US president-elect Donald Trump has picked Michigan Republican chief Ronna McDaniel to chair the national party, in part as a reward for netting the state’s first election victory in 28 years.
The choice of Ms McDaniel, 43, as Republican National Committee chairwoman was confirmed by a person familiar with Mr Trump’s decision.
Ms McDaniel, the niece of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, also earned credit with Mr Trump by supporting him faithfully after he won the party’s 2016 presidential nomination – despite sharp criticism from her famous uncle.
“Ronna McDaniel, what a great job you and your people have done,” Mr Trump told thousands at Deltaplex Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last week.
“I was very impressed with you. She didn’t sleep for six months!”
Mr Trump’s decision also marks a key victory for outgoing RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
As Mr Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, Mr Priebus, who guided the at-times unwieldy candidate through the election, supported Ms McDaniel as his replacement. Other Trump loyalists were urging him to name Nick Ayers, a close adviser to vice president-elect Mike Pence.
While Mr Trump’s team has said there is no outright power struggle, Mr Trump’s deliberations over secretary of state were seen as an indicator of influence between Mr Priebus and senior adviser Steve Bannon.
Mr Priebus was seen as supporting Mr Romney to become Mr Trump’s secretary of state. On Tuesday, Mr Trump named Exxon Mobil boss Rex Tillerson as his choice for the nation’s top diplomat.
Ms McDaniel would seem to validate Mr Priebus’ performance as the chairman who turned around the cash-strapped committee and ended its presidential losing streak. She would probably maintain the strategy of early spending in states, digital data and local party infrastructure, RNC insiders said.
“They said a Republican could never win Michigan,” Ms McDaniel told the audience in Grand Rapids last Friday. “I knew better. You knew better and Donald Trump knew better.”
For her work in Michigan, part of a swathe of northern states that had eluded Republicans since the 1980s, Ms McDaniel is the right call, said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi.
Mr Trump defied decades of precedent by also carrying Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – once-powerful, working-class Democratic states where manufacturing in smaller cities has declined.
Ms McDaniel will face immediate pressure to hold on to control of Congress in 2018 “I think she can help us hold a lot of these Rust Belt Democrats who voted for Donald Trump with good leadership and execution,” said Mr Barbour.
“Plus, she was willing to step out and support our nominee when her very famous uncle was doing the opposite. Now, that’s leadership.”
Mr Trump’s choices for RNC chairman and other party leadership positions carry immense sway with its members, who will vote on the team early next year.
Should the committee approve Mr Trump’s recommendation, Ms McDaniel will become the second woman to be elected RNC chairman, and the first in 40 years.
That is a good sign for the party and Mr Trump, said Michigan Republican Bob LaBrant, considering the 2005 recordings of Mr Trump making sexually degrading remarks that were released during the campaign.
“That sends a signal we need to send right now,” said Mr LaBrant, former political director for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “And Ronna is the right one to carry the message.”