The committee stopped short of endorsing Trump’s reelection hopes, a move that some members had previously discussed. One voting member of the committee said there were concerns that such a resolution could have triggered Federal Election Commission rules that would limit the party’s spending abilities in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Instead, the RNC, a voting body made up of 168 members, simply offered Trump and his presidency its “undivided support.” The resolution praised his courage, his “bold and innovative” talents as a communicator, and his decision to follow through on campaign promises.
“President Donald Trump has made gains which have benefited Americans no matter their ethnicity, race or persuasion, with a new message of hope, opportunity, prosperity, and national security that has already improved the lives of millions of people,” the document said.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was also expected to be reelected to a second term at the meeting, after leading the committee through an election cycle that demonstrated the party’s significant fundraising, organizing and campaign prowess.
The committee deployed 550 staff members to work on the midterms in 28 states and raised $317 million during the cycle, nearly twice the $171 million raised by the Democratic National Committee. The party narrowly expanded its Senate majority, while it lost the House.
Several Republican politicians, including former Ohio governor John Kasich and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have left open the possibility of running against Trump in the 2020 Republican presidential primary. The rules for that contest were set at the 2016 convention and cannot easily be changed. But there has been little sign among the party leadership welcoming such a challenge.
The RNC voted last May to eliminate the committee charged with organizing Republican debates for the 2020 primary. McDaniel could still reappoint the committee at a later date. An adviser to Kasich said debates would probably be scheduled if early primary polls showed Trump in danger of losing early contests in states such as New Hampshire.
Primary challenges have a history of damaging the reelection hopes of incumbent presidents, even when they are not successful. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter fought off a challenge by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and in 1992 President George H.W. Bush beat back a bid by Pat Buchanan, who claimed 23 percent of the primary popular vote. Bush and Carter lost their reelection bids.
Trump’s approval ratings have declined in recent weeks as the government has been shut down, with the RealClearPolitics average of national polls dropping from a recent high of 44.4 percent in October to 40.9 percent this week. At the same point in his presidency, President Barack Obama had an approval rating of 50 percent, according to Gallup.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll in the second week of January found that 53 percent of Americans considered Trump and Republicans in Congress to have been mainly responsible for the shutdown, compared with 29 percent who blamed Democrats in Congress. More than half of the country opposed Trump’s demand for building a wall along the Southern border.