A Party Chairman who acts like a Party Chairman.
This is how it’s done.
Donald Trump, against all odds, swept the Indiana primary. His last remaining opponents had the sense to withdraw. But most importantly it was time to hear from the chairman of the party. That would be Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
A day later, which is to say within 24-hours, Priebus tweeted out this:
.@realDonaldTrump will be presumtive @GOP nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) May 4, 2016
While Priebus was quick to understand the message from the rank and file of the party he chairs, others still did not get the message. #NeverTrump was even compared by CNN’s Jake Tapper to the Japanese soldiers who, years after Japan surrendered in World War II, were still hiding in caves in various South Pacific islands refusing to give up. Notably this included, incredulously, the GOP’s last party nominee Mitt Romney. Jeb Bush, who stood on the stage of the first GOP debate and pledged to support the winner, went back on his promise.
Priebus was blunt. Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, he referenced the Supreme Court:
“Look, we could have up to three justices change over in the next eight years, and this is a suicide mission. It is not right.”
Indeed it was not right.
For having the guts to do exactly what a political party chairman is supposed to do — ensure that there is a strong, united party for the fall election — Priebus took all kinds of flak. He was caving, he was this, he was that. The hysterical leftists running the Washington Post foamed of the RNC Chairman that he was guilty of “rank nihilism” and that in encouraging his fellow Republicans to support the man voters had selected Priebus was part of a group of “confederates in amorality.” There was no word whether they had re-examined the Post’s own amorality in supporting Mrs. Clinton with Juanita Broaddrick. Apparently an accusation of threatening a rape victim to be silent is not amoral in the paper’s editorial suite.
Meanwhile? Meanwhile over on the other side of the aisle the Democrats were in chaos as Bernie Sanders came with in a handful of votes in upsetting Hillary Clinton in Kentucky and clobbered her in Oregon. While it seems Clinton will be the nominee, Sanders not only refused to yield but declared his intention to win the California primary and take his fight all the way to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. For this he was assailed by none other than his own party chairman, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Wasserman Schultz had taken to the airwaves and accused the Sanders campaign of tolerating violence in Nevada’s State Democratic Convention. Resulting in this representative headline at CNN when Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was interviewed by CNN’s Chris Cuomo:
Sanders campaign manager: DNC chairwoman ‘throwing shade’ on Bernie
The CNN report begins this way:
Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager slammed Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Wednesday after she told CNN the Vermont senator did not do enough to condemn his supporters’ behavior at the party’s Nevada convention.
“We can have a long conversation about Debbie Wasserman Schultz just about how she’s been throwing shade on the Sanders campaign from the very beginning,” Jeff Weaver told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” about the Democratic National Committee chairwoman.
“It’s not the DNC. By and large, people in the DNC have been good to us. Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is the exception,” Weaver added.
Weaver’s complaint about the Democratic Party chair was picked up by my CNN colleague Van Jones, a Sanders enthusiast. Said Van:
“I wish Reince Priebus was my party chair. He did a better job of handling the Trump situation than I’ve seen my party chair handle this situation and I’m ashamed to say that.”
Look. The job of being the national chairman of a political party is a thankless one. In years when the party has a president in the White House the relationship between chairman and the White House can range from good to miserable. There is always some White House staffer around to assert the president’s authority as the “titular head” of the party, rendering the chairman a figurehead. When the party has no president in the White House, he or she is in charge of raising money, working with candidates for federal, state, and local office and winning off year elections to build the party’s ever changing fortunes. When a presidential election year comes along the chairman has to walk a careful and considerably fine line of being scrupulously neutral in dealing with all the party’s presidential candidates. It is an exercise in herding cats that all too frequently can become more like herding temperamental lion cubs — with the knowledge that one of the “cubs” is on the verge of full-blown adult lion status and no exact knowledge which cub that might be.
