Less than a year into the midterm campaign season, the Republican National Committee is experiencing a wave of staff-level departures.
Over the next several weeks, three RNC aides — deputy chief data officer Liam O’Rourke, director of political data support Ashley Burns, and director of business intelligence Patrick Stewart — are expected to leave. The exits, confirmed by three RNC officials, have surprised the tight-knit world of Republican operatives and signaled a broader upheaval within the committee’s data department.
The departures follows a July shakeup at the committee, when Katie Walsh, a close ally of former White House chief of staff and ex-RNC chairman Reince Priebus, was installed as senior data adviser. That same day, it was revealed that Ellen Bredenkoetter would serve as chief data officer. Bredenkoetter replaced Jesse Kamzol, who had been serving in that role but left the committee abruptly.
It all comes at a sensitive time for the RNC, which like other parts of the GOP apparatus is preparing for a potentially challenging 2018 election cycle. Following Priebuss departure from the White House last week, some senior Republicans have begun to wonder what relationship the RNC will have with the White House. During his tenure as chief of staff, Priebus remained deeply plugged into the RNC’s operations and helped to coordinate activities between the committee and the administration.
RNC officials insist the exits were expected with the recent change in leadership — particularly in the case of O’Rourke, a veteran RNC aide who had been the No. 2 data staffer but who didn’t get the chief data post after Kamzol left.
Party officials said the decision to tap Bredenkoetter, a Republican data operative who worked on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential bid, stemmed from an extensive, post-2016 campaign review of the committee’s data work that was quietly commissioned by party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. Since taking over the committee in January, McDaniel has made data a focal point.
The review, which unfolded over five months, included more than 100 interviews with top party strategists, many of whom were deeply involved in the 2016 campaign. It was conducted with knowledge of a number of senior White House officials, including Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and political director Bill Stepien. Brad Parscale, who led the Trump campaign’s digital efforts, was intimately involved.
The study, which was concluded in June, found that the committee needed to intensify its data efforts and outlined the ways in which it could better integrate with GOP campaigns that rely on it.
It’s unclear whether additional turnover is coming. RNC officials declined to say whether they expect others to leave.