Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, spoke to NRO yesterday morning about the committee’s new Growth and Opportunity Project, which is led by a five-member panel that will review the operations and strategies of the RNC and Republican party as a whole. The members of that panel are Sally Bradshaw, a veteran adviser to former Florida governor Jeb Bush; Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush; and three RNC committee members — Zori Fonalledas of Puerto Rico, Henry Barbour of Mississippi, and Glenn McCall of South Carolina.
Jim Geraghty: Take us through the thinking behind the establishment of this group and what you’re hoping it accomplishes.
Reince Priebus: This is going to be a group that ultimately, when it’s all said and done, is going to be an octopus with a thousand tentacles. There’s not going to be any stone left unturned. There’s not going to be any group or people that we don’t try to reach out to in order to, at the end of the day, develop the best possible two- and four-year plan moving forward. That will incorporate everything. That includes the best of all data, the best of all state-party-operations ideas: GOTV, digital, campaign infrastructure — everything you can put together to be the best possible party. That’s what it’s going to include. We want something that we are going to be able to implement, that the grassroots are going to buy into, and that the donors are ultimately going to want to invest in.
That’s the idea, to create the best infrastructure, the best party operation possible. That means political people, non-political people, Republicans, libertarians, the Tea Party, and everyone in between, they’re all at the table. Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, everyone. That’s the idea, we want to be the best.
Geraghty: How did you select the membership?
Priebus: We’re just getting started. The one thing out of the box I want to make really clear is that right now we have five co-chairs, but we have eight general areas that we’re going to be diving into and that will include hundreds of people. The task force ultimately is going to be built out with lots of folks who are experts in different areas who will be coming into not just the RNC but also into regional meetings across the country. We’ll be talking to grassroots, talking to donors, leaders in different fields. This is just the beginning. I’d say, Hold on to your hat, because you’re going to see a lot of things happening around this particular project.
Geraghty: A month later, do you look back on the RNC’s operations this past cycle and see anything you would have wanted to do differently?
Priebus: This is what I generally think about not just the RNC but also the campaign in general, the Romney campaign: I think in the year and a half that we had, I think we did a great job. Unfortunately, I think the other side did a great job for four years. I think that’s really what we’re coming down to.
Ultimately where this is going to lead is that we have to have a massive operation that is very granular, that is in communities across America for a very long time — three years, three and a half years, four years. It has to be around the clock. That’s the ultimate conclusion.
As far as what went wrong, my general answer is “all of the above.” You can look at all kinds of things: messengers, message, mechanics, data, demographic groups, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians.
All of those things need to be looked at, all of that can be improved. But what we’re going to see is that they have to be improved over a long period of time. This idea that we tear down every three years and build up for a one-year monster campaign — I just don’t see that being the future. I think the future is a much broader operation for a long period of time.
Geraghty: One of the intriguing points I saw raised in the discussions that this group has had is the recommendation of changes to the presidential-primary schedule. Are you hoping to see changes in how the primaries are set up?
Priebus: One of the major topics that people discuss is the debate issue — controlling the debates and tying the nomination process to the debate calendar is something we’re going to look at. Now, we didn’t have that opportunity two years ago; there is no mechanism to tie the nomination process to the debate calendar. But we have that opportunity now. We can do that with a three-quarters vote of the Republican National Committee. Here’s a hypothetical. The RNC could hypothetically say, “Look, here’s the debate calendar. Here are the moderators. We’re going to have one debate a month starting on this day.” And adherence to the calendar will be a requirement to achieving the nomination to the presidency — either through bonus delegates or penalties of delegates subtracted. There is one major reason that a presidential candidate needs the Republican party: To get on the ballot in November, a presidential candidate must get a majority of delegates at a national convention to vote for him or her. If the presidential candidate can’t make that happen, he or she is not on the ballot. So that is one idea that we will be looking at.
If you have ten presidential candidates, and seven out of ten or eight out of ten will take whatever two-hour slot that is open to them, then you end up with a debate any time some cable network decides to hold one. You can’t control that situation. Our endeavor is to come up with some idea that helps us control that situation.