POLITICO Playbook: RNC does Trump’s bidding, frustrating its members

STILL THE CENTER OF ATTENTION — Several months out from the midterms, Republicans are sitting pretty when it comes to flipping both chambers of Congress, buoyed by inflation, President JOE BIDEN’s bad poll numbers and a Democratic legislative agenda stuck amid infighting.

But instead of looking to the future and capitalizing on those tailwinds, the top headline from the RNC’s winter meeting this week was that the party wants to relitigate the past, catering to a man who many Republicans have privately hoped would just disappear.

That storyline started Thursday with news of the impending RNC censure of Reps. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) and ADAM KINZINGER (R-Ill.) for participating in the Democratic-led House investigation of the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol. Then, it quickly escalated Friday when the wording of the rebuke was released, claiming that in investigating Jan. 6, Cheney and Kinzinger had participated in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

“Legitimate political discourse.”Seriously?

That language is a stark reminder of DONALD TRUMP’s grip on the GOP at a time when many Republican leaders are desperate to stop talking about 2020 and instead focus on winning in the midterms. Trump, however, won’t let them — and his influence is winning out. AsNYT’s Jonathan Weisman and Reid Epstein wrote Friday, the wording of the censure “was the latest and most forceful effort by the Republican Party to minimize what happened” on Jan. 6, and the most aggressive push yet to have their members “embrace a position that many of them have only hinted at: that the assault and the actions that preceded it were acceptable.”

THE BLOWBACK — Forget, for a moment, the outrage from the left and the media over the “legitimate political discourse” line. Many Republicans privately grumbled their own disapproval — and some took their protests public.

CNBC’s Brian Schwartztweeted out a statement from GOP financer ERIC LEVIN rebuking RNC Chair RONNA MCDANIEL by name and accusing her of setting back efforts to retake the House. Levin said he’s raised more than $1 million for GOP candidates, but that McDaniel’s actions make it harder for him to pump his network for cash. “Not only was the storming of the Capitol on January 6 NOT A LEGITIMATE FORM OF PROTEST, it was criminal behavior warranting prosecution,” he said.

He’s far from the only one. Our David Siders and Natalie Allisonhave a story up this morning reflecting on the internal frustration with how the RNC is dealing with Trump, whose appetite for revenge, they write, has emerged as “one of the biggest threats to the GOP’s otherwise bright prospects in November.” Members in Salt Lake City this week griped privately about the censure and the RNC’s recent decision to pay Trump’s legal bills related to lawsuits pertaining to his private business dealings, they report.

That’s to say nothing about the conference’s overarching message, which got totally drowned out: “During the public portion of the RNC meeting on Friday, Biden’s perceived shortcomings and the RNC’s plans for the midterms did get an airing,” the pair write. “McDaniel laced into Biden while touting new RNC initiatives to bolster the party’s outreach to minority groups, including opening ‘community centers’ to engage Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American voters. And the RNC has hired 15 new ‘election integrity state directors’ nationwide, she said, positions added as the national committee takes part in dozens of lawsuits to promote voter ID laws. … But it was the censure resolution that, for many members, was top of mind.”

After the furor erupted over the “legitimate political discourse” language, McDaniel sought to right the ship. She attacked the NYT story as “political propaganda.” She argued on Twitter that the phrase specifically referred to Jan. 6 participants who “had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol” — though the censure statement makes no such clarification.

MCDANIEL VS. BOSSIE, A BACKSTORY? — Vanity Fair’s Tom LoBiancohas one possible explanation for the RNC’s decision to move in this direction despite concern from its own members: He writes that Trump ally DAVID BOSSIE has been “mounting a quiet bid” to replace McDaniel and take over the RNC, actions that would obviously put pressure on McDaniel to move closer to Trump.

Bossie was one of the driving forces behind the Cheney-Kinzinger censure, and has been trying to get House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY to kick the pair out of the GOP Conference. McDaniel, on the other hand, was one of the senior-most Republicans who pushed back on Trump’s election fraud claims behind the scenes.

Bossie denied the report. But having this reported threat in the ether certainly could push RNC leadership into doing Trump’s bidding even more.


PENCE TAKES A SHOT AT TRUMP — In a speech to the Federalist Society, former VP MIKE PENCE defended his actions on Jan. 6 and said it would have been “un-American” for him to try to overturn the election. “President Trump is wrong,” he said. WaPo reports that the words were Pence’s “most explicit shots at the former president,” and “drew raucous applause from the crowd of conservative lawyers at the Federalist Society conference.” Trump fired back late Friday night.


