chris will manage the RNC’s day-to-day operations,” Trump said in a written statement, “so it will become a fighting machine for 2024 and use all the tools available to win for the American people.”
Despite the edict-like announcement, Trump can’t take over the RNC by fiat. All 168 members will have to vote on the leadership changes, and their first meeting isn’t until the summer, though it’s possible they could vote in the spring when they get together for a training session.
The announcement caused some outrage in certain quarters who considered it to be at best premature, given that Trump is not yet the party’s nominee. Others also cringed at a lineup that seemed to indicate Trump was finalizing the MAGA takeover of the Republican Party. His former lawyer Michael Cohen, for instance, ridiculed the idea of installing Lara Trump as the party head, describing her as “an idiot” on a podcast Tuesday. Yet charging LaCivita with running the RNC would be a very savvy move by Trump.
“Chris LaCivita is an incredible straight shooter who does not suffer fools,” David Bossie, who served as deputy manager of Trump’s 2016 campaign told me for a recent profile I wrote of LaCivita.
Best known for his work launching the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad campaign that helped sink former Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 run for president, LaCivita, a former Marine, has extensive experience working inside the party. He started as the executive director of the Virginia GOP and went on to a stint as political director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also served as head of the RNC rules committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Never-Trump Republicans were contesting Trump’s nomination.
When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, LaCivita recalled that the RNC helped save Trump’s 2016 campaign after he unexpectedly won the Republican nomination for president. Until that point, the former reality TV star’s campaign consisted mainly of big rallies with virtually no ground game, he said. The RNC, then headed by Reince Priebus who went on to become Trump’s first White House chief of staff, had to fill in many of the gaps in the infrastructure to get him elected.
LaCivita’s first remit in any return to the RNC is likely to be addressing its spending priorities, which have been heavily criticized in right-wing media. While some Republicans had expressed fears that Trump’s takeover of the RNC was a move to get the party to cover his mounting legal bills, it’s clear that the party has financial problems of its own to contend with.
Sigal Chattah is an RNC committeewoman from Nevada who supported the attempt by conservative lawyer Harmeet Dhillon to oust McDaniel in 2022. I asked her recently what the MAGA folks wanted to change in the national party. “Utilizing donor dollars to win elections would be a good start,” she said. “Have you looked at the past four election cycles?”
She suggested that the RNC has been squandering money on “flowers and consultants” rather than getting candidates elected. She was referring to reports from the conservative news outlet RedState, which has criticized the RNC for profligate spending at a time when the party is heading into a critical election with a cash shortage.
At the end of January, the outlet dinged the RNC for allegedly spending, among other things, nearly $300,000 on office supplies (the Democratic National Committee, by comparison, spent $45,000); over a million dollars on management consulting; $263,000 on limo rentals; and splurging on more than $70,000 on floral arrangements, which is down from the $321,000 it spent during the 2022 election cycle. (According to RedState, the DNC’s floral arrangement budget between October 2022 and November 2023 was $7,000.)
Concerns about spending under McDaniel have been simmering for a while, but it burst into the open after the Republican shellacking in the 2022 midterms. RedState reported in December 2022 that the RNC had devoted more than half a million dollars to private jets in the midterm election cycle and had spent lavishly on Broadway show tickets and other entertainment expenses as well as luxury retreats.
The RNC fired back at the report, noting that it was written by a client of Dhillon’s, who was at the time trying to knock off McDaniel from the RNC’s top spot. “If critics want to misrepresent and push false narratives about the RNC’s spending this past cycle, they should do the math before realizing it only adds up to 0.8% of the total amount the Chairwoman raised,” Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for Ronna McDaniel’s re-election told RedState.
Nonetheless, the RNC ended 2023 with only about $8 million in cash on hand, compared with the DNC’s $21 million. At their winter meeting in January, the RNC members reportedly voted to take out a $10 million line of credit to help shore up the committee’s finances.
LaCivita told me that while working on the Trump campaign, his main focus is often on “boring cash flow and shit,” something it seems, the RNC could use right now. “Every penny will be used properly,” Trump declared in his statement Monday night endorsing LaCivita for the job. “New Day.”