The great and all-knowing Mike Allen got his hands on advance text of remarks that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus plans to deliver at the winter meeting of the RNC in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday. To the casual observer, Priebus' remarks will appear to consist mostly of platitudes and recitations of the obvious. For example, Priebus devotes significant space to the fact that the GOP must harness technology more efficiently to track, monitor, and reach voters, an observation that literally every serious political observer recognized in the wake of the Obama campaign's obvious superiority in the tech sphere. But Priebus also proposes to radically change the way the RNC does business at the national level. Put simply, Priebus' remarks could presage the beginning of a true Republican renewal… if Priebus has the power to turn his words into policy. For example:
We must compete in every state and every region, building relationships with communities we haven't before.... It's time to stop looking at elections through the lens of "battleground states." We have four years till the next presidential election, and being a "blue state" is NOT a permanent diagnosis. [Politico]
Large swaths of the country appear to have gone "blue" in recent years. By promoting candidates like Sarah Palin at the national level, the GOP created a perception among George H.W. Bush-style moderates that their party had gone off the deep end. At the political level, the RNC refused to throw its weight around in primary battles in which fire-breathing conservatives (and crazy people) with no chance to win challenged moderate candidates with a real chance to win, resulting in the political disasters that were Christine O'Donnell, Linda McMahon, and Sharron Angle.
If the RNC really wants to compete in 50 states, and Reince Priebus is claiming that it will, then Republicans must commit to no longer pushing firebrand conservatism in every part of the country, and instead tailor their message and goals to fit regional realities. To achieve that, the RNC must be more aggressive in interfering in primaries — and it will have to do so, at times, on behalf of supposed "RINOs." The national party will also need to strike a far more conciliatory, less doctrinaire tone nationally, which will irritate many party supporters from very conservative states. As Priebus says:
Growing the party to be more welcoming and more inclusive does not require abandoning our principles. It means renewing those principles because only they can offer the solutions to the liberal-induced problems of our time.... And to those who have left the party, we want to earn your trust again. To those who have yet to join us, we welcome you — with open doors and open arms. [Politico]
Here, Priebus indicates a preparedness for the national party to turn away from the Limbaugh worldview and to instead embrace a more thoughtful and modern conservatism. That means distancing the GOP from the most extreme element of conservatism, which views Barack Obama as a socialist dictator who was born in Kenya and endorses conspiracy theories about how the government will take away all of America's guns. It means being less dogmatic on issues like immigration and gay marriage and more willing to listen to and address many of the concerns facing Latinos and blacks in the United States.
Most of all, Priebus' speech indicates his desire to create a more viable conservative movement. It is a laudable goal, and one that the party should embrace. But if he does in fact act to further his stated goals, he should expect strong pushback. The effort might even cost him his job, in the long run. But an RNC committed to the goals Priebus will lay out Friday would be a giant step toward rebuilding the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law and writes about U.S. politics and policy for TheWeek.com. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for Frum Forum/New Majority. Follow him on Twitter (@JGolinkin) and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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