Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, in an interview on “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing on Bloomberg Television this weekend, called questions about President Barack Obama’s citizenship “a big distraction” and said his party’s presidential candidates are dropping it.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. Thank you for joining us in our studio, Mr. Chairman.
REINCE PRIEBUS: Happy to be here, Al. Thank you.
HUNT: Going into this election, Barack Obama is clearly vulnerable with low approval ratings. But if you look at the Republican brand, its numbers have really sunk. In our latest poll, 53 percent have a negative view; 70 percent in the CBS poll say Republicans basically favor the rich. Those are really bad numbers for a challenging party. I’ve never seen a challenging party win that had those kind of numbers. Why and how do you turn it around?
PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, I think there’s generally out there in America a real disdain for Washington right now, and that includes, you know, both parties and the direction of this country. And, you know, what I would say is this, that if you look at what and how Americans are looking at politics today, number one, the fish rots at the head.
PRIEBUS: And so the president is the head of this country, and the president isn’t leading. And if you - and I think the better poll to look at is whether people believe that our country’s on the right track or the wrong track.
HUNT: Does that hurt your incumbents in Washington, as well as theirs?
PRIEBUS: You know, I don’t - I certainly don’t think so. I mean, I don’t think that a general disdain - if someone were to say, “Are you happy with Congress?” Well, I don’t think that general question equates to, OK, I don’t - I’m not happy with the Senate and the Congress, and therefore, that trickles down to whomever’s party’s in control -
HUNT: So you think it’s the Democrats that’ll suffer for that?
PRIEBUS: Well, I think the Democrats are going to suffer, because there’s an identifiable head of the Democratic Party, which is President Obama. And the president is not leading -
HUNT: Can you sweep - you keep the House?
PRIEBUS: And the president’s going to be held accountable.
HUNT: You keep the House, you win the Senate -
PRIEBUS: Absolutely we’re going to keep the House.
HUNT: And you win the presidency?
PRIEBUS: I think so.
HUNT: All three?
PRIEBUS: And I think so, because I think that - if you look at the Senate, you look at the seats where we have opportunities, there are far more Republican opportunities on the Senate side.
HUNT: Yeah, there sure are.
PRIEBUS: Keeping the Congress. I mean, the top of the ticket will show - will actually dictate much more bottom ticket than anything else in a presidential year. And if the president gets beaten - obviously, we think he will be - I think that he will drag down the rest of the Democratic Party.
HUNT: Mr. Chairman, you win praise for really turning around the RNC money situation that you inherited. Democrats still have a little bit more money. Let me ask you something that transcends parties. Do you worry that these super PACs are really going to eclipse both national parties and make political parties less relevant?
PRIEBUS: Well, I don’t think it makes them less relevant, Al. I just think there’s going to be so much money in politics nowadays. I think that the campaign finance laws need to be reworked.
But the parties still do something that no one else can do, and that’s put the army on the ground, the volunteers, the door-to-door, the direct advocacy that only we can do -
HUNT: The money will be less important, but the other stuff will be the stuff that’s -
PRIEBUS: Well, no, money’s going to be important. I think we’re going to raise record amounts of money. I think the RNC and obviously the DNC, with the president’s help, both of these national parties are going to raise record amounts, and the activism is going to be through the roof.
But I do think you’re going to see an additional umbrella of money out there coming into the soft world that, you know, it’s an unintended, I think, consequence of bad campaign finance laws, but it’s something that we need to work on.
HUNT: Let me ask you about what seems like a process question, how - who votes early and who doesn’t. You know, the idea was, let’s stretch this out over a while, make it a more considered process. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Florida first moves up, and then the others have to move up
PRIEBUS: Florida is absolutely going to lose half of their delegates. There’s no question. And, in fact, the process is very well stretched out. I mean, you have the early states in January. You have - you have Nevada going on Feb. 4th, right? And then you have a couple at the end of the month that are losing half of their delegates, Arizona and Michigan. And then you have the race starting over again on March 6. Eighty percent of all of the delegates available in the Republican primary start after March 6th, 80 percent.
HUNT: Governor Perry has now said he’s not going to participate in some of these debates, some of which are sanctioned by the RNC. Is that - is that a problem for you? Or do you not care if people participate in debates?
