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The Daily Fray

New RNC Chair Must Make Nice With Tea Party

January 18, 2011

The Republican National Committee is way behind in its fundraising, but the toughest challenge for its new chairman, Reince Priebus, will be making nice with the Tea Party without freaking out independents and more moderate big donors. In his campaign to replace outgoing head Michael Steele, Priebus bragged that he had a great relationship with Tea Partiers in Wisconsin, where he led the state party. But activists have less fond memories, Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel reports. They say Priebus merely gave "lip service to the movement while stacking the deck against its candidates," Vogel writes.

On the national level, Priebus's gravest transgression might have been working for a law firm that helped score stimulus money for clients. And he's perceived as having been too close to the controversial Steele. Will Priebus maintain the RNC's "closed country club-type atmosphere," as one activist complains? Or can he meld the GOP's rich people and angry people into one big happy modern family? So far, it looks like he's working on the donors first.

  • Starting Off with a Bang, notes NBC News' Domenico Montanaro. Priebus fired the staff Steele had hired to organize the 2012 convention in Tampa--by November, the planning committee had spent 18 times more than was spent ahead of the 2008 event. "The move is likely aimed as a first step to restore the faith of the committee's major donors. Priebus is going to need them to open up their wallets for the 2012 cycle. He's facing a debt of $21 million. He has pledged to raise $400 million over the next two years."
  • The RNC Matters Less  "As currently comprised," conservative blogger Dan Riehl insists, "I have very little faith [the GOP] can offer any grassroots American movement what it needs in the way of leadership. That is why the Tea Party came to be in the first place, right? The RNC can fete its new Little Preince all it wants, they are no longer the only party in town. And the grassroots and the Tea Party rock in ways they never can, or will."
  • Not So Bad  Priebus is "not the guy a lot of tea party activists wanted nationwide," RedState's Erik Erickson writes, "but I’ve been inundated with calls from ardent defenders of his this past week from Wisconsin who say he was a significant player in the profound turn around up there. That so many have called this week to support him--people who are authentically and unquestionably grassroots--is encouraging."
  • Be on Guard With This Chairman, WorldNetDaily's Mychal Massie writes. "Tea parties are being blamed for the Republican Party not winning the majority in the Senate, which is Rove and company's way of telling us to just give them our money next time and vote how they tell us. The Republican hierarchy doesn't care about us."
  • Money Matters More than Soundbites, The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost notes.
In Michael Steele, the RNC stumbled upon a chairman who seemed much more interested in appearing on television than doing the thankless behind the scenes tasks that the RNC chairman must perform. Steele ostensibly believed that appearing on television was his primary job--to go on the cable news shows and help fortify the party brand, or something. This simply is not true. ... [T]he RNC needs a chairman who places the task of TV pundit in proper perspective, who understands that his top priority is to raise money, and that public relations via the cable networks is a distant second place. In Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee seems to have found such a chairman.
 
  • A Tough Job Ahead, observes The Hill's Sean J. Miller. Priebus will have to find quality people to raise all that dough. "The challenge for the new chairman will be to assemble a top fundraising and communications staff during a presidential cycle, when campaigns will also be competing for talent."
  • Past Mistakes Are in the Past, The National Review's Jim Geraghty argues.
Priebus often cited the Tea Parties when discussing what he wanted to do as chairman, and his constant invocation of them might help him rebuild the RNC’s credibility with grassroots activists. And he’ll probably keep pointing to his Wisconsin friends; Sen. Ron Johnson and Reps. Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy are good names to drop when establishing small-government street cred. Besides telling donors that he can replicate his Wisconsin success, Preibus will argue that the mistakes of the past are just that: in the past. Despite his work as counsel for the RNC during Steele’s term, he is a fresh face, figuratively as well as literally. Not only do many Washington Republicans and grassroots conservatives not know him, they don’t know how to pronounce or spell his name.
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