RNC Chairman Reince Priebus Remarks From The National Press Club
Remarks As Prepared For Delivery
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
National Press Club Breakfast
March 18, 2013
“The Party of Growth and Opportunity”
Good morning. Thank you, Angela, for the introduction and for welcoming us to the Press Club.
I know most of you came for the eggs and coffee, but thanks for staying for the speech.
I want to recognize our RNC Co-Chair, Sharon Day…and Tony Parker, our Treasurer.
Most of all, I want to thank the leaders of the Growth and Opportunity Project, our post-election review. Their work brings us here today:
National Committeeman Henry Barbour of Mississippi, Committeewoman Zori Fonalledas of Puerto Rico, Committeeman Glenn McCall of South Carolina, veteran Florida and national political strategist, Sally Bradshaw, and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
When Republicans lost in November, it was a wakeup call. And in response I initiated the most public and most comprehensive post-election review in the history of any national party.
We wanted an assessment that was frank, thorough, and transparent. To get a fresh start, we had to be honest with ourselves and with voters.
We want to build our party, and we want to do it with bold strokes to show we’re up to the challenge and are done with business as usual.
Last week, I received the Growth and Opportunity Project’s report and their 219 recommendations. As it makes clear, there’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement.
So, there’s no one solution: There’s a long list of them.
Today, I will focus primarily on the five most important areas where we’re taking immediate, substantive actions: messaging…demographic partners…campaign mechanics…technology…and the primary process.
***[NATURE OF REPORT]***
But first I want to point out The Project’s recommendations are not limited to those five areas or even to the RNC. Our state parties, grassroots, allied organizations, sister committees, elected officials, and candidates can all learn something from this. Each has a role going forward.
At the RNC, we’re in the campaign business. Our task will be to reach out to the most voters and build the best infrastructure ever.
The policy aspects of the report are most valuable for our candidates and elected officials. A passion for the issues drives good campaigns; and voters of all races, income levels, and backgrounds need to understand that our policies offer a chance for a brighter future.
The report offered some specific examples of areas where Republicans fell short in this regard, highlighting the ways some groups of voters have been turned off. It also highlighted examples of Republican innovation – particularly among our governors – that have won over new voters. These governors provide new ideas for the way forward.
Our candidates should take those recommendations to heart, just as I have.
In addition, Republican and conservative groups outside the RNC also have a valuable role to play. The RNC will always be the leader in campaign mechanics, but as the report makes clear, friends and allies should take up capabilities that can supplement our efforts in certain areas: voter registration, research, digital training, and more.
So we’ll work to ensure the sum of our efforts is greater than the parts.
But the lion’s share of the work falls to the RNC. And if there’s one message I want everyone to take away from here it’s this: we know we have problems, we’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them.
To produce their analysis, the project leaders and I have met with or received feedback from over 50,000 people. This work is the culmination of three months of us criss-crossing the United States.
I’ve eagerly awaited the results…. And then, last week, I saw the white smoke coming from Ari’s chimney and I knew we finally had a report.
Now it’s time for the RNC to get to work. So I want to walk through with you the immediate actions we’re taking in response to their analysis.
First, messaging. To be clear, our principles are sound. Our principles are not old rusty thoughts in some book. Freedom and opportunity are ever-fresh, revolutionary ideas. They are the roadmap for American renewal in a new and interconnected world.
But the report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough. Focus groups described our party as “narrow minded,” “out of touch,” and “stuffy old men.” The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.
That’s frustrating, because we care about every voter. We’re the party of growth and opportunity. We want families that are strong, children that are well-educated. We want to lift people from poverty, to put the American Dream in reach for everyone.
Our party can’t just hire our way forward; it must inspire our way forward.
We will do a better job of connecting people to our principles–showing how we can help every American climb the economic ladder. Knowing parents want the best for their children, we’ll champion school choice and solutions to lowering the cost of healthcare.
Instead of arithmetic, our focus should be on what helps families thrive. We don’t want to fix the debt because a balanced budget looks nice; we want to do it because it will keep money in people’s pockets and create more jobs for those who have lost hope.
The report minces no words in telling us that we have to be more inclusive. I agree. Our 80 percent friend is not our 20 percent enemy. We can be true to our principles without being disrespectful of those who don’t agree with a hundred percent of them. Finding common ground with voters will be a top priority.
So first, we’re going to learn what works on the state level and apply it nationally. For example: when a conservative like Steve Pearce in New Mexico wins in a predominantly Latino district, we need to glean the lessons of his approach.
Second, in order to combat misperceptions, we will premiere an aggressive marketing campaign across the country, especially in communities we haven’t been to in a long time, about what it means to be a Republican.
Third, we will establish regular focus groups and listening sessions, to ensure we are on target in our communications. We will regularly share our findings, as well as polling results, with our candidates, allies, state parties, and elected leaders.
