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RNC Chair Reince Priebus On The 2016 Debates

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RNC Chair Reince Priebus opened my Martin Luther King Day program talking about the new debate schedule and format for the 2016 GOP primaries.




HH: I begin today’s program with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. Mr. Chairman, happy MLK day to you.

RP: Well, happy MLK day to you, and what an American hero and a fighter for freedom. And we put out a video this morning and visiting the monument, and it was, it’s a great day of service as well. And thank you for mentioning that.

HH: And I want to also say thank you for coming. I actually wanted to begin by congratulating you on your reelection. But I didn’t know if you’d make it up after yesterday’s heartbreaker in Seattle. I just didn’t know you’d be up for things today.

RP: It was a feeling of, like, when you got dumped in high school. That was the same kind of…

HH: That never happened to me, Mr. Chairman.

RP: Yeah, well, a lousy feeling. It was just an epic collapse, from one thing to…my tweet afterwards was that there is not enough Miller Lite in Wisconsin to drown the sorrows.

HH: You know, the Cleveland Indians lost the World Series once in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game. And that had to feel like that yesterday. I know you’re a serious Packers fan. But that had to be, that had to sting a little bit.

RP: It was the worst. It was just, it was worse than the second Super Bowl with John Elway and Favre. I mean, it was just terrible, I mean to have the game. The amazing thing is that lots of people are sitting on tweets and comments about winning, you know, going to the Super Bowl, and thank God I didn’t send a tweet like that out.

HH: Well, we’ll…

RP: I was close. I was really close.

HH: Well, you had a great week right up until that point, beginning with, by the way, when the RNC got together in Coronado, did the Oregon delegates refuse to talk to the Buckeye delegates after that thumping on Monday night?

RP: (laughing) Well, you’d be surprised how much sport rivalry there is on the committee. I had my hands full myself with the Washington state delegation. But it was a great week, and I mean, what a setting. I mean, I know you live in Southern California, but to be able to go to San Diego for a few days in the winter, and it just puts everyone in a good mood, which is always a trick to being chairman of the RNC, is first, get everybody in a good mood. And then you can start working the committee. So it was a great week. I was happy to be reelected not because of the retention of being chairman, but really just continuing the reforms, and getting ourselves to become a competent, consistent national party. And so after the election, one of the conclusions I continued to remind people is that we are starting, and I always say starting, we are starting to get our act together as a national party. We’ve got a ways to go, big cultural vote coming for us, but 2016 to me is do or die.

HH: You had a big reception on the deck of the Midway on Friday night, and I watched the introduction you gave for Mitt Romney. I watched his speech. It’s posted over at I wrote a column about it in the Washington Examiner today. But you began your introduction by pointing out that he and all the people in the audience had worked very hard in ’14. So this is the first time, was this the first time you got together since the big win with the entire committee?

RP: Yeah, so this was, yeah, that was the first meeting. Our last meeting was in the summer in Chicago, and it was a great meeting and talking about what we did well, what we could do better. But you know, in introducing Mitt, the reason I said the things I said is that I always want to reinforce to people like Mitt Romney and others that we always appreciate people who have done big things in our party that are willing to help us when it’s not about their election, and it’s not about them. It’s about other people. And you know, a lot of times in running, big political organizations, and anyone will tell you is that you know, that a lot of people run for office. They want help and they receive help. But it’s, sometimes it can be more rare than it should be that when, that people would be helpful when they have nothing to gain, or that they’re not running themselves. So I always want to reinforce and thank people who give up part of their lives to be helpful.

HH: Now Governor Romney at the start of his remarks name-checked a lot of people. And I noted that he spent a lot of time talking about Martha McSally, who had lost in ’12, came right back against the advice of some professionals, and ran and won in ’14. Any significance in your mind, Reince Priebus, of his choice of McSally for an extended name-check?

RP: I’m not sure other than I think it’s really important that we all, and a lot of us that talk about our party, always talk about the new faces of our party. I mean, Joni Ernst is going to be doing the response to the State of the Union. We’ve got Mia Love and Will Heard and Tim Scott. The fact of the matter is that if you look at the depth of our party in the most recent few elections, we’re the party of diversity, young people and women, you know, and so it’s the Democrats that are sort of the day old bread, yesterday’s news. And so but if we don’t point it out and promote the new faces of our party, then you’d think it’s the same three or four people that are on Sunday morning every single week, and that’s really not representative of our party.

