Sara Armstrong, the top staffer at the Republican National Committee, is departing, according to three people familiar with the move — the latest in a string of exits from the committee.
Armstrong, the RNC’s chief of staff, is exiting to take a senior-level job at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She had been serving in the chief of staff role since early this year after helping to oversee President Donald Trump’s inauguration planning.
Richard Walters, the RNC finance director, will serve as interim chief of staff while the committee seeks a permanent replacement. RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel has begun that search.
Armstrong is the sixth staffer to leave the RNC in just over a month. That includes a handful of aides in the committee’s data department who left recently amid a change in departmental leadership. The wave of departures, coming less than a year after the 2016 election, has surprised the tight-knit world of Republican operatives.
Armstrong is an RNC veteran, having worked at the committee since 2009. During the 2014 election cycle, she was named deputy chief of staff. In 2016, she helped to run the national party convention.
Prior to joining the RNC, she worked in the George W. Bush White House, serving as a special assistant to the president and adviser to first lady Laura Bush. She also worked as a director of the White House visitors office.
“It’s been an honor to have served at the RNC and I’m forever thankful to have worked with so many top-notch professionals,” Armstrong said in a statement. “The RNC is in a strong position thanks to record fundraising and I’m confident they will be successful moving forward as they work to support the White House and elect Republicans up-and-down the ballot.”
The Chamber of Commerce announced that Armstrong would become vice president of political affairs and federation relations, a key role heading into the 2018 midterm elections.
Her exit comes just one week after the national party committee held its annual summer meeting in Nashville. During a closed-door, two-hour meeting before senior GOP officials, the RNC outlined how it was expanding its staff and building toward the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Yet it comes amid a string of departures in the committee’s data department, an area that the RNC has made a focus. The wave began in late July, when chief data officer Jesse Kamzol abruptly departed. He was replaced by Ellen Bredenkoetter, a former staffer on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s 2016 presidential campaign who had previously not worked at the committee. Her ascension rankled many veterans within the department who felt passed over for the job.
At the same time, Katie Walsh — a longtime ally of former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who ran the RNC before going to work for Trump — was named senior data adviser.
In subsequent weeks, a handful of other data staffers left, including director of external support Conor Maguire, deputy chief data officer Liam O’Rourke, director of political data support Ashley Burns, and director of business intelligence Patrick Stewart.
The personnel moves followed a post-2016 election audit that McDaniel quietly ordered. The audit, based on interviews with over 100 party strategists, suggested a number of changes to improve the committee’s data program, which is widely relied upon by GOP candidates.
With the White House and both chambers of Congress under GOP control, the committee has capitalized by far out-fundraising its Democratic counterpart. It has also joined forces with the president’s team. It recently named Kayleigh McEnany, a frequent cable TV guest and prominent Trump backer, as a spokesperson. Bob Paduchik, who ran Trump’s successful Ohio campaign, is serving as the committee’s co-chair.
Yet some RNC officials say that working with the Trump administration hasn’t been entirely smooth, particularly after Priebus’ departure from the administration.
His exit has left some senior Republicans worried that the committee won’t have as close a relationship with the administration. Prior to last week’s Nashville meeting, McDaniel told party officials that she hadn’t yet had a formal meeting with the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly — a revelation that took some aback.
Others describe simmering mistrust between the RNC and White House that has carried over from the 2016 campaign. Many Trump loyalists remain angered the committee seemed to lose confidence in the campaign following the release of the “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump was heard bragging about groping women.
At the time, Priebus, then the RNC chairman, asked Trump to drop out of the race in order to salvage the GOP’s prospects down-ballot.
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