Because it all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it. The promise of opportunity will be our message, and a spirit of optimism will infuse everything we do.
Messaging certainly overlaps with the next action area: Demographic Partners.
Now, I didn’t need a report to tell me that we have to make up ground with minority groups, with women, and with young voters.
Specifically for youth voters, the report outlines the need to promote “forward-looking, positive policy proposals.”
They write that more time most be spent communicating “with young voters where they get their information.”
The report also highlights the real urgency of connecting with minority communities. By 2050, we’ll be a majority-minority country, and in both 2008 and 2012, President Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority groups.
The RNC cannot and WILL NOT write off any demographic, community, or region of this country. So here are some actions we’re taking:
One: establish Senior Level Advisory Councils for Hispanic, African American, and Asian Americans that will serve as working groups to share best practices and have a constant dialogue in each community.
Two: Establish swearing-in citizenship teams to introduce new citizens to the GOP after naturalization ceremonies. First impressions count.
Three: At the recommendation of The Project, talk regularly and openly with groups with which we’ve had minimal contact in the past. LULAC. The Urban League. The NAACP. NALEO. La Raza.
Four: Work with state parties and sister committees to build a recruitment program for minority candidates. The report underscores the need for greater recruitment.
Five: Hire communications staff to promote the minority leaders in our party and bolster our messaging efforts in publications that appeal to ethnic minority groups.
Six: Develop an aggressive marketing campaign to expand our footprint on college campuses, with an especially strong focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In addition, create an ongoing dialogue with campus leaders.
Seven: Appoint a Youth Liaison to work with College Republicans, Young Republicans, and Teenage Republicans to provide them with additional tools to take the party’s message to their peers.
Eight: Go beyond traditional news media in promoting our message, including pop culture news outlets. We have to stop divorcing ourselves from American culture. And maybe that means I get to sit down with the ladies of the View.
Nine: Work with state parties, sister committees, and the Co-Chair to proactively recruit women candidates for offices at all levels.
Ten: Work to increase the visibility of GOP women.
Now, I want to deliberately underscore that those items are not even close to enough. So, for the first time ever, we are going to overhaul our campaign mechanics structure to fully integrate our demographic engagement strategy. For too long, our demographic inclusion efforts have been separate from on-the-ground political activities. No more.
To accomplish this, we’re launching a new national field program designed to engage minority groups and communities at the local level. We will take our message to civic centers and community events, where people live, work and worship.
This new approach will be diverse, year-round, community-based, and dedicated to person-to-person engagement.
By May 1st, we will hire National Political Directors for Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, and African American voters. We will task each director to build a team to educate each community on the history and principles of the Republican Party and identify supporters.
This will be a bottom-up approach, and we’ll have a network of hundreds of paid people across America from the community level up to the national level dedicated to minority, youth, and women inclusion. We will conduct a pilot program in targeted urban markets to test and refine these engagement efforts.
This is a new way of doing things and should demonstrate the depth of our commitment to engaging all demographic groups.
It will complement–and be fully integrated with–our entire on-the-ground operation, which will be modeled on the same bottom-up approach: Community Directors that report to Regional Directors that report to States Directors who in turn report to the National Directors. Some individuals will be focused on targeted 2014 races, others on laying the groundwork for 2016.
These staff will be in place by the end of the summer. We’ve never put this many paid boots on the ground this early in an off year. We’ve also never been this dedicated to working at the community level to win minority votes household to household. And I am approving an initial ten million dollar budget toward this work for this year.
For the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, we’ll deploy revamped voter contact and early vote strategies.
Further, we will work to strengthen our state parties to take a leading role in our new field program. I’m hiring a full-time State Party Director who will report directly to me in addition to the Political Director. The future of ALL 50 state parties and territorial parties will be their top priority.
There will be full coordination between the RNC and state parties on early planning for the 2013 and ‘14 cycles, with a focus on organization, data collection, and testing for digital fundraising.
To help states with their added responsibilities, we will reinstitute the Field Finance program, allowing states to be more financially self-sustaining.
We will also network with organizations that are part of the liberty movement, Evangelical movement, and the Tea Party to strengthen our ties and mobilize volunteers.
To find new voters, the RNC will invest in a mobile voter registration program. And we will encourage our friends and allies to significantly invest in voter registration as well.
In surveys for the report, respondents expressed a desire for more training–for candidates, volunteers, and operatives. They especially want greater training in data and analytics.
So by May 1, we will completely overhaul our Political Education Department, developing new curriculum that includes data, digital and ad-buying. They’ll make new resources available electronically–not just to those who come to our D.C. classroom
We’re committing significant resources to these endeavors, so I want to be sure we’re getting real results for our money. Therefore, I will insist on implementing standards and quarterly benchmarks for state parties and for staff to measure success in areas ranging from registration to fundraising.
