By Todd Spangler
Ronna Romney McDaniel -- who as state Republican chair helped deliver Michigan to a Republican presidential nominee for the first time since 1988, and had to navigate some thorny family politics to do so -- became the Republicans' national party chair Thursday, with President-elect Donald Trump's backing.
Romney McDaniel was elected by the Republican National Committee a day before Trump was to take the oath of office on the west portico of the U.S. Capitol. She becomes the second female chairman of the committee in its history.
"Thank you for investing your trust in me to lead this committee in an exciting new era," Romney McDaniel said during the meeting at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. She added, "I am a mom from Michigan. I am an outsider. And I am here to make Donald Trump and Republicans everywhere successful."
Her vote was by acclamation -- which wasn't surprising given that the president-elect had given her his endorsement for the post last month.
By ascending to the post, Romney McDaniel takes over a party emboldened by Trump's election in November, which was largely brought about by the Republican nominee breaking through what was considered a Democratic firewall in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- three states that together hadn't backed a Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Trump won the three states together by fewer than 80,000 votes, or about six-tenths of a percent of the 14 million votes cast in those three states. In Michigan, the margin was less than 11,000 votes.
Romney McDaniel led the Michigan Republican Party even as her own family split over Trump's candidacy. Her uncle, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was the party's nominee for president in 2012, loudly denounced Trump, saying his boorish behavior disqualified him from being president. But Romney McDaniel served as a Trump delegate and continued to try to get her uncle to switch his loyalties.
"President-elect Trump's movement gave the forgotten and the ignored a voice and the power to bring change to Washington," she said.
Her grandfather was the late George Romney, a three-term governor of Michigan in the 1960s and President Richard Nixon's secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
"I'm very proud. She's fantastic," said her father and Mitt's brother, attorney G. Scott Romney, who attended the meeting to elect her. "I think she handled herself superbly."
"No question, this will be the biggest challenge of her life," he added, saying he knows she's up to it.
In her speech, Romney McDaniel criticized the Democratic Party as being "the elite, coastal, redistributionist party of the status quo," and called Republicans "the national, opportunity-for-everyone, party of change."
"Whether you have been left behind by the stagnant economy, the failed promises of Obamacare or the general belief that the government treats its citizens as an afterthought, we hear you," she said. "To the factory worker in Erie, Pa., we hear you. To the woman at the salon in Ypsilanti, we hear you."
She also said she was "humbled" to become the party's second female chairman and its first since the 1970s, saying, "For too long, Democrats have hailed themselves as the party of women. ... Women are not a special-interest group. We care about all issues."
The RNC is a 168-member body that coordinates national platforms, fund-raising and policies for the party. Its former chairman, Reince Priebus, is headed to the White House to be Trump's chief of staff following the inauguration of the new president at the U.S. Capitol at noon Friday.
"I step away from this job fully satisfied that we on this committee have accomplished our goals," said Priebus, who was elected party chairman in 2011, defeating a field that included former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis. Preibus has seen the Republicans not only win the White House, but take control of the U.S. Senate and build majorities in statehouses across the U.S., and take governorships.
"You can't do much better than Ohio and Michigan on election night," said Priebus. "Ronna led the demolition team that took down the defunct Democratic blue wall. ... She barely slept this cycle because she was so focused on winning."
"Ronna knew what she was doing," he said. "She is the right woman to lead the RNC and it is time for a woman to lead the RNC."
Romney McDaniel was not well-known in national political circles before working on her uncle's campaign for president in 2012 and taking over as state chairman in 2015. But Michigan's turn -- as well as her loyalty to Trump's campaign -- helped launch her toward the chairmanship.
Besides Romney, state Attorney General Bill Schuette and former state party chairman Bobby Schostak were among those in attendance at the meeting. Gov. Rick Snyder -- who remained neutral throughout the election season -- also issued a statement congratulating Romney McDaniel.
"Ronna is a perfect example for Michigan, and the nation, about Michiganders' relentless determination for success," he said. "Above all, I am very proud to call her my friend and wish her the best of luck."
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