SANTA ANA PUEBLO, New Mexico — On Day 35 of the partial government shutdown and hours after another one of his associates was charged in the ongoing Russia investigation, the Republican National Committee unanimously committed on Friday to give President Donald Trump its “undivided support” — an unusual move party officials could not recall making for other incumbent presidents.
At its first set of meetings of the 2020 election cycle, Republican Party officials rallied around Trump and shared with its members how closely aligned the reelection campaign will be with the party committee in structure, staff, and messaging, members attending the closed-door meetings told BuzzFeed News. The committee also revealed a new program called “Project GROW” that would give state parties incentives for hitting certain metrics such as voter contact, voter registration, volunteer training, and fundraising that would ultimately benefit Trump and down-ballot Republicans ahead of 2020, according to three members.
During the three-day meeting — with most sessions closed to press — at a luxury resort in the Native American Santa Ana Pueblo, members also defended the president’s position on the border wall and shrugged off any concerns regarding the special counsel’s investigation. Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone was indicted and arrested early Friday morning — just hours before Republican officials fully committed themselves to Trump.
Instead, RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, who was elected to a second term Friday, repeatedly praised Trump in a speech for nominating conservative judges across the country, and for passing tax cuts and criminal justice reform. Her speech, which also had a “10-year challenge” comparison between the Obama and Trump administrations, included only a fleeting reference to the government shutdown and no mention of the wall, Trump’s top priority.
“Democrats refuse to work with President Trump,” McDaniel said in her speech. “He has offered them a fair deal to secure our southern border and reopen our government...Nancy Pelosi, it’s not the House of Resistance, it’s the House of Representatives. Do your job.”
“It’s not just the Democrats. Look at the way the media attacks the president despite everything he has done for this country.”
Shortly after McDaniel brought RNC members to their feet clapping and cheering with her closing line — “Together we will reelect Donald J. Trump in 2020” — members passed the resolution offering the president “undivided support” for his “effective presidency.” The resolution also called Trump “a bold and innovative communicator” and a “courageous leader.”
Bringing up such a resolution itself was out of the norm for the RNC, several members told BuzzFeed News, and followed a failed effort from Jevon Williams, a delegate from the US Virgin Islands, to pass a more explicit resolution calling for the party to endorse Trump as its nominee for 2020. Williams began pushing the RNC to take action after Utah Sen. Mitt Romney published an op-ed criticizing the president in the Washington Post.
In an email to members obtained by BuzzFeed News ahead of this week’s meeting, Williams said the resolution was “necessary because too many so-called Republicans use our party’s name and collaborate with the liberal mainstream media to sow the seeds of disunity.”
“We must send the message that we support President Trump for re-nomination,” the email said. “Simply stating our support for his presidency, as some would have us do, is not enough. The failure to pass a resolution supporting his re-nomination and re-election will be seen by some as a sign that we would welcome Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, Larry Hogan or another Never Trumper challenging President Trump in the primaries, caucuses and conventions.”
Williams’ resolution was never brought up, and several RNC members told BuzzFeed News they were wary of considering a resolution they thought was unnecessary and legally problematic.
“It was foolishly drafted and not well thought out,” said Ron Kaufman, a longtime RNC member from Massachusetts.
Williams declined to comment, but earlier this week, he tweeted a photo of a letter he received from Trump for his efforts.
John Weaver, an adviser to former Republican governor John Kasich, who has not ruled out a 2020 bid, responded to the resolution, as Stone was arrested in Florida Friday.
The RNC and the Trump campaign’s united front is a drastic change from the 2016 election cycle, when the two had a more tumultuous relationship, including some failed efforts from the “Never Trump” members of the party plotting to keep the now-president from sealing the party’s nomination.
“There’s been a notable lack of chatter,” said Morton Blackwell, an RNC member from Virginia. “Things tend to just proceed unanimously — that’s predictable for the RNC when a Republican controls the White House.”
Both the party committee and RNC have also blessed a new effort called Patriot Pass, which is aimed at boosting small-dollar donations in a more centralized way and competing with Democrats who have been using ActBlue, a digital fundraising platform, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Members brought up the new program, which was first revealed by Politico, on the sidelines of the meetings as a necessary step for Trump and others to compete in 2020.
Aside from the resolution, RNC members also told BuzzFeed News that they were standing by the president amid the historic government shutdown, indictments, and his plummeting approval ratings.
“This committee understands very well that policy-wise the president has accomplished a great deal and while there may be some differences of opinions on the technique, there are no differences of opinion on the end policy,” Kaufman said, adding that there had been little talk of the shutdown at the meeting because they "had no control over it.”
“We’re a tactical organization,” he said. “We reinforce the message from the White House.”
Ada Fisher, a committee member from North Carolina, called any discussion of concerns regarding the president a “non-issue” — even during the shutdown. “I feel sorry for the people not getting paid,” she said. “But sometimes you have to take a hard stance. This also ought to be a good chance at right sizing the government. Do we really need people in all those jobs?”
Asked by BuzzFeed News about any concerns regarding action from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, a GOP state party leader attending the meetings just yelled: “Fuck no.”
RNC members also pivoted quickly to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when pressed on the president’s position on the shutdown. Their meetings coincided with Trump announcing he would wait until the government reopened to give his State of the Union address after Pelosi blocked his request to do so during the shutdown.
“We would like to see Speaker Pelosi listen to [Trump],” said Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi, “and not just reject things.”
Barbour and other members also pointed to the increasingly liberal Democratic base and the high number of Democrats jumping into the presidential race in contrast to their united front with an incumbent president.
Some Republican officials were already sporting a new pin: a small, square-shaped one with “TRUMP 2020” emblazoned on it in bright red.
Henry Gomez contributed reporting.