Yesterday afternoon, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus sat down for a surprisingly candid chat with almost 20 bloggers and reporters, including myself and Ed. He talked about walking into the job of Chairman facing over $26 million in debt, two credit cards that had been suspended, and how the RNC is investing millions of dollars to close the technological and data-mining advantages the Democrats currently hold.
Interestingly, he also said his experience at the March for Life opened his mind to a major weakness in the RNC’s game plan to get out the vote. From my article at LifeSiteNews.com:
“We wanted to remind people about where we stand on life, we went to the March for Life, as an RNC. And I will tell you, personally – which is something I don’t think I’ve shared a whole lot – the RNC going to the March for Life, for me, was a little bit of a wake-up call for me as chairman.”
Priebus allowed members of the RNC who wanted to attend the 2014 March for Life in Washington, D.C., to do so before the GOP’s annual winter meeting.
“Here I am, the chairman of a pro-life party…and I got all this appreciation,” Priebus said. “But it was the appreciation that sort of woke me up to say, ‘Why are these folks so appreciative of something that I thought was a pretty easy decision to make?’”
Priebus said that the gratitude of pro-life organizations brought a whole new realization. “I thought to myself, ‘If these folks are this appreciative of something so simple, maybe we need to start reminding people about the core positions of our party more, so that we can grow in places where we’re strong.’”
“Sometimes, the best fruit is right above your head,” he said.
There has been a lot of talk about the GOP’s weaknesses — minority outreach and having likeable, strong candidates among them — but Priebus’ point about not missing out on shoring up support among those who already support the GOP is a good one. Many social conservatives believe the GOP teases them with rhetoric, but does little actual action at the federal level. And on fiscal issues, most fiscal conservatives speak derisively of the GOP’s claim to be the fiscally conservative party.
However, Priebus admitted to a tactic that may alienate some party loyalists — only talking about same-sex “marriage” when asked about it:
Priebus also said that the GOP is “a party that believes marriage ought to be between one man and one woman. That’s our party platform, and it’s a position I’ve never backed away from. What I have said, though, is that we need to treat each other with grace, dignity, and respect. And that’s not code language. It comes out of the New Testament. And so there should be no confusion about where we stand, and so that’s where we are.”
However, he demurred when asked by National Review Online’s Betsy Woodruff on whether he would “hope to be reminding people of” the party’s position on same-sex “marriage” more often.
“I’m not walking on down the street, but if someone wants to ask me, like you did, I didn’t dance” around the issue, either, the chairman said. “I answered the question head-on, I’m very clear, and that’s what you should expect out of the party.”
Again, though, his frankness will probably win a lot of fans. He said the the RNC has often been “a U-Haul trailer of cash…that hooks up to a nominee” and then isn’t seen until the next presidential election. He wants to turn the RNC into a year-round operation with people in battleground states, and said that when he walked into his job in 2011 the party “had 80 employees. I think Barack Obama had about 800 in Florida alone.”
According to Priebus, the GOP has “become a party that has a hard time losing midterms, but has a hard time winning presidentials.” He pointed out that Scott Walker destroyed his opponent in the summer of 2012, with 600,000 fewer votes than Mitt Romney got…yet Romney got destroyed in the state. (A caveat to this is that any non-presidential elections have low turnout, and the pro-Walker people were fired up.)
He said the GOP needs candidates with whom voters “want to have a beer with,” and it needs to get low-propensity voters out on Election Day. He pointed out that one poll showed 81 percent of Americans thought Obama cared more about them than Mitt Romney, which means many Romney voters supported him even though they thought Obama cared more about them.ha
He also talked about changing the primary system, perhaps to a rotating system of states that go first or a regional system — this former New Hampshireite takes issue with this idea — and how fewer debates and non-liberal moderators will help the party.
Note: Audio of the discussion can be heard here. Pardon the sometimes poor quality of the sound; I had to get up and down a couple of times.
Update (Ed): Dustin has a good accounting of the meeting, but I did want to follow up on another piece of Priebus’ remarks. The RNC chair noted that the debate schedule had gotten out of hand, plus the media involvement had created a “slice and dice” environment for Republican candidates. However, Preibus still spoke of “media partners,” so I asked him how he planned to address the latter issue if he still planned to partner with mainstream-media outlets. He replied that the RNC is now looking into just going with C-SPAN or perhaps even just their own streaming channel as the outlets for the debates, which I think is the smarter play. People don’t tune in to primary debates because they just happen to be on television or think the moderator is awesome; they tune in because they’re motivated to watch the candidates. That audience will seek out the debates wherever they are broadcast — and so will the reporters who follow the political beat, whether their orgs get to moderate or not.
Update (Dustin): I forgot that in response to Ed’s question, Priebus said he’d consider having bloggers moderate debates — he also said he greatly preferred those of us in the meeting to the moderators seen in the past — so there is definitely potential for some fun in 2016 We could see the Ed/AP/Erika/Erick/Guy/Katie/Jazz-moderated GOP debate!