On Thursday, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus chatted with National Review’s Jim Geraghty about the committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project report, released Monday, and the next steps for the party.
JIM GERAGHTY: Obviously, it’s been a busy week for you. What do you think of the reaction to the Growth and Opportunity Project report, and has anything surprised you about that reaction?
REINCE PRIEBUS: I think the reaction was extremely positive. Obviously not everyone agrees with all 219 points made in the report, and I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with all 219 points. But I think that, for the most part, people see a party that wants to be a permanent organization on the ground in the community, that wants to be mechanically much better, as well as digitally, and that understands that we can’t compete anymore with five-month drop-in campaigns the way that we used to.
We were successful with that at some point. But nowadays with our competition, and President Obama, who sends hundreds of people with clipboards out into neighborhoods, the reality is that we’ve got to step up and start doing it [differently]. That’s my world, Jim. My world is trying to run a massive party organization on a year-round basis without the presidency. It’s why a lot of the focus of the report is on mechanics and ground game and data. It’s because that’s really the heart and soul of what our party has to become.
GERAGHTY: This was a report that largely stayed away from policy decisions, except for one on immigration. And I saw in your press conference that you seemed to be indicating that you don’t think the party chairman should be saying what should be in an immigration bill. Why did the report end up making that one hot-button-issue policy recommendation, and do you think that one point is dominating the discussion of the report?
PRIEBUS: It was the result of talking to 50,000 people. On the comprehensive-immigration-reform issue, there was clearly a significant barrier in reaching Hispanic voters, both on that issue and the comment that Romney made in regard to “self-deportation.” That caused us to have significant roadblocks with reaching out to Hispanic voters. . . .
It’s just a reality of trying to connect the dots on the ground. It identifies something that has to be dealt with by folks in the legislature. Otherwise, we’re going to continue to be inhibited.
GERAGHTY: As you discuss this issue, do you sense any fear that while there’s one large demographic of voters that is turned off by this, at the same time, there’s this chunk of Republican voters who think “self-deportation” is just fine, and who see any path to citizenship as de facto amnesty? Otherwise, Romney wouldn’t have said it, right?
PRIEBUS: First of all, I am not in favor of amnesty, and this party is not in favor of amnesty. I think we’re being intellectually lazy here by seeing the words “comprehensive immigration reform” and then automatically jumping to the conclusion that we’re talking about amnesty.
[Kentucky senator] Rand Paul just announced he’s in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Now, my guess is that Rand Paul’s version of comprehensive immigration reform might be different from [Arizona senator] John McCain’s version.
I think we all have to realize that some kind of immigration reform, in a broad way, is very important to our country. By doing nothing, with all of these sanctuary cities, we’ve got amnesty right now. The question is, what are we going to do about our immigration system, which is clearly broken? To me, that doesn’t seem very complicated.
What the details of the bill are and what the bill drafters and legislators are doing right now, that’s something I’m not involved with. But I clearly know, and anyone who spends time in Hispanic communities in this country knows, that some form of immigration reform is necessary to deal with this issue.
GERAGHTY: Then there’s the section: “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.” Can the Republican party oppose gay marriage and still appeal to these younger voters for whom treatment of gays is a gateway issue?