Here, next to the the decommissioned World War-II battleship, the USS Alabama, the Young Republicans are having their annual gala, and Republican party chairman, Reince Priebus is the keynote speaker.
In his speech, Priebus aggressively set out his vision for the future of the RNC. We need a “turnaround,” Priebus argued. “The party needs to be better than it has been in the past.” He described the RNC as a “complete disaster that got back on the rails about 18 months ago.” Without naming names, Priebus made it clear that his predecessor had a lot to answer for.
“People have different theories of what happened in ‘12, and what I need to tackle.” He started by observing that Republicans ”have got to understand that we can’t show up a few months before elections and move mountains,” he observed. “We live in a world of permanent politics. We need to have a presence in Asian communities, in Hispanic communities, and in African-American communities. We need to be a year-round party. If you don’t have the presence you don’t make the sale…We need a permanent year-round ground game that never quits and doesn’t turn up every four years like locusts…This is what the other side does.” They got started “three and a half years ago,” Priebus argued, “with people from the local area…They’re permanently there. Although the world of permanent politics, of politics as a vocation hasn’t been popular in our party, we need to embrace it.”
As important as the ground game, Priebus contended, is that Republicans have “lost the history of [their] party,” suffering from a problem of “branding.” “We’re the party of equality and freedom,” Priebus argued, to applause. “We’re the Republican Party! But we don’t tell anyone. We might want to defend the word ‘Republican.’ The umbrella brand matters in our party, but we let people say, ‘Oh, I’m not a Republican, I’m a conservative,’ or ‘I’m a libertarian.’ We need to educate people about this party. We need to go to colleges, churches, festivals, and tell people the history of this party. We are the party that believes in unlimited opportunity for everyone.” Perhaps following the example if the Mormon church, Priebus suggested a campaign of “ads across the country: ‘I’m a Republican because. . .’”
Priebus also took on the primary system. “Our primary system is a disaster,” he complained. “Why do we allow a traveling circus in front of moderators who are in the business of making us look bad? We need to get control over our debates.” He made sure to pre-empted criticism from skeptics, insisting that “this is not an establishment takeover, it’s using your brain.”
“We need to move our convention from the end of August to the end of June so we don’t torture our candidates,” so they can “spend their money earlier,” he added. There’s no longer any need “for a late convention,” now that “nobody takes public funding.” And who should those candidates be? “People in this country want real people. You have to have candidates that people relate to, that people like, that people understand. In Wisconsin we call it the beer test.” (When Priebus mentioned Scott Walker, many ears pricked up.)
Priebus urged attendees to “go big,” contending that there is no point in being involved in politics unless one is prepared to “be the best you can be.” His parting message: We cannot go back to the days in which “we are 26 million dollars in debt and our party credit cards are suspended months before an election.”