Politics

GOP sends message to challengers: It's Trump in 2020

RNC to express 'undivided support'

(CNN) - Republican Party officials are delivering an unmistakable message as the 2020 campaign season begins: The GOP is the party of Trump.

The Republican National Committee is poised to express its "undivided support for President Donald J. Trump and his effective Presidency" as the committee's members conclude their annual winter meeting here on Friday. The resolution -- a symbolic yet unusual step -- is just the latest indication of GOP officials closing ranks around Trump even as the President's national approval rating has slumped and the prospects of a GOP primary challenge become more real.

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More significantly, the public articulation of support comes on the heels of an unprecedented merger between Trump's re-election campaign and the RNC, which GOP officials were briefed on during the three-day New Mexico retreat. The merger will bring the Trump re-election campaign and the RNC's field organizing and fundraising efforts under one roof, dedicating party resources to re-electing Trump before he is officially renominated.

Trump campaign officials here touted the merger as "revolutionary" and said it was largely aimed at streamlining the Trump re-election effort in 2020. But GOP officials also described the effort as a way to dissuade would-be primary challengers, forging ahead as though Trump would face no intra-party challenge.

The RNC resolution, supporters said, would amplify that message.

"I think the RNC passing this resolution sends a clear and distinct message to all potential primary opponents that there's no room for you with the base of our party and that there's no oxygen for any candidacy in its infancy to get off the ground," said David Bossie, the President's former deputy campaign manager and an RNC committeeman.

Even as prominent Republicans have voiced concerns, and some even outright opposition, to Trump, that brewing insurgency was nowhere to be seen among the RNC's 168 voting members -- pulled from each state and US territory.

"I support it," said Jim Dicke, the Republican committeeman from Ohio, of the resolution. "Look, if Ronald Reagan didn't take the nomination away from Gerald Ford, and Ted Kennedy couldn't take the nomination away from Jimmy Carter, there is no way that a sitting president in the 21st century is going to be denied the nomination for a second term from his party if he wants it."

And Trump campaign officials are eager to maintain that status quo in anticipation of the party's 2020 nominating convention next year in Charlotte, North Carolina. The re-election campaign has already dedicated a team of operatives to focus on heading off any potential cracks in support for the President at the state party level. Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken said she had been contacted by the team in December and was impressed by the campaign's early focus on convention delegates.

Headed by former White House officials Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the small team plans to lay the groundwork to ensure the 2020 nominating convention is as drama-free -- and pro-Trump -- as possible.

The coalescing drew discontented grumbles from the anti-Trump wing of the party.

Drawing inspiration from Trump's own talk of "rigged" elections in 2016, Defending Democracy Together, a conservative nonprofit organization, launched an ad on Fox News' "Fox & Friends" urging the party not to "rig" the GOP primary contest.

John Weaver, an adviser to potential GOP presidential primary challenger John Kasich, echoed that message.

"Rigging the system internally won't sit well with some voters," he argued.

And the effort from party officials to close ranks around Trump, he added, indicates that the President's allies are concerned about his standing.

"Is it signaling strength or weakness if you feel like you need to do something like this?" Weaver said. "The fact that they're walking around wringing their hands, feeling like they have to do something, doesn't strike me like they feel very confident in their position."

But RNC committee members, Trump campaign aides and top RNC officials dismissed the criticism, touting the consolidation as a sign of the party's support for Trump, whose approval rating among Republicans remains stalwart even as he is losing ground with independents.

"President Trump has incredible support amongst Republican voters and the full support of the RNC," said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a statement. "Our unprecedented relationship with the President and his campaign will be key to his re-election and ensuring we continue this great American comeback."

Carolyn McLarty, the RNC committeewoman from Ohio who introduced the resolution, insisted her aim was simply "to encourage the President."

"We stand behind him as the RNC. We represent the grass roots from across the country, and with all the media and attacks and things that have been going on, it was time for us to stand up and say we support you, you're doing a good job," McLarty said.

She rebuffed suggestions -- from both the President's supporters and his opponents -- that the resolution is aimed at dissuading primary challengers.

"They're wrong," she said.


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