SPOTTED: Two MAGA world personae non gratae, dining Friday at the Capitol Hill Club: Trump’s former national security adviser JOHN BOLTON and Rep. JOHN KATKO (R-N.Y.), the onetime McCarthy ally who is now retiring after voting to impeach Trump.

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.


— 900,000: The U.S. death toll from Covid hit 900,000 on Friday. Per the AP, “just 64% of the population is fully vaccinated,” and some experts believe that the “U.S. could reach 1 million deaths by April.”

— 3x: In January, almost three times as many Nevada voters switched their party registration from Democratic to Republican as switched from Republican to Democratic, reports Nevada Indy’s Jon Ralston. A caveat: As Ralston notes on Twitter, these “monthly numbers are small but will add up if this trend continues and could be the canary in [the] coal mine.”

— $300,000: On Friday, attorney MICHAEL AVENATTI was convicted of stealing nearly $300,000 from then-client STORMY DANIELS, reports the N.Y. Post. He “now faces a maximum of 22 years in prison for his conviction on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.”

THE GAMES BEGIN — The Olympics are underway in Beijing.

— NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremonies Friday included hosts and experts speaking “in stark terms about China’s alleged rights violations,” Reuters reports.

— Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN attended the event, and found “a friendly audience in Chinese President XI JINPING,write WaPo’s Isabelle Khurshudyan and Amy Cheng. In an attempt to cool the apparent renewed ties between the two nations, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia warned China that a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine could “embarrass Beijing.”

— “Welcome to the Malaise Olympics.” For POLITICO Magazine, Derek Robertson writes that despite the awesome feats of athletic prowess, the Beijing games feel “undeniably blah, utterly lacking the warm, fuzzy, global goodwill that is, yes, a shared fiction, but also the Olympics’ actual stated reason for existing.” It is, he writes, “perfectly in line with the impotent muddle” that defines our politics.

JOIN US — White House climate adviser GINA MCCARTHY will join POLITICO Live at 1:30 p.m. Thursday for a virtual interview with White House correspondent Laura Barrón-López to discuss Biden’s challenging path ahead to fulfill his ambitious climate agenda. The interview is part of “The Long Game: Who Will Solve the Climate Crisis?” event, which will kick off at 12:45 p.m. with a panel moderated by Global Insider author Ryan Heath discussing fresh data and insights from the POLITICO/Morning Consult Global Sustainability Poll on what citizens really think about how governments and businesses are dealing with climate and sustainability. RSVP here to watch

BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.



1. JIM CLYBURN says Biden’s SCOTUS nominee will need GOP support to be confirmed. “I know how to count. I’m the whip,” Clyburn told McClatchy’s Francesca Chambers on Friday. “It has to be bipartisan. So I’m reaching out to the two Republicans from South Carolina. I’ve asked them for their support, but I’m talking to other Republicans, as well.”

— Related reading: A former clerk for Judge KETANJI BROWN JACKSON “embarked on a Wikipedia editing spree over the past week, bolstering the page of his former boss while altering the pages of her competitors in an apparent attempt to invite liberal skepticism,” writes our Samuel Benson.

2. A “resounding win” for Dems on redistricting: In a 4-3 vote along party lines Friday, North Carolina’s state Supreme Court struck down “a GOP-drawn congressional map that could have given Republicans control of 11 of the state’s 14 districts,” writes POLITICO’s Ally Mutnick. It’s the latest in a string of legal victories that have left Dem operatives “optimistic that they will emerge from redistricting in 2022 in better shape than they had expected, despite controlling fewer state legislatures and governorships than the GOP.”

— Related reading: “Obama, Holder slam GOP states for gerrymandering, but silent as Democrats do the same thing,” by Fox News’ Tyler Olson

3. “Hell hath no fury like a game of telephone inside a cable news company,” writes Puck’s Dylan Byers in his latest look behind the scenes at CNN in the wake of JEFF ZUCKER’s surprise ousting. There’s a sense of seismic loss: “JAKE TAPPER has likened Zucker’s departure to the day BEN BRADLEE retired from The Washington Post.” There’s anger, much of it directed at former anchor CHRIS CUOMO. And there’s “fear over their futures now that Zucker isn’t there to lead them, fight for them and, as importantly, rationalize their paychecks.”

4. On day two of SARAH PALIN’s defamation trial against the NYT, ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, the author of the 2017 unsigned editorial at the heart of the suit, testified that then-editorial page editor JAMES BENNET rewrote her draft “and added the lines Palin is suing over,” reports WaPo’s Sarah Ellison. Per our own Josh Gerstein, Williamson said that Bennet was “obviously crestfallen that this had happened.”

