It's been about a week since the public learned about the Republican National Committee helping pay Donald Trump's legal bills, and the revelations continue to reverberate. It was one thing for the RNC to help pick up the tab for the former president's attorneys while he was still in office — something that happened in 2017 — but this was qualitatively different.
For one thing, the legal disputes in question pre-date Trump's political career, making it that much more difficult to justify the RNC's intervention. For another, the former president has spent the last year aggressively raising as much money as humanly possible from his committed followers, leaving Trump's political operation with more than $100 million sitting in the bank.
It was also hard not to wonder about the unanimity among Republicans: Is everyone in the party comfortable with this arrangement? According to a CNN report, the answer is no.
[S]ome RNC members and donors accused the party of running afoul of its own neutrality rules and misplacing its priorities. Some of these same officials who spoke to CNN also questioned why the party would foot the legal bills of a self-professed billionaire who was sitting on a $102 million war chest as recently as July and has previously used his various political committees to cover legal costs.
A former top RNC official said, "This is not normal. Nothing about this is normal, especially since he's not only a former president but a billionaire. What does any of this have to do with assisting Republicans in 2022 or preparing for the 2024 primary?"
Another questioned why the RNC is "having to pay for this when you have these super PACs taking in unlimited money for Trump."
One RNC official told CNN the relationship between Trump and the national party is effectively "a hostage situation": The RNC simply can't afford to make the former president unhappy, so it pays these bills to prevent Trump from retaliating against the party.
One Republican official even went on the record:
Bill Palatucci, a national committeeman from New Jersey, said the fact that the RNC made the payments to Trump's attorneys in October was particularly frustrating given his own plea to party officials that same month for additional resources as the New Jersey GOP sought to push Republican Jack Ciattarelli over the finish line in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
Palatucci noted that New Jersey Republicans "sure as heck could have used" the money the RNC instead sent to law firms representing Trump.
The discontent within the party is certainly of interest, and CNN's report probably did not escape the attention of RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. But looking ahead, it's difficult to imagine the "hostage situation" changing anytime soon.
Indeed, what seems more likely at this point: The RNC will tell the wealthy former president to pay for his own lawyers, or the RNC will punish New Jersey's Bill Palatucci for speaking his mind to CNN?