When you’re from Wisconsin, nearly everything is viewed through a green and yellow Green Bay Packers prism. Even for new Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, of Kenosha, who replaced Michael Steele. When he arrived at RNC headquarters in January, it was kind of like what fabled Packers Coach Vince Lombardi saw upon taking the reins in 1959: a dispirited organization on the verge of financial collapse. In just his first week, Priebus nearly missed payroll because he had under $400,000 in the bank, less than needed. So like Lombardi, who reacted to his first championship game loss by vowing “this will never happen again,” the 39-year-old former Wisconsin GOP boss took action. He hired some Republican “big dogs” to help re-energize the RNC, laid out ambitious fundraising goals, and gave orders to cut programs that didn’t have the common goal of defeating President Obama in 2012. He even asked his troops to sacrifice, refusing to turn the air conditioning on until April 18. [Read 10 things you didn't know about Reince Priebus.]
So how’s it gone? He raised a ton of money, cut the RNC debt from $24 million to “south of $20 million,” began renovating the GOP’s communications, expanded social media connections to younger voters (he’s on Twitter @ReincePriebus), put a new focus on get-out-the-vote operations, and brought a sense of respect and mission back to the party headquarters. And the overheated staffers? They got electric fans. [See editorial cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
“This is all a good start,” he tells Whispers. “People need to see that I’m serious about rebuilding the party.”
Priebus was elected to his post in part because of his successes in turning Wisconsin Republican red. But he says he didn’t run just to fix the GOP. “I would have never run for chairman if my issue was concern for the Republican Party. The party will be fine,” he says. “I ran for this office and I’m here because I love my country and I want to save our country and, in the process, will save our party.”
A student of politics, Priebus gets that it’s about the bucks and vows he’ll have “money coming out of the windows” to help the 2012 GOP nominee. His passion is for defeating Obama, who he says is killing the economy. “His advisers try to put up a straw man every now and then and portray a person who’s serious about these issues of crushing debt and deficit, but in reality he’s more interested in NCAA brackets, the Jonas Brothers, and golfing.” [Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons about the federal budget and deficit.]
Even Priebus’s 6-year-old son Jack knows what he’s up to. “Dad, are you Barack Obama’s worst nightmare?” Jack recently asked. “I said, ‘No, I wouldn’t put it that way. We just disagree on a lot of things.’ ”
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.