5. In the race to host the 2024 GOP national convention, Nashville’s moving up, Pittsburgh’s falling behind, and Salt Lake City seems to have just shot itself in the foot. Natalie Allison, David Siders and Holly Otterbein report that as RNC members convened in Utah this week, SLC brought in a local weatherman to make a sales pitch for a summertime confab.

“After talking about the region’s ideal summer weather … he began showing footage of ping-pong ball-sized hail and flood waters gushing through the city as trash bins floated along. He brought up the tornado of August 1999 — assuring the RNC site selection committee members that only one person died in the event. Some in the audience watched ‘aghast,’ said one member of the committee.”

6. New details on the massive China-connected cyber-attack on the WSJ, from WSJ’s Alexandra Bruell, Sadie Gurman and Dustin Volz: Journalists were targeted (“scores of reporters were personally notified their files were hacked,” Volz tweeted), and “the attackers appeared to be interested in a range of topics, including … Taiwan and China’s Uyghur ethnic group, according to other people briefed on the matter and a review of some of the document target lists. Other areas of interest included draft Journal articles and notes about U.S. military troop activity, U.S. technology regulation related to China, and articles about President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and senior White House officials.”

7. “New York City mayor apologizes for calling white cops ‘crackers.’” That’s the unlikely headline atop Janaki Chadha’s story on the latest controversy roiling the young mayoral administration of ERIC ADAMS. As first reported by the N.Y. Daily News, Adams was seen in a newly unearthed 2019 video telling members of a Harlem business group about confronting racism within the police ranks during his 22 years in the NYPD: “Every day in the Police Department, I kicked those crackers’ ass.” In remarks Friday, Adams apologized “not only to those who heard it, but to New Yorkers, because they should expect more from me and that was inappropriate.”

Related reading: Sally Goldenberg and Joe Anuta report on Adams’ “unofficial office”: a swanky, upscale Midtown restaurant where close confidante JOHNNY PETROSYANTS, “a restaurateur who pleaded guilty to money-laundering in federal court eight years ago,” can keep tabs on him. But perhaps the biggest revelation: “A restaurant employee told POLITICO Adams usually dines on fish and salad, even though the mayor claims he’s a vegan and wrote a 224-page book about his food regimen. ‘He’s not a vegan, he’s a pescatarian,’ said the staffer, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the mayor.”

8. “A pair of looming state court cases could significantly curtail mail voting ahead of the midterms — one of Republicans’ major goals since former President Donald Trump went to war against the practice in 2020,” reports Zach Montellaro. “The state Supreme Courts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are both hearing major voting cases after conservative victories in lower courts.”

9. Biden’s top science adviser apologized to his roughly 150-member staff Friday for speaking to them in a “disrespectful and demeaning way,” reports Alex Thompson. “It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility,” Lander wrote to staff in an email. “This is not only wrong, but also inconsistent with our Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy. It is never acceptable for me to speak that way. I am deeply sorry for my conduct. I especially want to apologize to those of you who I treated poorly or were present at the time.” Stay tuned.

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 17 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“10 Years Since Trayvon,” by multiple authors for N.Y. Mag: “The story of the first decade of Black Lives Matter.”

“Javanka in Exile,” by Washingtonian’s Bob Norman: “All but banished from Washington after January 6, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have been hiding out in a little no-frills town in South Florida. Its Trumpy mayor couldn’t be more thrilled, but the former First Kids have had a frostier welcome from another set of locals.”

“He Spent 25 Years Infiltrating Nazis, the Klan, and Biker Gangs,” by Rolling Stone’s Paul Solotaroff: “Scott was a top undercover agent for the FBI, putting himself in harm’s way dozens of times. Now, he’s telling his story for the first time to sound the alarm about the threat of far-right extremists in America.”

“Michael Flynn Is Still at War,” by NYT Magazine’s Robert Draper: “The general tried to persuade Donald Trump to use the military to overturn the 2020 election. A year later, he and his followers are fighting the same battle by other means.”

“Why Big Chains Thrived While Small Restaurants Died,” by Kara Voght for Mother Jones: “How the National Restaurant Association bent the government to the will of the corporate behemoths—and left workers in the dust.”

“‘This is a Time That Changed Me Forever,’” by Vogue’s Michelle Ruiz: “Inside the Political Debut of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.”

“Cold warrior: why Eileen Gu ditched Team USA to ski for China,” by Brook Larmer for The Economist: “At the Beijing Olympics the superpower rivalry will be played out on the slopes.”

