Will Donald Trump’s Failure Take Out Reince Priebus?
The Republican National Committee chairman has done his best to keep Trump on the rails. But for Priebus, the light at the end of the tunnel could be an oncoming train.
Donald Trump has signaled he’s done with the Reince Priebus and the RNC. And the RNC might soon be done with Reince Priebus.
With two weeks to go before Election Day, Trump’s campaign announced that he was done with the large, joint fundraisers he was doing for the Republican Party.
“We’ve kind of wound down,” Trump national finance chairman Steven Mnuchin told The Washington Post, adding that the joint fundraising committee held its last fundraiser on Oct. 19.
This might signal the death knell for the chairmanship of Reince Priebus, who has headed the Republican National Committee since he ousted sitting chairman Michael Steele in 2011.
The Trump campaign’s move deals a blow to the party’s efforts to aid Republicans in down-ballot races all across the nation, especially with measures to get voters out to the ballot box on Nov. 8—and might portend disaster at the polls, and severely undercut the case Priebus might make to argue he had a successful chairmanship.
The RNC is a 168 member body representing every state and territory with three members, and elects its chairman every two years with a focus on fundraising and campaign strategy. The next election for chairman will be in 2017, after this ongoing presidential race is over. Priebus has been said to be interested in another term as chairman. The RNC did not respond to a request for comment.
Publicly, RNC members assert that they are focused on helping the GOP win races, and will talk about party leadership after the elections are over. Many have supported Priebus in the past, and praise his work in fundraising and grassroots organization.
“[R]ight now he and all of us on the RNC are focusing on the next two weeks. There will be plenty of time to discuss the future leadership after the elections are over,” said Stephen Duprey, a national committeeman and a former chairman of the New Hampshire state party.
“There will be plenty of time after November 8th to discuss 2020 or 2024,” said Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Chairman Priebus has been the best ‘nuts and bolts’ chairman in the party’s history. He’s raised piles of money and given candidates and state parties the tools they need to be successful.”
More privately, the knives are already out.
One prominent national Republican strategist began listing the anti-Priebus talking points that will no doubt be repeated over and over again in an effort to oust him: under his leadership, the Republican Party lost two winnable presidential races, alienated key constituencies, and totally failed to implement the ‘autopsy’ supported by Republican leaders after their defeat in 2012.
The core of the opposition to Priebus comes from conservatives who never felt that Trump was one of them, and the #NeverTrumpers that to this day stand opposed to the Republican nominee.
“I’ve yet to meet a GOP operative who thinks Priebus will be around after November. Even if Trump wins he’ll have the skunk’s stink on him,” said John Noonan, a former national security aide to Jeb Bush and a prominent #NeverTrumper.
Others are opposed to Priebus’ management style, and have a sour taste about how he ran the Republican Party’s convention in July.
"Reince thinks he’s the king of the party,” said Curly Haughland, who until recently was a member of the RNC from North Dakota. “As soon as the election is over, no matter which way it goes, there is going to be a tremendous amount of interest in seeing someone else run the RNC… Whether the Republicans win or lose, Reince will not be the chairman.”
Haughland clashed with the chairman over whether delegates could vote their conscience—rather than for Trump—during the Republican convention. A longtime member of the committee, he believes that Priebus will receive his most serious challenge ever.
“There’s going to be several people who will be interested in running for chairman next time,” he told The Daily Beast, listing off Ohio state chairman Matt Borges, Arizona state chairman Robert Graham, RNC staffer Matt Pinnell, and former North Dakota state chairman Gary Emineth.
Free the Delegates, which worked with Republican National Committee members to prevent Trump from getting the nomination at the convention, has reached out to its supporters through text to ask whether they support tossing Priebus as chairman.
“If Donald Trump loses, as I have personally thought from Day One, I believe that Reince Priebus is going to have a day of reckoning. It’s the second presidential election he presided over that could have been won, that was not won,” said Regina Thompson, the group’s executive director.
Whoever wins the chairmanship will inherit a fractured party, deeply divided by Trump’s political campaign and the alienation it created for major voting blocks.
“I’m not sure there’s going to be anything [for Priebus to] be reelected to. People that matter don’t carry about the Republican Party’s internal processes anymore. It’s going to be a bankrupt shell of the conservative party in this country and it’s going to be completely defined by the hideousness of Donald Trump’s racist and xenophobic campaign,” said Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist who is working on independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin’s campaign.
In fact, the party is so divided that McMullin may win the state of Utah, which the GOP has won in every election since 1964.
“Trump just busted out the RNC. He just completely pillaged them. He destroyed their brand and now he’s walking away,” Wilson said, adding that he supported Priebus when he first ran for RNC chairman, but that Priebus has “total responsibility… [for] capitulating to the worst presidential candidate in modern history.”
The campaign has been a long grind, having started 19 months ago when Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to enter the GOP nomination contest. There is a sense that Republican leaders are ready to move past the months of Trump-related controversy that they’ve endured, and confront whatever reckoning might come their way after the election.
“November 8th is undoubtedly a referendum on the party’s direction and its candidates,” Moore said. “We’ll see on November 9th.”
“Only 14 more days,” Duprey added. “Thank goodness.”