Feb 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's billion-dollar man: Chris LaCivita will steer spending by campaign, RNC

Trump senior aide Chris LaCivita

Donald Trump wants senior adviser Chris LaCivita, above, to also be the RNC's chief operating officer. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Chris LaCivita, a Trump campaign senior adviser, is in line to take over a GOP operation expected to spend $1 billion on the '24 race — effectively merging Donald Trump's campaign with the Republican National Committee, and enhancing his already tight grip on the party.

Why it matters: Trump's move to have LaCivita, one of his campaign's top two officials, also serve as the RNC's chief operating officer will make the two entities "a distinction without a difference," one senior Trump adviser told Axios.

  • It's not unusual for a party's presidential nominee to take control of the party apparatus.
  • But even before he's officially the Republican nominee, Trump is taking over the GOP in a way that could expand his influence well beyond the 2024 presidential campaign.

Zoom in: LaCivita — a no-nonsense former Marine and longtime Republican operative — will lead Trump's push to shake up the GOP's leadership.

  • "You can expect a Marine's approach to politics," said John Ashbrook, who helped run the pro-Trump Preserve America Super PAC in 2020 with LaCivita. "He'll arm the building with people who want to win and demand results."
  • Trump aims to merge the RNC and the campaign even further by having his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, be the party's co-chair. He has endorsed North Carolina GOP chair Michael Whatley, another Trump loyalist, to succeed RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

Trump's team wants to make the RNC less siloed than in 2020, when his second presidential campaign used the RNC largely as a bank.

  • The RNC is expected to take the lead in the GOP's field operation, to make it easier for the national party to move money to state parties, insiders tell Axios.
  • LaCivita would sign off on key spending decisions, including which vendors the RNC chooses for mailings, polling and TV ads.
  • LaCivita and fellow Trump senior adviser Susie Wiles are expected to make budget recommendations for both the RNC and the Trump campaign.
  • Between the campaign, the RNC and supporting GOP committees, it’s expected to amount to a $1 billion-plus enterprise.

The intrigue: The senior official from Trump's campaign said the RNC won't pay Trump's legal bills. Last year two PACs supporting Trump paid more than $50 million in legal bills for him.

  • There was a big debate at the RNC's winter meeting over whether the party should help cover Trump's legal expenses once he became the GOP presidential nominee. He's expected to incur tens of millions more in legal costs this year.
  • Trump's campaign and the RNC face a financial disadvantage against President Biden and the Democratic National Committee after the RNC's fundraising difficulties last year and the millions Trump has spent to fend off primary opponents.

The big picture: Money has always been top of mind for LaCivita, who monitors political ad spending and focuses on "moving the mud" — building ground operations in key early and swing states.

  • LaCivita said earlier in the primary season that Trump wasn't doing many rallies because they were expensive — "half a million a pop," he told the conservative podcast Ruthless.
  • He also told reporters just before the Iowa caucuses last month that the "collectors' edition" caucus training book and gold-embroidered hats for volunteers "cost us a damn fortune."
  • But he added: "That sh*t matters to [our Iowa] operation that's run by volunteers. It's about creating this team atmosphere ... the 'we're all in it together' kind of thing."

LaCivita was described by operatives who've worked with him as "a bulldog ... Easy to work with — unless you're bullsh*tting."

  • His campaign history includes leading the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, which in 2004 questioned Democratic nominee John Kerry's Vietnam War record.
  • He's "an ideas guy" with a talent for storytelling and driving a narrative, another person who has known LaCivita for decades said. (LaCivita wrote the lead-in for a Swift boat ad on the back of a napkin, one associate recalled.)

LaCivita told Axios: "The Trump campaign and the RNC will work seamlessly to return President Trump to the White House."

What they're saying: Trump's plan for the RNC drew fire on Tuesday from former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, his remaining opponent in the GOP primaries.

  • Trump is "changing out [the RNC's] leadership, so that it's somebody that he prefers and his daughter-in-law to co-chair?" Haley said in an interview on Fox News Channel.
  • "He's putting his campaign manager as the director? Are we gonna let him just take over the party that's gonna control the convention, too? At what point do we not see the problem? We don't have kings in this country."
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