“Who Writes the Rules for Cops?” by Rowan Moore Gerety in Esquire: “After years of high-profile shootings, policing in America is under more scrutiny than at any time in our history. Meanwhile, one company—which sells policy handbooks to police departments across the country—seems determined to give officers cover.”

“When the Pope Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie, That’s Ahmari,” by Tablet’s James Kirchick: “From neoconservatism to integralist cosplay to active worship of China and Russia, the ‘post-liberal’ right has had a giddy five years.”

“What happened to the chocolate milk? In rural Maine, a supply chain mystery,” by WaPo’s Joanna Slater

“The Mower,” a poem by Jay Fielden for The New Yorker

— From the archives:“A Strike and a Start: Founding The New York Review,” by Jason Epstein from March 16, 2013

Donald Trump will be “playing the role of disc jockey” during Mar-a-Lago’s dinners on Fridays and Saturdays, according to a note sent to members of the club this week. (h/t Maggie Haberman)

Michael Bloomberg called Facebook’s massive 26% drop in value Thursday “a good day for capitalism” in an op-ed he wrote for (where else?) Bloomberg.

Speaking of which, Bloomberg accidentally published a “Russia Invades Ukraine” headline.

Copies of a 1997 issue of JFK Jr.’s George magazine are selling for thousands of dollars on eBay, because of … well, QAnon.

Sarah Huckabee Sandersshowed up to support Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Dave McCormick at the Keystone State’s Republican State Central Committee meeting.

Carol Lee is sharing the story of her son’s traumatic birth.

Mark Espergot the Pentagon’s approval to publish a memoir.

Michael Lewis is releasing a new podcast about Wall Street.

NEW NOMINATIONS — The White House announced Biden will nominate Reuben Brigety as ambassador to South Africa, MaryKay Carlson as ambassador to the Philippines and Elizabeth Shortino as U.S. executive director of the IMF.

GANAHL STAFFS UP — Heidi Ganahl, GOP candidate for Colorado governor, has hired Kristin Davison, the leader of Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia gubernatorial campaign, and Steve Crim, general consultant and senior adviser to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, as general consultants. She’s also adding campaign manager Richard Waggoner from the Youngkin campaign. Allyson Schmeiser and Laura Howard of Sentinel Strategic Advisors are leading her national fundraising efforts. Fox News alum Lexi Swearingen is comms director.

TRANSITIONS — Mannal Haddad will be senior comms manager at the Campaign Legal Center. She previously was comms director for Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.). … Laurel Loomis Rimon is now a partner at Paul Hastings. She previously co-chaired the fintech practice at O’Melveny. … Gil Ruiz has been promoted to deputy legislative director for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). He previously was senior adviser on health, technology and homeland security.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm … DNC Chair Jaime HarrisonMichael Steel of Hamilton Place Strategies … Omarosa Manigault Newman Drew GodinichRichard Parker … Facebook’s Tom ReynoldsWilliam Upton … POLITICO’s Glen Mazza Vinoda Basnayake Kristina BaumSarabeth BermanArmstrong Williams … NRSC’s Jillian Davidson … CAA’s Ali SpiesmanBret Jacobson … McKinsey’s Matt Cooke … Leadership Institute’s Matthew Hurtt Lisa Tozzi … Walmart’s Bruce HarrisLisa Kohnke Trevor Kincaid of the International Finance Corporation … Susan NelsonSara AvielJayne ChapmanDaniel HoffRyan VelascoGrant CarlisleJordan WilsonMargaret FranklinRachel SwartzAlex Key of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

CNN “State of the Union”: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) … U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

FOX “Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Martha MacCallum: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) … Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) … Neil Sean … national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Panel: Juan Williams, Gillian Turner and Josh Holmes.

NBC “Meet the Press”: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Marc Short … Richard Engel reporting live from Ukraine. Panel: Al Cardenas, Helene Cooper, Jeh Johnson and Amy Walter.

MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Steve Schmidt … Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) … Alphonso David … Jazz Lewis … Clarence Jones … Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) … House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

ABC “This Week”: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … Martha Raddatz reporting from Arizona. GOP panel: Jonathan Karl, Chris Christie and Sarah Isgur. Panel: Rick Klein, Mary Bruce, Jane Coaston and Susan Glasser.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) … Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo … retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster … Scott Gottlieb … pandemic focus group with parents.

Gray TV “Full Court Press”: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) … Jon Decker.

CNN “Inside Politics”: Leana Wen. Panel: Laura Barrón-López, Tamara Keith, Jeremy Diamond and Meridith McGraw.

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CORRECTION: This newsletter was updated to correct that the New York Times article central to the Sarah Palin defamation case was an unsigned editorial.


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