And we’ll need quality metrics to gauge whether our strategy is working. Which brings me to the topic of data and technology.
Throughout this process both the co-chairs and I have heard a great deal about the quality of our data–and how that affects our ability to target and persuade voters.
Numerous voices emphasized how we must move to integrate new sources of data and expand access to that data beyond the RNC.
Overhauling our data infrastructure won’t happen overnight. But we will move to invest more resources into data collection and management, and we will integrate data into everything we do.
We will lead by example because we want every campaign, group, and committee to make data a priority.
Therefore, as recommended, we’re hiring a new Chief Digital and Technology Officer who will build out and oversee three important and distinct teams: data, digital, and technology. Those teams will work together to integrate their respective areas throughout the RNC and provide a data-driven focus for the rest of the organization. And they will be the new center of gravity within the organization.
Second, we are working on an open data platform, where vendors, campaigns, and party organizations can build data-driven apps using a common API. Think of it like Apple and the App Store. They can access our data and then provide user-friendly products that will empower technology-driven voter contact. This is the first time a party committee has taken on such a task.
Over and over, our co-chairs heard of the need for an “environment of intellectual curiosity” that encourages innovation.
So, third, I want to hold Hackathons in tech-savvy cities like San Francisco, Austin, Denver, and New York–to forge relationships with developers and stay on the cutting edge.
Fourth, once our new operation is up and running, we will embark on a data and digital road show to demonstrate what campaigns and state parties can do to enhance their own operations. The report recommended getting early buy-in from all partners.
Fifth, we will upgrade GOP.com as a platform, redesigning it to better utilize social media and serve an increasingly mobile audience.
Sixth, we’re setting up an RNC field office in the San Francisco area. As we learned with visits to Silicon Valley and conversations with top tech firms, many of the best minds are on the other side of the country. Having an office there will make it easier for technologists to join our efforts, and it can serve as a hub for our data and digital political training.
By doing all this, we will enter 2014 and 2016 with a completely revitalized approach to campaign mechanics and technology.
***[PRIMARIES, DEBATES, CONVENTION]***
So finally, let’s discuss what we’ll do to improve the presidential primary process.
In 2008 and 2012, the debates multiplied and were out of the control of the RNC. This cycle there were 20 total debates–the first, eight months before the Iowa caucuses. The report contrasts this with 1980, when there were six debates and ’88, when there were seven.
I agree with the co-chairs when they say, “Debates are vital to the primary process.” But they must respect the candidates’ time and help our eventual nominee.
So with an eye toward the recommendations, the RNC will create a system that sets earlier guidelines for a more rational number of debates. We will take a leading role in organizing the debates–and will work with state parties and our Rules Committee to ensure balance in every aspect.
The report finds it “advantageous to move quickly into the general election phase of the campaign, allowing the nominee to spend general election money sooner.”
To facilitate that, they recommend an earlier convention. So no more August conventions. Our Convention Planning Commission will be tasked with finding the optimal date, in addition to improving financing, security, logistics, site selection, and the overall program.
We will also take additional steps to make the primary process shorter.
Everything I’m announcing today costs money. I’ve already talked to our donors about much of it. Raising money isn’t always the easiest task, but I can report great excitement on their part. They are supportive of these big changes and clear goals, and we’ll be partnering with them to form Donor Councils that will raise the funds needed for implementation.
I want to ensure we’re spending their money wisely. So we’ll foster competition among vendors and providers to get the best and brightest talent on our side.
This is just the beginning of an unprecedented effort. The learning process doesn’t stop today. We will continue the listening sessions and keep making adjustments.
In the last two years, we’ve overcome some pretty tough challenges: rebuilding a broken committee, raising the money needed to serve our nominee. We’ll bring the same spirit to meeting the challenges of the coming years.
Today, we mark a fresh beginning. It’s about winning elections, but more importantly it’s because we believe America deserves better than what we have today. Better than a big, bloated federal government–and the old one-size-fits-all bureaucracy. Better education. Better healthcare. Better opportunities.
There are Americans who still need jobs. Families who deserve more take home pay. Students who must have great schools. So many of them support Democrats simply because we haven’t done a good enough job offering them our alternative. We haven’t been in their towns, their cities, their neighborhoods. But we’re going to be.
However, the RNC can’t do it alone. So I ask my fellow Republicans to think about what you can do–and commit to building our party together.
And to anyone listening online, I want to hear from you. Join me in a Twitter Q-and-A this afternoon at 1 P.M. Eastern. Just tweet @Reince with the hashtag “opportunity.”
To those who have left the party, let me say this: we want to earn your trust again. To those who have yet to join us, we welcome you—with open arms. There’s more that unites us than you know. My job is to make that clear.
And that’s the purpose of the plans I’ve announced today.
With that, I’m now happy to take questions from all of you here. No hashtag required.