Priebus is prepared to spend the next two years prioritizing the improvement and modernization of the committee’s outdated and overmatched voter-turnout operation.
Priebus said he expects the RNC to act as a partner to the NRCC and NRSC and the Republican Governors Association on political messaging, fundraising and an improved voter turnout operation — “a product everyone can plug into,” Priebus said. The RNC’s intention is to complement its sister committees and prevent overlap and duplication. But Priebus’ overarching goal is to prepare the RNC and the GOP generally for the 2016 presidential election cycle.
For the ex-Wisconsin GOP chairman, that means bringing order to the presidential nominating process and the televised primary debates. Priebus wants the RNC to regulate how many debates are held, who participates, which media outlets televise them and which journalists from those outlets moderate them. Any changes or new rules that Priebus might push would have to be implemented according to RNC rules, the chairman indicated.
But it’s upgrading the RNC’s voter turnout operation that could serve as the centerpiece of the four-year plan Priebus is developing as he readies his agenda. Priebus did not sugar-coat the GOP’s deficiencies on this front compared to the Democrats, saying the RNC needs to resuscitate messaging, how it collects and analyzes data, the mechanics of its get-out-the-vote program and the time and money invested in this component of the committee’s mission.
“We need to do everything they’ve done, and we need to figure out how to do it much better,” Priebus said. “It’s not just mimicking what the Obama campaign did, but I think it’s a matter of us improving on what they did, what we did and taking it to the next level.”
Priebus said his goal is to build a rehabilitated voter-turnout operation with an on-the-ground presence that is four years in the making by the time the 2016 Republican presidential nominee is crowned. Part of the strength of Obama’s operation, as Priebus noted and the president’s re-election team said repeatedly during the 2012 campaign, was that it never folded after the 2008 election but instead continued its presence in targeted communities.
Priebus said that RNC donors and grass-roots workers are hungry for the committee to tackle this and other challenges, which include improving its fundraising, although that was the one area where it excelled during the 2012 cycle. The RNC is in the midst of an “autopsy” to figure out what went wrong in 2012 and how improvements can be made.
For Priebus, the aftermath of the 2012 elections has a much different flavor than his experience two years prior, when, as Wisconsin GOP chairman, he helped Republicans flip a Senate seat, two House seats, the governor’s mansion and the state legislature. This time, instead of celebrating historic gains, Republicans are asking hard questions about the viability of their party, and Priebus has not escaped the blame cast at many GOP leaders.
But Priebus said criticism comes with being in his position. Getting “defensive” would be counterproductive to his goal of continuing the improvements he began at the RNC two years ago and putting the GOP in a position to be successful over the next two years and win in 2016, he said. Priebus said the party’s problems are real, particularly in presidential contests, and go beyond the historic nature of the Obama White House.