Political Hay

RNC Chair Priebus Under Fire

Missouri GOP Chair: "Investigate Mississippi Primary Racism."

By 7.10.14

UPI (Reince Priebus)
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Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus has been asked to open an investigation into the Mississippi Senate GOP runoff election — by a member of the RNC.

In an interview with The American Spectator, Missouri State Republican Chairman Ed Martin says he believes what happened in Mississippi is symbolic of a “battle for the future of the party.” Martin says that RNC colleagues he has spoken to “are looking for Reince Priebus to show leadership” on the issue. “Leadership” defined as opening an investigation into what Martin and others see as race-baiting tactics used to win the primary runoff for six-term GOP establishment Senator Thad Cochran over Tea Party member Chris McDaniel. Martin says what happened in Mississippi is “beyond the pale.” One of his RNC colleagues, Dr. Ada Fisher, a physician who serves as the committeewoman for North Carolina — and the granddaughter of a slave — has volunteered to serve on a panel that would investigate the controversy.

This is yet another indication that the damage from the controversial Mississippi runoff is spilling over into national Republican politics. Indeed, the issue has already surged inside the Beltway with this story that appeared Tuesday night in the Washington Post. Additionally, Martin has written a longer missive at his website headlined: “Investigate Mississippi Primary Racism.”

Let’s begin with the letter the Missouri State chairman has written to the RNC:

Dear Chairman Priebus,

As you know, the situation in Mississippi following the Republican primary run-off is receiving national attention.

I have been particularly concerned about the racially divisive ads and robocalls that have been reported by the Daily Mail. Specifically, that reporting indicated that one of our RNC members was directly responsible for the racially divisive ads.

I have been asking some of my fellow RNC members for their input and advice. Many of us are unsure of all of the facts and seek more. Specifically, if one of our own members helped finance ads or robocalls that tarred Tea Partiers as a group as racists, I am sure that most RNC members would find that deeply offensive, indeed unacceptable. We cannot object to the Left smearing conservatives with such labels if we do not rebuke those on our side who sink to such tactics.

At this time, I respectfully request that you appoint a special committee of RNC members to investigate this matter and report to us at our August 7th Members meeting before the August 8th general RNC meeting. This would give us time to address the issues and act if necessary.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of my request. All the best.

Martin tells me that has not yet received a reply from Priebus and that the RNC chairman may be waiting until he has the physical letter in hand.

As if that letter wasn’t straightforward enough, Martin has written the following in his website posting:

This year in Mississippi someone produced a series of wicked radio ads and robo-calls injecting the worse kind of racial demagoguery into the Republican primary. In a state still limping from its past racial strife, someone smeared a good man, State Senator Chris McDaniel, with the kind of racialist mud that reflects the all-too-typical slanders of the political Left. Senator Thad Cochran’s campaign was the beneficiary of this smear campaign. The ads and robo-calls are awful to listen to. You do yourself a favor to skip them. […]

In my position as chairman of the Missouri GOP, I have called upon Reince Priebus, chair of the National Republican Party, to launch an investigation into the mess in Mississippi. If it is found that anyone working in any capacity for any national, state or local Republican party had any part in this terrible smear campaign against McDaniel and his supporters — thousands of good men and women — they should be immediately fired. I further call upon my fellow GOP state chairs to make it known that whoever from our own party is involved in this is not welcome on any staff or campaign. A new broom sweeps clean.

Racial strife has been exacerbated by this President. Racial strife is a tool of the Left to divide our country and to remake it into something less than our best ideals. We in the GOP cannot do good work with evil tools. The end does not justify the means.

We should sweep clean anyone in our party involved with these wretched ads. 

At the very center of the controversy is the head of a pro-Cochran group, Mississippi Conservatives. That would be Martin’s RNC colleague, the Mississippi Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour.

Martin’s request for an investigation would be, one thinks, a no-brainer. This is, after all, the party of Lincoln. Race baiting has no place in the Republican Party, which came to be in the first place because of its staunch opposition to slavery.

But there’s a problem: Take a look at this link to a site for a lobbying group called Capital Resources, which includes a bio for one of the group’s partners, the aforementioned Henry Barbour. If you scan down a bit there is a series of bullet points describing Barbour’s background. The very first one reads as follows: “Helped run RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ campaign for chairman.”

Indeed, back in 2011 this story in Politico discussing Priebus’s relationship said that Barbour was “central to Priebus's bid” to be elected RNC chairman.

As befits a relationship with a close political ally, when Chairman Priebus decided to conduct an “autopsy” on the GOP defeat in 2012, he picked Henry Barbour to be one of the co-authors of that report. 

The Hill quotes Henry Barbour as saying, “We think it’s healthy to grow the party, we think it’s healthy to ask white and black to vote Republican.” Catch that? This gives the impression that he is defending playing the race card by trying to recast his actions as being “healthy” for the party. Martin told me yesterday that the GOP “cannot do these kinds of things and pretend to any kind of integrity."

Which gets down to the central point in this kind of discussion. When principle is abandoned simply to win elections — and winning elections in turn is not about principles but access to power — then something will fill the void. The question that an RNC investigation should get to is simple: Did a member of the RNC, a member who co-authored a report that reads (no-kidding) “If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity” — did that RNC member lead a PAC in playing the race card in a U.S. Senate runoff? And if he did, what, pray tell, are the consequences? Will Barbour be asked to resign? Or will this simply make him an outcast at the RNC?

Ed Martin is to be congratulated for standing up and demanding this investigation. Race baiting has no place in the Republican Party. Period.

The ball is now in the hands of Mr. Priebus. And as Martin told me directly, members of the RNC — the Party of Lincoln, the party that brought freedom to Dr. Ada Fisher’s grandfather — are now looking to Reince Priebus for leadership. We’ll see.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.