A Right Wing News Interview With RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
I was happy to have an opportunity to interview RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. After the interview was completed, I sent Priebus a question about the RNC’s level of support for Ken Cuccinelli, which wasn’t answered by the time the interview was scheduled to go live. What follows is the slightly edited transcript of our conversation.
First question: tell us a little bit about the Growth and Opportunity Project.
Well, everyone’s got to worry about the things they most control. And for the most part the things that I most control are a lot of mechanical and technical things that go into operating a Republican Party.
I would break it down into four areas that we need to really address in this party — and it’s generally centered around one basic principal, which is the national party cannot compete anymore by being an organization that shows up once every four years, five months before an election and expect to move mountains. I don’t think it works.
So what we’re trying to do is that instead of being a party that raises a billion dollars in eight months and then blows a billion dollars in eight months is that we need to be a party that instead focuses in on four years and reaches down deep into grassroots-organized connections and communities. So number one is a permanent ground game. We’re trying to run a grassroots permanent ground organization with a heavy emphasis in Asian, African-American, Hispanic communities. So that means putting staffers and targeted Congressional races, Senate races, governors’ races immediately right now.
Second thing is a massive upgrade in our digital and data operation. I think we all know that we’re not talking about $1 or $2 million. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars that need to be spent in upgrading our digital and data operation — our platforms, our applications, our walk applications, our mapping tools, everything from soup to nuts that we need to address.
Third is a just general branding and marketing operation around what it means to be a Republican. What does unlimited opportunity mean to everyone in this country?
The fourth thing is our primary system, which I think is a total disaster including our debates and everything that relates to that.
So I know that’s a mouthful, but when you think about growth and opportunity, that’s what it means to me. It is a grassroots emphasis on a four year basis.
Let’s get a little deeper into some of that. For one thing, the single most important thing the GOP could probably do for its future down the road is minority outreach. It’s not an area we put a whole lot of emphasis on as a party and demographically; it’s something we need to do. So what is the RNC doing today to reach out to minorities and bring more of them inside to the party?
Right now, my guess is that we’re the only national organization on a federal basis (I’m not talking about soft money groups; I’m talking about federal committees), that is spending on a monthly basis the way that we are spending on permanent bodies in Asian, African-American and Hispanic communities across the country. We have, I believe, more people in the field working in demographic groups today than we had working in total at the RNC in the field in 2011…
What kind of things are they doing?
For example, we’ve got Asian and Hispanic engagement directors in California in the targeted Congressional races — in Texas we’ve, you know, as a method of defense, in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, in Florida, in Georgia, North Carolina. I mean all over the country we’ve got Hispanic, Asian, and African-American engagement directors. Now what do they do? ID potential Republican voters and volunteers, begin registration drives in those communities, go to community events, go to church festivals, be present. I mean part of the issue here and the foundation for all of this is if you don’t show up and ask for the order, you’re not going to get the sale. I think fundamentally on a long-term basis our party has not been showing up on the ground and asking for the order.
I would direct you to Congressman Pierce in New Mexico. Here is a person who is a very conservative congressman. He doesn’t agree with the Senate version on immigration, but yet he represents almost 2/3 of New Mexico as a Republican. I would say that his district is almost half Hispanic. The reason he wins is that he puts on about 90,000 miles on his car and he shows up and he’s part of the community. Now obviously, winning is more than just showing up. But I would tell you that I think as a first step, our party needs to show up and the national party here, the RNC, is doing whatever we can to make sure that that happens.
Excellent. Now you mentioned changing the primary system a bit and I agree with that 100%. Iowa and New Hampshire have so much influence on who our nominee is going to be, but they’re very small, very white states that place a huge overemphasis on retail politics. So realistically, is there any chance of getting away from just giving those two states such an outsized say in who our nominee is going to be? Are there any big changes we’re going to see in the primary process?
Well, here’s what’s going to happen. Instead of a six month slice and dice festival that we throw every four years in our party, what you’re going to see is about a 60 to 70 day primary. We’re likely to take the convention from the end of August to the end of June or the very early part of July. That will compress the primary calendar as you can tell just by a couple of months just by doing that.
We are putting in place a death penalty up front for any state that decides that they’re pretty important, too, and they want to jump the calendar and go early which then causes an avalanche up front which then further elongates the primary. So we put a death penalty up front to make sure that if any state wants to jump the calendar, they’re going to lose almost all of their delegates if they do. They’re going to become an irrelevant state in the process.
