Political Insider exclusive interview with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
by Steven A. Castleton
In a far-reaching exclusive interview with the new RNC Chairman Reince Priebus I came away with the feeling the Republican Party now has the right leader at the right time to get the party back on track.
To be quite honest, I went into this interview in his Washington , DC office wondering who is this guy and is he for real. I left a believer. During the interview I realized he has the right vision and the inner strength to do what has to be done to pay down the enormous debt (he paid down about $3million in his first two months), but also possesses the administrative leadership ability to make the tough decisions.
Since Chairman Priebus took over, he slashed staff and overhead by 35% and conducted a wholesale audit of the new media and direct mail departments while reviewing numerous other contracts, some of which were cancelled, in order to streamline operations and eliminate waste.
Steve Castleton: During your campaign for chairman, you ran on a platform that included restoring the trust of donors. Now that you are Chairman, how do you plan to ensure supporters that their donations will be spent wisely in 2011 and 2012?
Chairman Priebus: It’s all about restoring trust and credibility. We need to run an efficient and effective committee which is why I cut staff and overhead by 35 percent and have taken steps to reevaluate and restructure contracts.
Our number one goal at the RNC is running a successful GOTV operation to help our nominee and it is my priority to make sure we are in financial position to do this in the coming months.
Castleton: When you came into office the RNC had a debt of $23 million. Since then you have been able to shrink that number to $21 million. What is your plan to pay down that debt while still raising enough money to defeat Barack Obama who is expected to raise as much as $1 billion.
Priebus : In my first two months as Chairman, we have paid off some of our debt while invoices from previous commitments continue to come in from the past administration.
I am spending 5-6 hours a day on the phone raising money and we have gotten our mail program back up and running the way it should be – we have work to do but we have taken great steps in the right direction with both mail and rebuilding relationships with major donors.
Paying down the debt and putting money aside in our Presidential Trust needs to happen simultaneously so we not only get ourselves on good financial footing but are in a good position to be a partner to our nominee.
Castleton: Many Survey responders want the Republican Party to work closer with the Tea Party. How did you work with the Tea Party as Chairman of the Wisconsin GOP and how can the National Party do better in 2011-2012?
Priebus: The Republican Party is just part of the conservative movement; we are united behind fiscally conservative principles and the desire to get our economy back on track by cutting government spending.
The Tea Party movement helped propel the fiscal realities of the state and national governments to the forefront last cycle and they have a great voice that we must help use.
It is my job as RNC Chairman to bring together as many coalitions to be successful in 2012; the first way I do that is by running a functional and fully operational RNC.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin worked hand in hand – sometimes behind the scenes – with the Tea Party and I will continue working to foster relationships with an important part of the conservative movement.
Let me also stress how I am blessed as Chairman to have a terrific partner in RNC Co-Chairman Sharon Day. She is also working tirelessly reaching out and meeting with various groups around the country, and doing a great job.
Castleton: Chairman, I mentioned before the interview that there are many Republicans throughout the country that have many questions that they feel should be answered. I thank you for allowing me to look through the responses from the last two emails that the RNC sent out and here are two of the questions that the responders sent in:
Castleton: First one is from Malcolm from Oregon, and he asked: “How can the RNC take advantage of technology better to secure the involvement of more young people?”
Priebus: As an avid user of Twitter and Facebook, one of my priorities during the transition has been to put a focus on improving our Party’s use of social media.
The most important factor on that front is to keep an open mind and seek out suggestions on how we can stay ahead of the curve.
While we continue to explore and improve upon our use of social media, our top objective is to make sure that we are engaging in a dialogue that is a two-way street with our grassroots supporters of all ages.
Castleton: The second question is from Robert from Virginia who asked: “After seeing a near record amount of Republican primaries in 2010, primaries in which the candidates forgot all about President Reagan’s 11th commandment, how will you work with the state GOP organizations to make sure we have the best candidate in the strongest possible shape ready for the 2012 general election?”
Priebus: Primaries are a healthy part of the democratic process. They help us remain a grassroots-oriented Party by ensuring that our candidates reflect the concerns of those who elect them. Primaries provide a layer of accountability, where candidates are encouraged to lay their conservative values on the table and have a debate about the future of our Party so we get candidates who govern like they campaign.
Castleton: Last cycle, Republicans ran successfully on a platform of repealing ObamaCare. Where does this stand and what more can be done without Republican control of the Senate and the White House?
Priebus: One of the first actions taken by the new Republican House Majority was to pass legislation repealing the President’s government takeover of health care.
But we still have work to do – electing a Senate Majority and most importantly the next Republican President.
That is what we work towards every day at the RNC, electing the Republican leaders of tomorrow who clean up the mess left by President Obama’s failed leadership.
We need to govern like we campaign. We need to find people of their word to run for office, we need to win elections and then we need to govern like we campaign. It’s that third piece that helps us as a party rebuild trust and credibility and that’s what Republicans are doing.
We need to win the majority in the Senate, we need to defeat Barack Obama to make sure we can undo this massive unfunded liability that’s been created by ObamaCare which is going to bring us even faster over that fiscal cliff then where we are already heading.
Castleton: Any predictions for the 2012 elections? Will we take back the White House? Keep control of the House? Take back the Senate?
Priebus: What I need to do every day is to pay down this debt and make sure that Republicans are staying true to their principles and their word. Win elections in 2012 and defeat this President. I’ve never been one for predictions. But I think we have a really good shot at keeping the House, taking back the Senate and defeating this President.
I’ve always felt that if you keep your head down, stay focused on the goal, and remain true to your word – the results will come.
Castleton: What is the biggest challenge facing us in the campaign to defeat Obama in 2012?
Priebus: Barack Obama will run the first billion dollar campaign – with government employee unions and other special interests supporting him all the way. He spent his first term providing government bailouts to these groups so that they are now financially invested in him.
We need to match him dollar for dollar.
If he can spend $750 million to $1 billion dollars in messaging to try and mask and undo the fiscal realities of where we are in this country, that’s why the money issue is going to be our biggest challenge.
Because straight up on the issues Barack Obama has not been good for this country. On the issue of the economy and the fiscal condition and the truth of where we are in America, he loses that election.
So if we have the resources to compete with this President, we can win in 2012, we can save our country and in the process we will save our party.
So now we need a top-notch effort to battle the President’s message machine so we can put a Republican in the White House who can produce results and not just rhetoric.
Castleton: Who was your favorite President?
Priebus: My favorite president is the one that I grew up with as a little boy is Ronald Reagan. Not just for the work he did and just his individual conservative views but the way he lived his life, the way he communicated with the American people, the positive nature of his spirit is something that I think our country is starving for right now.
I hope that we give the voters a viable alternative to Barack Obama so that we can win in 2012 and rebuild the America that we all love.
Something that was missing from all of Chairman Priebus’ answers but almost always found in Washington was finger pointing. Through the entire 45 minute interview he did not once pass blame and point fingers. He admitted mistakes were made in the past and vowed not to allow them to happen on his watch. I believe him at his word. His first political campaign was as a third grader at Pleasant Prairie Elementary School in Kenosha Wisconsin where he appointed himself manager of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. Somehow I think President Reagan is smiling and thinking “It Can Be Done”.