(CNN)The Republican Party transformed itself into the Donald Trump Party over the last four years. From top to bottom, the party became a cult of personality — gathered not around a set of common principles but around the views and vagaries of one man.
Which is why what Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel said to the Associated Press on Wednesday surprised me. Asked whether she was encouraging Trump to run again in 2024, McDaniel said this:”The party has to stay neutral. I’m not telling anybody to run or not to run in 2024. That’s going to be up to those candidates going forward. What I really do want to see him do, though, is help us win back majorities in 2022.”Which is interesting! Remember that the reason McDaniel just got reelected to another two-year term as the head of the party is because Trump endorsed her for the gig. “I am pleased to announce that I have given my full support and endorsement to Ronna McDaniel to continue heading the Republican National Committee (RNC),” Trump tweeted eight days after the November election. “With 72 MILLION votes, we received more votes than any sitting President in U.S. history – and we will win!” Read More(Editor’s note: He didn’t win.)You can bet that Trump endorsed McDaniel for the job because he believed her to be loyal — to him first and the GOP second. (Trump is entirely transactional. He doesn’t do things unless he believes it will benefit him in some way, shape or form.) And now, in one of her first moves as RNC chair in the post-Trump version of the Republican Party, she makes clear that the party will not be endorsing or supporting any 2024 candidate including Trump.That is, of course, the right position for McDaniel to take as the head of the party apparatus. The 2024 field is likely to be extremely crowded with Republican senators and governors and, as party chair, it’s not McDaniel’s job to pick favorite among them.But that’s how a normal political party works — and the Republican Party under Trump has been anything but normal over the last five years. And Trump isn’t anything like any past president considering another run for the highest office in the country.There is no doubt that McDaniel’s promised neutrality will make Trump angry. And if he had a Twitter account — he was deplatformed following his role in the January 6 US Capitol riots — Trump would have almost certainly already attacked McDaniel for her alleged lack of loyalty.This, in microcosm, is the challenge McDaniel and the rest of the Republican Party leadership faces in the coming weeks, months and years. They are trying — slowly but surely — to move the party beyond Trump. Or, maybe more accurately, broaden the party beyond Trump. That is, to not forget or ignore the massive role the 45th president played (and plays) within the GOP but to also make the party stand for something more than just whatever the billionaire businessman says next.The inherent problem there is that Trump and his sons, daughters and various other hangers-on — not to mention his loyal followers among the party base — have zero interest in letting the party be about something bigger than just him. That’s for political reasons (Trump seems genuinely interested in running again in 2024) but perhaps more importantly for financial reasons (Trump’s companies suffered a major revenue hit in 2020 and he has hundreds of millions in loans coming due).The more central Trump is to the GOP, the more relevant he is to the national conversation. And the more relevant he is to the national conversation, the easier it is for him to develop new revenue streams to help keep himself comfortable financially.In short: Trump isn’t going to like any attempt to suggest that this isn’t his party (or solely his party) anymore. And he’s going to fight like hell — against McDaniel and anyone else who stands in his way — to keep his death grip on the GOP for as long as he possibly can.