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Robert McCarthy: GOP chairwoman faces a daunting challenge

The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee will swoop down on our town Monday and Tuesday to meet with a host of GOP officials and potential donors.

Ronna McDaniel of Michigan will make her pitch to big-bucks types during fancy dinners, while connecting with the grass roots Tuesday at a $40 per head breakfast at Chef’s Restaurant.

But as the party honcho makes her rounds through Buffalo, she will deal basically with one topic: President Trump.

McDaniel, the former Michigan GOP chairwoman and niece of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, lacks the household name of her predecessor – Reince Priebus, now White House chief of staff. Indeed, she must labor to reintroduce the party organization into Republican consciousness as the new president commands the spotlight through everything from 3 a.m. tweets to an FBI probe.

So McDaniel will answer all those Trump questions, just like she did in a phone conversation with the Politics Column a few days ago. And despite what could rank as the most controversial presidential debut in history, she remains a major Trump cheerleader.

The probe into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia has only proven a “distraction,” she said, noting that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently testified he never saw evidence of collusion. “There is no smoking gun,” McDaniel said. “You’ve got to give this time.”

While Trump registers less than stellar poll numbers in recent weeks, the chairwoman remains unfazed. She thinks the all-important “base” – the same coalition of Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats who elected him in November – remains stronger than ever.

“You see it in Michigan and Ohio,” she said, pointing to potentially Democratic states that landed in Trump’s column. “The base is very intact even among independents and Democrats.”
The challenge, she acknowledges, is growing that base.

Like much of the pro-Trump world, she believes the base is overshadowed by a liberal media. She pointed to an MSNBC segment last week featuring Democrat Al Franken that focused on the Minnesota senator’s new book. Franken, she claimed, was never asked about his scheduled appearances with comedian Kathy Griffin following her gory internet depiction holding Trump’s severed head – ISIS style.

“I think it’s been very frustrating and I will say Republican voters are aware of it,” she said.
So what advice does she offer a White House struggling each day for positive headlines? How should Trump proceed in the face of daily controversy and the inability of his communications team to convey his message? Indeed, Hamburg native Michael Dubke resigned last week as White House communications director in a nod toward that apparent failure.

“The president is the best messenger and he should take it directly to the American people,” she said. “Obviously, there’s a desire to do more rallies.”

McDaniel faces a tough assignment. With many observers predicting the possibility of Democrats retaking the House, she knows the current Washington climate must soon change in order for the Republican-dominated Congress to successfully face the voters in 2018.

Upstate Republicans like Chris Collins and Tom Reed traditionally prevail at election time, but voters expect them to return with the accomplishments they promised even as Washington focuses on Russia investigations.

McDaniel knows it.

“If we don’t have accountability, if we don’t fullfil our campaign promises, it will be tough in 2018,” she said. “I hear it every day.”

Party leaders like McDaniel always aim for big goals – like her optimism about electing a governor of New York in 2018. That’s what they do.

But amid the clutter dominating the national political scene, even contemplating a word like “accountability” ranks as refreshing. It remains the most daunting challenge facing her and the party in power.

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