Priebus launches $10M outreach program, calls for earlier conventions

After losing three out of the last four national elections and watching Democrats expand their edge on the demographic curve, the Republican Party has decided to start committing serious resources to making itself part of communities long surrendered to their opposition.  On CBS’ Face the Nation yesterday, RNC chair Reince Priebus told Bob Schieffer that the GOP has become the party that “parachutes into communities four months before an election” while Democrats have made themselves “authentic” members of those communities.  In response, Priebus announced a $10 million program to start establishing authenticity for Republicans as well:

“We’re going to be announcing a $10 million initiative just this year and it will include hundreds of people, paid across the country, from coast-to-coast, in Hispanic and African-American, Asian communities, talking about our party, talking about our brand, talking about what we believe in,” said Priebus.

Priebus said the workers would be “part of the community on an ongoing basis, paid for by the Republican National Committee to make the case for our party and our candidates.”

The chairman said the party could no longer try to reach out to minority voters only months before an election.

“We have become a party that parachutes into communities four months before an election,” said Priebus. “In comparison to the other side, the Obama campaign lived in these communities for years. The relationships were deep, they were authentic.”

I wrote about this issue after the election and the dismal results of the GOP among non-white voters, many of whom live in urban centers long ceded to Democrats.  J.C. Watts made the same point before the election.  Republicans cannot just walk into those communities as outsiders a couple of months before an election, talk about free markets and liberty from a 30,000-foot level, and expect anyone to pay attention.  The GOP has to be part of those communities and offering policies that address the problems of people in those communities if they expect to win votes there — and they probably have at least a decade’s worth of work just to establish a baseline of credibility and authenticity before results will be seen from the effort.

Priebus also revealed that the RNC would look into reforming its presidential primary process, from the intraparty debates to the scheduling of the convention. The latter is especially a sore point after the primary battle left Mitt Romney unable to spend money in the summer, which gave Barack Obama’s presidential campaign the field to itself all summer long to attack Romney.  Priebus wants to put an end to that disadvantage:

“One of the reasons why Mitt Romney was a sitting duck for two months over the summer is under the campaign finance law he couldn’t use money he had already raised until after he received nomination for president in August. I believe that our primary process is way too long. I think our calendar needs to be looked at. I think our debate calendar needs to be shrunk. I think we had way too many debates with our candidates slicing and dicing each other and I think they had to wait too long to get to the convention,” Priebus said.

The GOP chairman told Schieffer the 2012 Republican primary process “hurt” the party and its nominee.

“It hurt because there was no way to control it,” Priebus said. “I mean if you have 10 candidates and nine out of 10 raise their hand and say I’m going to any two hour block offered, well then you have a debate every three days and you’re the only show in town. So while we were playing footsie debating each other 23 times what was the other side doing? They were spending potentially hundreds of millions of dollars on data, technology, voter outreach. They were actually getting the job done.”

To fix the problem, Priebus said he wouldn’t have debates start until the fall of the year before the election.

“I would do one a month, this is me talking now. I would do one a month. I would have more say over the moderators, more say over the debate partners. I would limit the debate to a reasonable amount. I don’t know, maybe 7 or 8, but not 23, Bob,” said Priebus, adding: “That’s ridiculous.”

Conventions used to be held more in mid-summer, but have more recently moved toward the end of August.  Ostensibly, this was to have the summer to raise funds and keep a lower profile, but that’s clearly not the environment in which we’re working any longer.  However, while Romney obviously operated at a disadvantage last year, it’s not clear that would be the case with convention scheduling in 2016.  Both parties will have wide-open primaries, and the eventual nominee will have to spend most of their primary cash to fend off their colleagues. The risk of an earlier convention is message and volunteer burn-out during the general election — not to mention donor exhaustion.  (Of course, if we get rid of the artificial structures of campaign-finance reform in favor of immediate transparency, convention scheduling wouldn’t matter at all.)

Priebus is right about the debates, but his own explanation shows how difficult it will be to control that environment.  The problem isn’t the party, it’s the candidates, and especially those looking to overcome a perceived recognition deficit (and real fundraising deficits).  Second-tier primary hopefuls will volunteer for any TV air time they can get in the hope of raising their profile, and they’re not going to be particular about “debate partners” and moderators, either.  How will the RNC enforce discipline on that process, given that some of the likely 2016 candidates — Rand Paul, for instance — will run explicitly as anti-GOP-establishment leaders?  Pointing to George Stephanopoulos’ launch of the Team Obama war-on-wimmenses strategy will probably not convince these candidates to take their marching orders from Republican HQ, although it should be an object lesson proving Priebus’ point.