The other issue is the debates. As you know, I’ve said this before: we’ve got about a 23 debate circus in our party. A couple of things I’d like to see happen; One, I’d like to see no more than seven or eight debates. Just a reasonable amount. Number two, we pick the moderators and the debate partners, not the other way around because I don’t think we need media outlets deciding how they’re going to slice our candidates apart. Then the last thing is you’ve got to hold the candidates accountable. …Well, here’s the thing: candidates need delegates and no matter who you are running for President, the one thing you need from the national party is you need a majority of the delegates on the floor of a convention in order to be nominated and there’s no way around it. So what we’re going to do with our candidates if there’s who knows six, ten people running, we’ll tell them, look, you can compete in these seven or eight debates here on this piece of paper. But if you compete in a debate other than the ones that are on this calendar, you’re going to lose 20, 30, 40, whatever the percentage is of your overall delegates every single time you violate that calendar. So basically, if a candidate violates that calendar one time it will be very difficult to be the nominee of our party.
Well, I think that will work. Now one thing you floated, and it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek idea, was maybe having a debate with some big name talk radio hosts as moderators and a lot of people kind of like that idea. I don’t think you were that serious about it, but I mean would you actually consider doing that? Maybe have one debate with two or three talk radio hosts who have got big audiences.? Let them go out there and ask some questions?
I wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. I’m very open to having a debate with some of our talk radio hosts as part of the group of debates that we’re going to have. I mean, certainly we’ll have some of the cable shows and network television. But I am open to some of our talk radio friends being moderators of these debates.
The reason is this, we have to have a certain amount of debates put on by people who actually give a darn about the future of our party. I mean these are people that spend every day of their life in a business promoting, defending, sometimes criticizing our party, but that’s because they want us to be better. They agree with the things that we basically agree with.
So, no, I wasn’t kidding around with that. I am very open to something like that.
Now I’ve got a tougher question for you.
Sure, go ahead.
Back in April, Breitbart reported that the RNC’s Chief of Staff trashed what he called the “Professional Right,” which I took to mean groups like Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Heritage Foundation, etc. because they didn’t like the autopsy report the GOP did. So, what do you think of those groups? Are they good for conservatism? Are they good for the Republican Party and also, related question, what do you say to grassroots conservatives who, not necessarily because of you personally, but because of the relationship between the Republican Party and the grassroots is a little strained — what do you say to those guys who just aren’t sure about the RNC?
First of all, I’m from Wisconsin. The way that things work in Wisconsin and the way they work to put Scott Walker where he’s at and Ron Johnson in his Senate seat — and they both will tell you the reason we were successful in Wisconsin is that we were all one team. And it didn’t matter whether it was AFP or the Club for Growth or the Republican Party of Wisconsin; everyone had a role to play and everyone was on the same team and no one really cared about who got the credit and who didn’t.
Where I see the party and the way that we can be the best teammate to the whole Republican Party, conservative movement, Tea Party, everybody, is that we have to be really good at the things that people expect us to be good at which will ultimately help the whole team. I mean, if we put together a digital and data operation and an open API platform so that all of these groups can plug into, get the best data, and prove the data, download that improved data back into the system — having a permanent ground game with thousands of people across the country and doing our job well will only help the team. So I think that’s kind of the way I view it.
You know, I love watching the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. And the one thing that I think about on a team is, I don’t remember Aaron Rogers going back for a pass and having our own lineman turn around and tackle him. I don’t remember Aaron Rogers handing the football off to the running back and having our own wide receiver tackle the running back before he gets through the line. All I’m saying is we’ve got to be a team. Everyone doesn’t always agree with each other on the team, but I don’t agree with my wife on everything either. But ultimately I would think that we’re all trying to do the same thing, which is put our country back on track, kind of more in line with a Constitutional viewpoint in where our country should be going and that’s kind of the vision I have for the party.
So when people get down on the party, I kind of think, well, what don’t you like about a permanent ground game? You know, a $40 million improvement on digital and data and getting our debates and primary system under control? I mean, that’s really where the party is at. That’s what we do at the RNC.
So are Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Heritage Foundation good for the Republican Party?
I think that when everyone focuses in on the things that we’re all on the same team for, like beating Democrats and growing our numbers, I think we can be a good team.
Yesterday, there were about 75,000-100,000 people (That’s the estimate I’m being given. It’s hard to be more exact than that
Win, lose or draw, we’re always supposedly hitting a tipping point where social issues just no longer work for the