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Jockeying for RNC Chairmanship Already Underway

The White House battle comes to an end Tuesday, but the fight over the future of the Republican Party is just beginning.
Image: Reince Priebus
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus campaigns for Donald Trump during a rally at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire on Nov. 1, 2016.Matt Rourke / AP

The White House battle comes to an end Tuesday, but the fight over the future of the Republican Party is just beginning.

And the first casualty in that war may be Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who’s expected to face a challenge for the chairmanship regardless of the outcome on Election Night.

“I’m pretty sure that, based upon what we know now, there will be a challenge” to Priebus, Arizona Republican Committeeman Bruce Ash in the days leading up to the election.

Publicly, committee members warn any interested parties to “shut your trap and worry about the election,” as Massachusetts Republican Committeeman Ron Kaufman said.

“Most people who start feeling their way around now get hurt,” he said of potential candidates who’ve shown interest before the election.

But privately, interested candidates are already strategizing their way to the chairmanship and courting support from Priebus’ detractors.

The list of potential contenders is nearly as long as the list of GOP presidential primary candidates, with just as many warring factions and alliances. Members have privately named everyone from Matt Pinnell and South Carolina GOP Chairman Matt Moore, to Mississippi Republican Committeeman Henry Barbour and Maryland Republican Committeeman Dave Bossie, currently an adviser to Trump’s campaign.

Some have been more overt than others. Ned Ryun, a Virginia GOP operative with deep ties to the conservative movement, has said publicly if Trump loses Tuesday he’ll challenge Priebus.

Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham, a Trump loyalist, hasn’t been shy about his interest, and multiple committeemembers said he and his political staff have engaged in thinly-veiled discussions about the chairmanship at recent party events.

Carly Fiorina sparked speculation over the summer with her active outreach to state party chairmen, though many members now believe she's eyeing the Virginia Senate race instead.

Others are quick to tamp down any public speculation. Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges is widely expected to run, but said in an interview he’s “not going to even think about it until this election’s over.”

“I can’t take my eye off the ball until the polls are closed,” he said, though he acknowledged there are “people who have been encouraging me” to consider it.

Many of the committee’s most prominent and seasoned members — those who will hold outsize influence over the eventual vote — say the chairmanship is Priebus’s if he wants it.

“If Reince decides he wants to do it again, he will be elected by a heavy margin,” said New Hampshire Republican Committeeman Steve Duprey.

And Priebus’s allies have privately signaled he has the support, with Steve Munisteri — a Texas GOP operative brought on by the RNC to help whip delegates to stave off a contested convention — telling some members he has a list of names to prove it.

But he won’t go down without a fight. A growing faction of younger RNC members have said they’re interested in seeing new blood at the head of the RNC; many members with ties to the party’s grassroots community say they’d like to see a shakeup not only at the top of the committee but in many of its rules, after this cycle’s messy primary fight.

Indeed, many of the groups involved in the contested convention battle are gearing up for another, this time to remove Priebus from his seat. Dane Waters, a strategist involved with one of the groups trying to unbind delegates at the convention, said those groups would like to see Priebus deposed.

“There’s a lot of questions about the current chair having, in our opinion, allowed this primary fight and losing campaign to have happened. And so we firmly believe that what’s happened is Preibus’ responsibility, and he should suffer the consequences of that,” he said.