HH: Well, I want to come back and talk about the State of the Union in a second, but first, the debate schedule. You released the nine and the three pending. The first one’s in Cleveland, right? This is very important. You finally figured out Cleveland is where everything good begins.

RP: It all started with you, by the way.

HH: I take credit for that. But there are no…you should put…

RP: You should take some credit for it, because you beating on it did have an effect.

HH: Well, there’s always repetition. If it can’t be talented, at least keep running the ball. But you’ve only got it going there once. I want to know about the media partners, and how you’re going to, if you’ve done any planning on double digit numbers of candidates at these debates.

RP: Yeah, okay, so those are two different issues. The first issue is on the conservative media front, you know, we were close to announcing everything last week, but I needed to button down a few things to make it very clear what we were doing. And so very soon, what we will do is announce in some cases conservative media partners with the current, with the nine that you’re seeing there on a piece of paper. So you’ll see media partners join in with the base that you already see and think are set in stone. And in many cases, those nine debates will expand to include conservative media partners. Those announcements should come soon. I don’t want to put, you’re looking at weeks rather than months, as far as those announcements, so that’ll happen soon. And then…

HH: The podium…

RP: What’s that?

HH: How do you do 20 people on a platform?

RP: Well, you can’t. I mean, you can’t do 20 people. So what you have to do, and not necessarily the RNC or the media partners, last time, the media partners did it exclusively. But I think in combination with the RNC and the media partners, and this is not in stone, but I just want to give you a flavor for what I’m talking about. You have to have certain thresholds in place. So you have to be at 1% of the vote in Iowa, and that threshold can move like a slide rule based on the proximity to the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primaries, etc., just like it did before. You might recall that in some cases of the, people forget there was probably 30 or 40 people actually running as a Republican in 2012. You just, most people have only heard about 10 or 12 of them, but there was actually 30-40 people that ran as a Republican for president. We can’t put 40 people on the stage. So, but how, but what we did, though, was we put a threshold in place so that there was minimal standards of meeting before a person could actually qualify to be in the debate.

HH: It could be, though, that you have a double digit, low teens of people who are qualified by position and polling And would you use stadium seating at that point?

RP: (laughing) Well, yeah, I don’t think so, Hugh. I mean, I think what, I think things have a way of working themselves out. And so if you needed to get two, three, four, five percent of the vote in some of these places in order to qualify for the debate, I think, I don’t think you’re going to see that. But you could have nine. I think that, you know, if some of the, if you look at the percentages of what one or two percent in Iowa would get you, you could have eight or nine people on the stage. I’m just not sure. And I don’t want to miss anything…

HH: Now let me ask you about the State of the Union, because of course, Joni Ernst, Senator Ernst, is going to give the response. But I don’t know that anyone’s going to watch. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen less interest in what a president wants to propose, given how disconnected he is from political reality, Reince Priebus.

RP: Well, there’s no question that you’re right about that. I just don’t know what the President’s going to say. It seems to us that he’s going to go on offense, which again, is just a head-scratcher, where you know, you have the biggest Republican presence across the country since 1900, and the President is deciding to strike a defiant tone and somehow say it’s my way or the highway. And so you’re right. I think people look at the State of the Union, and certainly it’s Constitutional and we need to do it, but even in my case, obviously we’re booked with reaction and post-interviews in the next morning. And you just wonder to yourself, you know, is anybody really, is anyone paying attention? I mean, do people really care? I’m not sure what the answer to that is. But certainly, the President has not followed through on any of these promises he’s made in these speeches, so I’m not quite sure what the story is.

HH: Well, if he has contempt for the message that the people sent in November, why should they be attentive to the message he wants to send in January?

RP: Well, that’s right. And it’s going to be a charade again, and a big show over something that he’s not going to be able to deliver, and free community colleges, and defiance on Obamacare, and defiance in Keystone while at the same time he claims he wants to be a bipartisan president when he’s got the votes in the Senate among many Democrats, it’s just a joke.

HH: It is a joke, but not a joke that you’re three times reelected now, or three times elected chairman. Congratulations, Reince Priebus.

End of interview.


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