Opinion

A 2012 checklist for Reince Priebus

Photo of Ford O'Connell and Steve Pearson
Ford O'Connell and Steve Pearson
Contributor

The new chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus, has a big advantage in rebuilding the party’s national organization leading up to 2012. He already has a checklist of stupid things to avoid — overspending, allocating budgets based on political favors rather than strategic needs, crony contracts, ignoring major donors, making himself the center of attention, etc. Priebus has a lot of ground to cover to get the party out of debt and the machinery in place for 2012, but he also has a lot of people interested in seeing him succeed.

The rise of independent expenditure organizations as national players in 2010 suggested that perhaps the RNC isn’t the only entity that can run a national campaign or perhaps wasn’t even needed at all. Except that the folks running those groups will be the first to say that a well-funded and effective RNC is the key to GOP success in 2012. Likewise, if a group such as American Crossroads can spring from nowhere to a multi-million dollar war chest in less than a year, Priebus can certainly whip the RNC into fighting shape.

Reince Priebus has four critical tasks ahead of him — requiring a deft combination of decision-making, diplomacy and persistence.

First and foremost is to rebuild relationships with GOP donors. Priebus has made frequent mention of his intent to devote the majority of his time to reaching out personally to donors. Assuming he follows through on this commitment, the bigger challenge he will face is to quickly address real concerns about whether the RNC will put donor dollars to good use.

The centerpiece of this effort should be to implement an effective get-out-the-vote operation from day one. Only the RNC has the ability to activate voters on a national scale and the year-to-year continuity to plan and commit resources ahead of time. Plus, tangible activity in what many consider to be the RNC’s core mission will help convince donors that the new chairman has a plan worthy of support.

The new RNC leader will need to make tough choices. A 50-state plan sounds lofty, but the reality is that the 2012 election outcome will hinge on a much smaller number of states. On the Democratic side, Organizing for America realizes this and is already realigning its resources. Priebus needs to make the call on where to invest and get donors and state party supporters on board with a plan where political needs trump political favors.

With a plan in hand and money in the pipeline, Priebus must also reach out beyond the party establishment. Whether it’s tea party groups, the Hispanic community, or independent conservative issue groups, the new chairman and his team will need to invest significant shoe leather and frequent flyer miles, not just conference calls and sound bites from headquarters, to broaden the party to face off against what will likely be a very well-funded, targeted and experienced campaign with the built-in advantage of a sitting president at the top of the ticket.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.