HH: So pleased to welcome back Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who I’m only used to seeing now on the stage in front of 18 million people. We only get to chat when there are 18 million people watching. Mr. Chairman, good to have you, welcome, always a pleasure to speak with you.
RP: Hugh, happy to be on the show, hope you’re doing great, and I’m in Cleveland a lot more than I used to be, I can promise you that.
HH: You know, if only you would switch to the Browns from the Packers, I know you won a big one, but we have time to turn you around. Mr. Chairman, before we get into sports or anything else, I hate this Cruz story, but I talked to the Senator about it last hour. I don’t believe there’s any merit to this. I believe he’s eligible for the presidency. Do you agree?
RP: Yeah, I agree with that. Of course, I think he’s eligible. And quite frankly, you know, sometimes when I get asked questions like this between candidates, my inclination is always to say hey, listen, I’m not getting in the middle of this thing. But certainly, yes, I mean, eligible under the Constitution, yes, and I’m happy to put that to bed. Yeah, go ahead.
HH: Also, let me ask you how you have managed, everyone is still happy with you. I mean, when I asked Donald Trump at the last debate if he was going to stay in the party and he said yes, I started to applaud, because that ends the threat of a third party run here. And everybody seems to think you’re running a square game.
RP: Well, I mean, it’s sort of like three-dimensional chess sometimes, and it really, but we see what happens though, is you’ve got to take yourself out of a lot of the day to day squabbles between the candidates. But it’s tough, because you know, we don’t have a couple of good candidates a bunch of not good candidates. We have got a dozen varsity-level candidates out there that have achieved a lot, that expect a lot of themselves, and so you know, it is a highly-passionate and intense environment that requires me to constantly remind everyone that the role of the Republican National Committee is to make sure that we’ve got the best infrastructure, the best mechanics, the best data, the best ground game, so that we don’t have a repeat of 2012. And when people remember 2012, what do you remember? You remember reading those articles about how smart they had the data, how long they were on the ground. Don’t we want to have a national committee that has its act together in that regard? And my answer is yes.
RP: So whether you’re for Ted Cruz or Bush or Rand or whoever, the point is we all want a national party that’s ready to go, and that’s my job.
HH: Now speaking of your job as chairman of the party, you also have to respond to the State of the Union tonight. And I’m going to be on ABC news both before and after saying what I expect is lame ducks don’t fly very high. But what do you expect to hear tonight, Reince Priebus?
RP: I expect to hear maybe a little less specific on what he wants to do this year, and more of a beginning of trying to shape and narrate his last seven years, which was a lot of promises and a lot of speeches, but not a lot of action. And all you have to do is look at his own personal goals that weren’t achieved. Nothing that I agree with, but the things that he promised his own party, like I’m going to close Gitmo. He didn’t do it. I’m going to resolve the problems in Afghanistan. He didn’t do it. Are things better off for the middle class? No. Taxes went up. Obamacare killed them. It goes on and on, and the problem we have as listeners to all of this is that after seven years of it, we have a person who for whatever reason is bizarrely aloof to the reality around him. And it’s sort of like we watch this play out, but we know it doesn’t mean a lot.
HH: Bizarrely aloof is a term I may steal for ABC tonight, because I do believe…
RP: You go ahead.
HH: Yeah, that and the Potemkin presidential library that he’s building, I think last week’s gun forum, and tonight, is a lot about having a highlights reel that’s not really a highlights reel. It’s like the Browns grabbing the Packers last ten years of plays.
HH: …and coloring in Cleveland Browns orange and brown under the green and the yellow. Let me ask you, though, Mr. Chairman, how does it look in Cleveland? Is the city ready? Does it look like it’s shaping up well?
RP: Oh, absolutely, and you know, we were, as you know, we’ve done a few interviews during the process, and I think what people will be surprised about is how far Cleveland has come over the last couple of decades. And we didn’t think at first we were going to pick Cleveland for the convention, but then when we went there and met the people there, and looked at the lakefront and what’s happened there, and also just the enthusiasm and the gratefulness and the excitement, it’s going to be a great place. And not to mention the fact that Ohio is a must-win for us, and I think that the people in Cleveland are so grateful for this opportunity, that I think if we’re smart, and we work in Cuyahoga County and Cincinnati, and down in Columbus, if we work hard, I think it’s going to pay off for us that we did this together with the state of Ohio.
HH: Yeah, I was back there for an event probably six weeks ago, and the cabbie told me he was excited. He’s a Democrat, but he’s excited beyond measure that the Republicans are coming there, because he thinks it will add to the luster of the city and add a lot of energy and juice and stuff like that. I hope you’re working on Radio Row, and that it’s positioned well and close to the front of the building, Mr. Chairman.
RP: Oh, well, yeah, Radio Row, exactly, it’s the front row position, that you’ll be right in front, even in front of Ohio and Florida. You’ll be in the best spot.
HH: Just checking. And now what about the debates? They have worked very, very well. Are you going to add any more?
RP: Well, you know, that’s an open question. I mean, that’s something that we’ve got to talk to the candidates about. Obviously, we’ve got to kind of see where things roll on March 1 and March 15th, because I think, you know, we don’t have anything scheduled after March 15th. So if it’s possible, we might have to add a debate. But if we do that, obviously we’ve got to get the campaigns involved. And we don’t, the difficulty is, and it’s also something that’s good and it’s worked in keeping our team together, is we don’t make these decisions in a vacuum. We’ve got to work with all the players, and make it a longer process. But I think in the end, it’s better for us.
HH: Now the Law Vegas debate in the middle of December, of which I was a part, that went very, very well, both the undercard and the overcard. There’s another one coming up next week, a couple more coming down. I’m doing the last one that’s scheduled on March 10th with CNN and Salem. Overall, this is bringing chaos into order. You’ve done a terrific job in doing that. Do you think this will ever change going forward? Or are we going to stick with the RNC is going to call the beat and networks are going to cooperate or not play?
RP: No, I think that this sets the stage so that in the Republican Party in the future, it’s going to have a greater say and a bigger role. You know, this is the first round, but I think as other folks run the party in years to come, that they’re going to have a greater role, and it’ll be greater control over the debates. And I’d like to see, you know, one day, you know, licensing and other things like that. I mean, this is just the beginning, and people will look back at this at a time that the party exerted a little bit more control, was the beginning of the party owning more of its content down the line. And I think that’s where we want to see this heading.
HH: And a last question, money, at the RNC, people are always looking at quarterly reports from the candidates. But no one’s paying attention to the bank accounts of the parties. How are you doing vis-à-vis your Debbie Wasserman-Schultz competition across the street?
RP: Yeah, well, we’ve beaten them about every month over the last year. I think I can say, I’m slightly guessing, but not much, I think we’ve beat them every single month of the year in 2015. I think we have about doubled, not quite, but almost doubled their fundraising for the year. We haven’t seen their December report, but we broke records at the RNC. We’ve never done better in an off year. We’ve never been more involved in the process. We’ve never been more involved in the debates. And so for all the chatter about parties not being alive and well, well, there’s never been a time when the Republican National Committee’s been stronger.
HH: I agree with that. Chairman Reince Priebus, always a pleasure to talk to you, Mr. Chairman,
End of interview.