Your Washington Desk
Why RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was re-elected
When Reince Priebus took over as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2011, the party was $23 million in debt and facing an incumbent Democratic president running for reelection. On Jan. 16, Priebus was re-elected to a third two-year term coming off of one of the most successful midterm elections for Republicans in history and heading into a presidential election with no incumbent.
When he ran for RNC chairman, he challenged Michael Steele, the sitting chairman, and three other contenders, and it took seven ballots to elect him. Today, he was re-elected without opposition. Needless to say, much has changed between his first election and the one today.
Outside of political circles, few people know much about Reince Priebus. Although he regularly appears on television and radio, the stories are rarely about him. Instead, he typically appears as the voice of the Republican Party, defending Republican policies and politicians while remaining consistently on the attack against Democrats and President Barack Obama. Of course, that is his job.
Yet, behind the scenes, Priebus has built a political juggernaut capable of winning elections from county courthouses to statehouses to both houses of the Congress. The distance from where the party began when he took office to where it is today is by all accounts monumental. Now, with a third term to do it, he has set his sights on the ultimate prize for a political party chairman–the White House in 2016.
The bedrock of Priebus’s transformation of the Republican Party has been his ability to raise money. When he started, he did not just inherit a $23 million debt. He inherited Republican donors who had lost all confidence in their party. Every pundit agrees: It is one thing to raise money; it is an entirely different thing to raise money from donors who no longer trust a party or candidate with their money.
But if there is one thing that Reinhold Richard “Reince” Priebus excels at, it is raising money. Indeed, by the end of just his first year in office, he had already raised $50 million. Since then, he has raised more money each year than the year before. And with that money, he has eliminated the debt and funded a dominating political machine. While his ability to raise money is impressive, his ability to manage people and the process is even better. Without so much as a testy disagreement, he has steered the RNC and Republican candidates around the United States in new directions with new rules and a renewed vigor. For a political party out of power but full of healthy egos with differing political agendas, this is no small thing.
Every election cycle, Priebus has taken the lessons from the last to build toward the next. When the RNC was so heavily in debt in 2011, he spent the year laser-focused on raising money. When Republicans lost the Presidential election in 2012, Priebus ordered a top-to-bottom review.
In 2014, Priebus not only led a winning team at the ballot box, but he looked beyond the fall elections and focused the RNC on changes to increase Republicans’ chances of winning in the 2016 Presidential election. These changes were not minor tweaks aimed at pacifying unhappy candidates.
In 2016, the GOP presidential nomination process will be very different than it was in 2012. The days of 23 debates where, as Priebus puts it, Republican presidential candidates “slice and dice” each other leaving the eventual nominee with little chance of recovering, are gone. Under the new rules, the RNC Committee on Debates will decide the number with a likely limit of 10 debates unless the nomination process goes long. But it does not end there. The RNC Committee on Debates will have meaningful input into timing, sequencing, venues, moderators and panelists. Instead of the turmoil and disarray of 2012, the 2016 debate process will have focus and direction. So will the GOP caucuses and primaries. Leapfrogging states pushing the process earlier and earlier will end. Four states will start the process – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. None of these states can start earlier than Feb. 1, 2016. No other state can start earlier than March 1, 2016.
From March 1, 2016, until March 15, 2016, there will be a “cooling-off” period with no winner-take-all states. Instead, during that two-week period, delegates will be proportioned by outcome unless a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. This cooling-off period should reduce the risk of a runaway nominee who has not been fully vetted. After March 15, 2016, states can have winner-take-all primaries. But no state can have a “beauty contest” where a primary or caucus does not bind any delegates. The Republican National Convention will be moved up to July 2016, with the GOP nominee decided long before Labor Day.
As these adjustments confirm, Priebus has changed things up since becoming RNC chairman. From fundraising to election outcomes to the way Republicans choose their nominee, Priebus has made big changes with impressive results. Now, he gets to put them to the ultimate test – the 2016 presidential election.