Priebus’s Way Forward
The RNC chairman aims to build a party to compete with Obama’s organization and the Left’s soft-money groups.


PRIEBUS: Yeah. I think it’s sort of like our moms used to say, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” I just did a show with [former Arkansas] governor Huckabee. Here’s a person who always strikes the perfect tone on all of these issues. . . . As a Christian and as a Republican chairman, you can have an opinion on these issues, but you have an obligation to treat people with dignity and respect. I don’t see how those things are incompatible. I think for someone to argue that they’re incompatible, that’s not natural to me.

When I was asked at the National Press Club whether the national party would cut off [Ohio senator] Rob Portman from funding . . . I don’t know a whole lot of people in our party who believe that Rob Portman is not a good Republican and that we ought to cut someone off because we might have a disagreement on an issue. I just don’t see that as a winning place for our party to be, and I don’t think a whole lot of people would disagree with me on that.


: When the five-person panel turned in their report, was there any recommendation in there that you disagreed with or saw as creating more problems than it would solve?

PRIEBUS: Oh, I don’t know. Honestly, everybody’s going to get into the whole nitpicking thing. Not everything is simple. On campaign finance, I agree with most of that, but there are some things there that are very difficult to do. Some of the areas in regards to how you change rules within the RNC could be difficult.

I don’t know how to answer that question without walking through all 219 items with you.

: What do you expect to achieve with LULAC, La Raza, and the NAACP? And how soon will those dialogues begin?

PRIEBUS: It’s a recommendation from the committee, but I also think it’s all part of showing up. I don’t think the ground operation is going to suddenly change just because we go and give a few speeches. I’m not naïve. But it’s all part of showing up. It’s all part of the overall effort, which is going into these communities and talking about the Republican party and the things we believe in.

It’s a complement to our general efforts to be a party that’s everywhere. If you’re going to be a party that’s everywhere and that competes everywhere, we have to be in those places.

: Most of these ideas, particularly the data-analytics institute, will require funding. How much money will the RNC need to implement all of these recommendations?

PRIEBUS: On the data front, we have to figure out a way, with our partners, to make sure that we can build out a data-sharing platform that’s legally compliant and state-of-the-art.

That’s why the RNC has to be the main funding mechanism for the effort. To bore you for just a minute: Barack Obama built his data platform, which some people have guessed was a $300 million effort. I don’t know what the truth is to that, but some people have guessed that. The difference is that he built the data, so he owns the data, and therefore Barack Obama can use the data. There’s no hard-money, soft-money problem.

Where you have a candidate who just came through a primary broke [as Romney did last cycle], they obviously didn’t have the resources to build out an equally aggressive data platform.

Either the candidate has to have the upgraded data, or the national party has to be able to transfer that upgraded data to the candidate.

If you had a friend who said, “I’m going to spend $100 million, we’re going to solve this problem once and for all. We’re going to get the voter files, we’re going to do A, B, C, and D” . . . That entity can’t just transfer that data to the candidate, because now you’re using soft money to upgrade data and give it to a candidate who can only take hard money.

The challenge here is that we have to build out and compete against Barack Obama’s already formulated data platform. The RNC has to spearhead it all.

I don’t have an exact figure for what it’s going to cost, because we’re building out our platform now. But the estimate that I have heard is tens of millions.

: I love the call to get rid of caucuses, but I understand lots of folks, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum among them, are virulently opposed. How hard will the RNC push states like Iowa on this?

PRIEBUS: We have to work cooperatively with our state parties and state legislatures. The rules have been changed, by the way. Caucuses and statewide convention events have to award delegates. Beauty contests that don’t award delegates aren’t really recognized by the RNC.

But it would have to be a cooperative effort.

There are a couple of things people agree on. One, we have to move back the convention from August, back to June or July. There’s a good reason for it; it’s a campaign-finance reason. When you do that, you’re automatically going to be shortening the primary process itself. You’re going to be compressing the primary under the rules. I think the shorter primary process is really important. Our focus is more on the primaries, the length of the primaries, the convention placement, and what’s happening in our primaries with our candidates when they’re slicing each other apart through 23 debates in a seemingly never-ending primary. It’s a problem.

There are other factors in play. Super PACs extended the primary, clearly. Being the only race in town extended the primary, and gave even more focus to those 23 debates. I understand there were some factors in the last election that probably won’t be there in 2016. Nonetheless, we have an opportunity to reform our primary system now, and I think we should.