RNC's 'Trumpification' Continues With Hiring of McEnany
In February 2016, the thick of the Republican presidential primary, Kayleigh McEnany tweeted a quote from then-candidate Donald Trump during a debate: “We are building a new Republican Party!!"
The exclamation points reflected her unblinking enthusiasm for Trump, which McEnany broadcast daily during the campaign as a booster of his message on CNN. (Full disclosure: Rebecca Berg is a political analyst for CNN.) At the time, McEnany was little more than a cable news curiosity, having climbed into the prime-time spotlight from relative obscurity as one of the few professional Republicans eager to defend Trump. The brash candidate, meanwhile, had been gaining momentum on the campaign trail — but was still laughed off by many Republicans as an unserious contender.
That was the old Republican Party. Now, Trump is in the White House and McEnany is the new face of the GOP, having signed on as the Republican National Committee’s spokesperson for television and radio, the committee announced Monday.
In a statement unveiling her new role, McEnany said she is “eager to talk about Republican ideas and values and have important discussions about issues affecting Americans across this country.” McEnany “will be an integral part” of the committee’s work, added RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
The committee’s decision to tap McEnany, a polarizing avatar of the Trump phenomenon whose rise in national politics was as unlikely as her chosen candidate’s, reflects how fully the Republican Party apparatus has now accepted Trumpworld into its fold, and vice versa.
“Now,” said Tim Miller, a former deputy communications director for the RNC, McEnany “is, in a sense, the ‘establishment.’”
There was no guarantee that this transition would be peaceful. Both sides entered into the new administration with emotional baggage and trust issues: Many professional Republicans had rejected Trump’s candidacy, with some pledging to fight it until the bitter end; and Trump and his team did not forget it, remaining skeptical of the party apparatus even into the general election.
As the top-ranking Republican in the land, however, Trump has begun to remake the party in his own image, with the RNC in a supporting role. In a May interview with RealClearPolitics, McDaniel said the committee would act as “an extension of the White House” under her leadership.
“We work with the White House every day,” she added, “and President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party.”
At that time, there was a strong connective thread between the RNC and the White House, with former RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer serving as the president’s press secretary, and former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in the chief of staff role. But each resigned last month, casting some doubt on the future of the relationship.
Following Priebus’s departure, however, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured reporters that the administration intended to maintain its “good relationship” with the committee, adding, “We’re going to continue working with the party, and we’re going to continue doing what we came here to do.”
Indeed, for an administration that has bucked countless precedents and upset the political order, the RNC’s wholesale integration with the Trump administration has been a remarkably normal feature.
“This is the natural order of things,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the RNC. “When there’s a Republican president, the committee works for the president.”
Trump, once a vocal antagonist of the RNC, has fully embraced it as president. In June he headlined a fundraiser at his eponymous hotel in Washington, helping to rake in money for his joint fundraising account with the committee.
The president’s family has likewise welcomed the collaboration: Eric Trump and his wife, Lara, visited the RNC last week to rally staffers there; afterward, the committee and Lara Trump each posted a photo of the private event to Instagram, with the latter’s caption praising the organization’s “incredible work.”
“I think the involvement of the family certainly should be a strong signal of how the administration plans to run the RNC,” said Heye. “That’s been going on basically since Day One.”
Behind the scenes, Lara Trump has also been involved in producing a regular campaign video series relaying the “real news” to Trump’s supporters — and, on Monday, McEnany anchored an installment of the series, highlighting the “great economic news” in the latest jobs report, and the president’s support for legislation that would reduce legal immigration: “finally putting the American worker first,” McEnany said.
Rick Tyler, a former campaign spokesperson for Ted Cruz, panned the production as “Pyongyang-style-Happy-Talk.” But if the role struck some Republicans as unusual for an RNC spokesperson, it might be because the video reflected the style and strategy of an unorthodox administration — and a new Republican Party.
“Every president puts their mark on what the national committee should be, and what this president wants is a committee that is a temple to him,” Miller said.
More surprising than the RNC “accept[ing] the Trumpification of the party” are “the Republicans that want to pretend that Donald Trump is just the crazy uncle with a Twitter feed, and not the leader of the party and the country,” Miller added. “The RNC is just accepting reality.”