PRIEBUS: Well, again, I’m not so sure that that’s where the Perry campaign is. I think what they’re saying is - and I’m not here to defend Rick Perry’s campaign -
PRIEBUS: But I think, to be fair, I think what they’re saying is, look, there are 16 debates here, and many folks in the media want to keep planning debates, and at some point, I think we have to have some reasonable conclusion to all of this -
HUNT: And you think it’s all right to pick and choose?
PRIEBUS: Having 50 more debates in two more months is a little bit unreasonable.
HUNT: You know, Mr. Chairman, I would never want to get you in the middle of anything, but let me ask you a question about the current front-runner in the polls, Herman Cain. In the 20th and 21st century, Americans don’t elect presidents who have never been elected before, unless they’re the supreme allied commander of World War II. Is Cain an Eisenhower?
PRIEBUS: Well, I - you know, I don’t know about that. Listen - and, again, I can’t be the referee in picking and choosing. But I’d say, look, you know, I think that Americans right now - and certainly on the Republican side, but I think independents and discerning Democrats - they’re looking for serious help in this country.
HUNT: Does experience matter?
PRIEBUS: Serious help. Well, I mean, I think that he does have some experience. I mean, obviously, I mean, running businesses, being successful, being, you know, somebody who is making a lot of sense on the campaign trail - I mean, if you look at all of our candidates, I mean, it’s - to me, it’s amazing that over a year out of this campaign, that you have multiple Republican candidates who are basically working in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida, that are basically in national polls either within the margin of error or ahead of an incumbent president. I mean, it’s amazing.
HUNT: You have been very critical of the Obama administration about their lack of a housing policy in the foreclosures. Mitt Romney said in Nevada, which has the largest number of foreclosures, “We have to just let foreclosures run the course and hit bottom, then let investors buy these homes and put renters in them.” Is that a winning strategy for Republicans?
PRIEBUS: Well, you know, here’s the problem. I mean, we’ve got a president, Al - I mean, here’s the issue. I mean, he runs around in Nevada and California in the foreclosure capital of the world, hasn’t done anything about this problem for three years, and now he’s coming a year out of the election with, you know, these pittance for solutions.
You know, I - I think that continuing to use taxpayer money for bailouts of, you know, Freddie and Fannie, and - and all sorts of winners and losers picked by the government is a losing strategy. So I’m not going to -
HUNT: So we should just let - so we should just let -
PRIEBUS: No, I’m not going to - listen, I’m not going to say that. And I have to be very careful about getting in the middle of these issues between candidates. But I will tell you that the idea that big government in Washington, D.C., should pick winners and losers and be into the finance game that private companies should be involved with is a losing strategy.
HUNT: Should the Republicans talk about the birther issue, whether Obama was born in the United States or not?
PRIEBUS: You know, I - personally, I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve said from the very beginning that I think it’s a big distraction. You know, as far as I’m concerned -
HUNT: Would you rather your candidates drop it?
PRIEBUS: Well, I think they are dropping it. I don’t - I don’t see a whole lot about it.
HUNT: Rick Perry brought it up twice.
PRIEBUS: Well, I think he - well, I think he was also badgered about 20 times on the question, and he said, look, I don’t think it’s an issue, it’s a distraction, let’s move on. So I think to be fair to him, I think that’s the - that was the result of a serious peppering and continuation. And after a while, you just say, you know, fine.
But I think it’s an issue that’s been dropped.
HUNT: Obama’s going to run against a do-nothing Congress. Worked for Harry Truman in ‘48. What’s different this time?
PRIEBUS: Well, I think what’s different this time is that the economy is continuing to climb into the ditch. I mean, you have occasional bumps on the Dow, but I think if you compare today to those days the economy was actually climbing, the economy was actually doing better, I think, you know, this president has a real problem, and the problem he has is that he’s in love with the sound of his own voice and he can’t - and he can’t follow through on his promises. And now he’s running around talking about we can’t wait -
PRIEBUS: - we can’t wait for what? Well, we can’t wait for him to get serious about his promises that he’s completely failed on.
HUNT: Mr. Chairman, we were glad we waited for you. Thank you.
PRIEBUS: Thank you, Al.
HUNT: Thank you very much for being with us. And good luck to your Packers.
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