First- the GOP elected officials have found their backbone.
Second- On the national level, finally the RNC has some backbone.
On the state level, even though we have had a leader with some backbone, it was tough getting our elected officials attention. The elected officials on both state and the national level had pretty much ignored all conservative principles.
Well, that has ended.
With his new position as the transition team leader for RNC chair for Michael Steele, our state chairman Reince Priebus, has also gotten some attention and a nice write up in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Washington - The unfolding presidency of Barack Obama isn't the only big political drama in the nation's capital these days.
Another is the Republican Party's efforts to right itself after two woeful elections.
Among the more unlikely figures at the center of that process is a 36-year-old lawyer who flies to Washington from Wisconsin once a week to help manage the party's makeover.
Reince Priebus, the boosterish, workaholic chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, admits that even he is a little surprised by his new national role.
"It's a bit crazy," said Priebus last week in the midst of an economic stimulus debate that might go a long way toward defining the post-Bush GOP.
"I have a lot on my plate right now," he said.
Priebus joined the Republican National Committee in 2007. But last fall, he was among the first in the RNC to endorse former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in a wide-open leadership race.
After Steele staged an upset last month to become the GOP's first African-African chairman, he asked Priebus to lead his ambitious transition effort within the party.
"I am going in an entirely different direction . . . new faces, new voices, new people," Steele said last week at RNC headquarters near the U.S. Capitol.
"This is the first time in a long time that the party can truly rebuild and reorganize itself in a way that the party leaders and the grass-roots members want it to be done," Priebus said in a separate interview, calling the party's lack of executive and legislative power in Madison and Washington both devastating and invigorating for Republicans.
"There is no president or governor telling the parties how they think things should be run," said Priebus, a native of Pleasant Prairie who climbed the party ranks in Wisconsin from local activist to congressional district chairman, state party treasurer, vice chairman and finally state chairman two years ago. He lost a bid for the state Senate in 2004.
The two did not know each other well when Priebus endorsed Steele for RNC chairman last fall. But there was "an instantaneous click," said Steele, who said he saw Priebus as someone who shared an interest in modernizing the party and shared the experience of promoting Republicans in a state where Democrats had the upper hand.
Priebus ended up managing Steele's underdog campaign for the chairmanship.
"It was hand-to-hand combat," Priebus said.
Six candidates were competing for the votes of 168 RNC members, a group that includes the party chairmen from every state. Priebus called it the "most fascinating political experience of my life." He and Steele spent a long weekend on a six-state fly-around, courting the votes of two or three committee members at a time on a circuit that included Topeka, Kan.; Bismarck, N.D.; and Omaha, Neb.
As did Obama, Steele won his campaign as the change candidate. He was seen by supporters as a skilled communicator who could freshen the image of a party increasingly defined by its Southern white male base.
"So many times, we've talked about minority outreach, outreach in the Northeast, the Midwest," Priebus said. "But we just talk about it. At some point, we have to have a person in a leadership post that can do it."
When Steele won, he singled out Priebus for his role in the contest. That relationship "will only bode well for Wisconsin," said Steve King, a former state chairman and current RNC member, referring to resources the national party can steer toward targeted states.
"We need all the help we can get in order to win an election here," said Mary Buestrin, who has served on the RNC from Wisconsin since the 1990s.
Courting the Midwest
"People understand the party is not a viable party with the current hole in the Midwest we have. Reince and others understand that," said Bob Wood, a party insider and D.C. lobbyist who served as a top aide to former Governor and Health Secretary Tommy Thompson.
The state and region were disaster areas for the GOP last year. More counties flipped from Republican to Democratic in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois than in any other states. When a reporter called Priebus at the GOP's election-night party one minute after the polls closed to tell him Wisconsin had been called for Obama, he pleaded, "Can you at least let me have one beer?"
Steele said last week that the region is huge for the party's future.
"He knows we were a sliver away from turning the state red in '04 and in 2000," said Priebus, who traces his politics back to his passionately pro-American Greek Grandfather.
"Ronald Reagan, he was the man. He was looked up to and revered by all my relatives in Greece," said Priebus, who said his father, a union electrician, was a fan of Reagan as well.
Activists in the party describe Priebus as tireless and relentlessly upbeat, qualities some say are especially handy in down cycles.
"Reince is a driven man. I'm not sure by what, but he's driven. He's not a type A. He's not a double-A or even triple-A. He's a quadruple-A," King said. "Reince also has that youthful optimistic outlook on things. He inoculates everybody with it."
Looking to expand
Priebus took over the state party between two losing election cycles, but King said he would be re-elected with no trouble this year because activists think he's doing a good job and believe the party's problems in '08 were more national than local.
"It's tough to swim against the tide when your own party is messing up nationally," said Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, a good friend of Priebus'.
"He is a younger conservative who believes in expanding the base and making it more inclusive," said Ryan, a Janesville Republican.
Like Steele, Priebus says "we need to build bridges without compromising our principles."
They say the GOP needs to catch up to Democrats technologically and energize disillusioned conservatives while competing for young and minority voters and expanding a shrinking geographic base.
What that means in practice is not yet clear. Priebus says Republicans have to be a party of ideas, not just opposition. But any big rebound in 2010 will depend on Democratic failures. Pointing to the budget shortfall in Wisconsin, Priebus said Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle is "much more vulnerable than people realize."
"We're going to retake the state Senate" and "it's not going to take much" to flip the state Assembly, he said.
Nationally, the post-Bush Republican Party already has gone a long way toward defining itself with its almost unanimous opposition to the nearly $800 billion stimulus package. Critics say the GOP now has branded itself as the "no" party. Republicans say they are re-establishing themselves as the party of limited government and fiscal restraint after squandering that mantle during the Bush years.
"The elected officials have put us in a situation where we are having to rebuild our party and our credibility at the same time," said Priebus, referring to the GOP's years in power. "And if we can't admit that, we'd be pretty clueless."
PS. I don't believe that I remind Reince enough that I am his county party chairman. I know he is my state chairman, but still...Anytime I can give him a hard time is a good day.
PSS. By the way Reince, thanks for believing in Kenosha County this past election and getting the state to send some help our way. I know we did not let you down.