Reince Priebus' Look Back and Forward

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Reince Priebus. As chair of the Republican Party in Wisconsin from 2007 to 2010, his ability to get the Tea Party faction to work with the establishment was instrumental in turning the Purple state Red – capturing the Assembly, the Senate, the Governorship, the state Supreme Court, and a majority of the US House seats. Since he assumed the lead of the Republican National Committee in 2010, Republicans have established long term dominance of the House, captured the Senate, and taken over about two thirds of the state governorships and legislative chambers. There are those who deny causality, but he has had major behind the scenes influence in recruiting candidates, guiding donors, establishing a comprehensive voter data bases, and setting the rules for the current round of debates, primaries and caucuses. What must he be thinking as he looks back at 2015 and forward at 2016?

Highlights of 2015

– A conflict between the two major establishment candidates for the presidential nomination was avoided when Mitt Romney was convinced in January to defer to Jeb Bush. Such is the amusement of the gods.

– The schedule and management of the presidential debate schedule was announced in January with the number reduced to 12 from 20 in the last cycle and many of the particulars left to the sponsoring television networks. The use of an “undercard” rather than a random draw for two equal groups gave Fiorina and Christie a chance to shine and get back onto the main stage while accommodating the large field – including two Hispanics, a woman, and an African American. CNBC was bumped for their overtly partisan approach; candidates Trump and Carson forced a two hour time limit the inclusion of opening and closing statements. Overall each candidate had adequate opportunity to show their personality and policy positions to remarkably large Trump-inspired audiences. While the Democrats and the media criticized some positions as extreme, in many cases public opinion was with the candidates. In an “any coverage is good coverage” world, it was Advantage Republicans.

–  While the states decide individually on the dates and format of their delegate selection process, the RNC controls what happens at the convention, and changed the rules for 2016 so that the 15 states selecting convention delegates before March 15 will do so on a proportional basis, making it harder for an outlier to gather early momentum, and favoring the well funded, slow and steady candidates.  They also changed the rules to require that in order to be nominated a candidate needs the majority of the delegates from at least eight states – again favoring the broad campaigns, and making the split early states a bit less important.  Up with the establishment; down with the Tea Party.

– Despite all of the best laid plans and a plethora of experienced governors and senators from every region and ideological stripe to choose from, we’ve got Donald Trump in the lead among likely primary voters. The depth of populist frustration with electing a Republican House and a Republican Senate and getting bupkis has bubbled over – in the House with the ouster of [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ]; In the presidential race with Donald Trump, who represents a chance for the Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the eminently beatable Hillary.

Highlights for 2016

– Task One for Priebus – avoid the worst case scenario: obvious bias amid a failing campaign which would cause Trump to bolt the party and run as an independent. After the first debate in which Trump refused to offer fealty, he has signed a pledge to support the party’s nominee, but enjoys playing with the Party, stressing that his loyalty is conditioned on being  “treated fairly”. Maneuvering room for the RNC is limited, but most of the potentially objectionable decisions have already been made.

– The Republican convention in Cleveland will be held from July 18 to 21, more than a month earlier than in the last cycle in order to allow more time for the healing of wounds, integration of campaign organizations, and for the RNC to raise and provide funds for the eventual candidate. The allocation of delegates between the states favors those with Republican governors, national legislators, and state legislatures, but there remains large state-level authority to determine how those delegates are selected. (San Francisco is among the easiest places to be a delegate, with three delegates and 35,000 registered Republicans; in some Red districts the number is four or five times as high.)

– Planning for the convention itself becomes critical. With at least three factions projecting longevity – Trump and the disaffected populists; Cruz with the true conservatives and the evangelicals; and Rubio or someone else who can consolidate the moderates – there is a real chance that the nominee will be selected at the convention for the first time since Thomas Dewey in 1948. Secondary candidates who have delegates from the 15 “proportional” states can play a role, even if they have “suspended” their campaigns. Rules require that delegates follow their state-wide vote on the first ballot, but after that there is much room for mischief. With the potential of a meaningful convention, an advantage goes to the campaign with the best staff to get the right delegates selected in the states, serve on the Convention credentials and rules committees, and whip votes if it comes to that. Expect a major ratings win over the Democrats’ siesta.

Notes for the “to do” list next week:

1. Set up a lunch with David and Charles to discuss that $889 mil. See if they want to include Paul R.

2. Call Mitt to see how he is doing.

3. Call Donald to reassure fair treatment.


This week’s bonus – inspired by a loyal reader in Virginia – is an offshoot of the famous debt clock.

                                                                        Happy 2016

bill bowen – 12/31/15