In 2016 the lion on the Republican side turned out to be Donald Trump. And with all the predictability of a hot day in July, his defeated rivals were not happy. Not unlike 1964 when the GOP Establishment’s Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney flatly refused to support nominee Barry Goldwater, this time around — in 21st century social media style — the sulking losers coalesced around the slogan #NeverTrump. George Romney’s son Mitt made an attempt to carry the family flag of refusing to support a party nominee, taking the effort a step further by trying to find a third party candidate. Romney had been egged on by Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, but even before that Romney had the chutzpah to begin his effort of a few weeks ago by invoking Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech — this when Romney was pleading with Republican voters to support either Ted Cruz or John Kasich to stop Trump. Unmentioned was that the Reagan speech was delivered in favor of, yes, the exact same Barry Goldwater that Romney’s father was staunchly refusing to support that year. As Romney found his #NeverTrump candidates defeated, he turned to the third party fantasy. Which Chairman Priebus correctly labeled a “suicide mission.” Finally, Romney has had at least the sense to drop it — although like Dad, supporting conservative voters’ final choice has resulted in a refusal to support Trump.
Using his good offices as chairman it was Priebus who brought Trump and Priebus’s Wisconsin friend House Speaker Paul Ryan together literally on Priebus’s turf at the Republican National Committee in Washington. The meeting went well, and there is every reason to expect a unified Trump-Ryan front.
Next up Priebus was in the trenches to structure the financial relationship between the soon-to-be nominee and the RNC. Right on schedule — this is called making the trains run on time — came this announcement from Trump and Priebus:
RNC AND DONALD J. TRUMP CAMPAIGN ANNOUNCE JOINT AGREEMENTS
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) May 17, 2016 — Today, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus announced the RNC and Donald J. Trump for President have entered into joint fundraising agreements (JFAs). The agreements will allow the Donald J. Trump for President campaign to raise funds the national party will use to elect Republicans at all levels this cycle.
“The RNC is excited to team up with the Trump campaign to expand the robust ground, data, and digital operation we have in place to elect Republicans up and down the ballot,” said Chairman Priebus. “Donald Trump knows the importance of keeping our Republican majorities at the local, state, and national level and these joint fundraising agreements are another vital step in making that happen. Donald Trump has received millions more votes than any candidate in the history of the Republican Party and we are confident that will carry forward into the general election.”
Mr. Trump said, “We are pleased to have this partnership in place with the national party. By working together with the RNC to raise support for Republicans everywhere, we are going to defeat Hillary Clinton, keep Republican majorities in Congress and in the states, and Make America Great Again.”
Say again? This is what a Republican Party national chairman is supposed to do. Exactly. To do otherwise — to spend time sabotaging the party nominee behind the scenes not to mention attacking him on television, to stubbornly refuse to pour oil on whatever troubled waters there may be in the wake of a nomination fight, to refuse to work together with the prospective nominee on finances — all of that would be a decided recipe for failure as a party chair.
As with any job, there have been good chairmen and bad ones. Among the best is Ray Bliss, the Ohio party mechanic who led the GOP back from the 1964 defeat to stunning victories in 1966 and 1968. Lee Atwater was well on his way to greatness until his untimely death. Haley Barbour was chairman when the GOP’s Gingrich Revolution restored the House to GOP control for the first time since 1954. Bill Brock, a former Tennessee Senator, was on board to help lead the 1980 Reagan tidal wave that also recaptured the Senate for the first time in over a quarter of a century.
In many ways the job of party chairman is thankless. It is impossible to please everyone, and requires, as was true with a Bliss or a Barbour, a steady hand and an eye on the goal: winning elections at the national, state, and local level. The title of the job says it all: Republican National Chairman. It is not called Republican presidential campaign chairman or Republican campaign chairman for senator or congressman X.
What Reince Priebus is busy doing over there in his RNC office is exactly what the job description calls for. He’s doing it so well that even Democrats are wistful their own party chairman doesn’t measure up to Priebus standards. With reason.
Party chairmen don’t get a lot of praise. This one, based on his performance, most certainly should.
Three cheers for Reince Priebus.