Reince Priebus Elected New RNC Chairman

Goodbye Michael Steele, hello Reince Priebus:

The Republican National Committee selected a new leader on Friday, with its choice, Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, surviving seven contentious rounds of balloting to overtake Michael Steele, the embattled chairman, as party officials demanded new leadership to fortify the party for the 2012 presidential race.

Mr. Priebus, who broke away from Mr. Steele’s close circle of advisers to run against him, said he would work to rebuild the trust of major contributors who had lost faith in the party and begin preparing to challenge President Obama. He pledged to heal any divisions among Republican constituencies.

“We all recognize that there’s a steep hill ahead of us,” Mr. Priebus said, delivering his first remarks as party chairman. “The only way we’ll be able to move forward is if we’re all together.”

Mr. Priebus, 38, the chairman of the Wisconsin state party, presided over sweeping statewide and local Republican victories in the midterm elections, including the defeat of Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat. He was the preferred candidate of much of the Republican establishment and was recruited by party elders to replace Mr. Steele, whose stewardship of the party had become a central issue in the race.

Even in the intimate circles of Republican Party politics, Mr. Priebus is far from well known. He rose through the political ranks from his hometown, Pleasant Prairie, working as a local activist, the state party treasurer and finally the state chairman, which he became four years ago — making him a member of the Republican National Committee. He also served as the committee’s general counsel.

Facing television cameras moments after his election, he was still wearing a nametag on his lapel. He conceded that he has limited experience on television, but he said his chief role would be raising money and working on the nuts and bolts of the party’s operation rather than being a frequent guest on national news programs.

The race for chairman unfolded with an air of uncertainty and drama here at the National Harbor resort outside Washington, where members of the committee gathered for their winter meeting. The vote took place in a series of secret ballots, complete with side agreements and closed-door meetings among the candidates.

On the fourth round of voting, Mr. Steele conceded to political reality and dropped his bid for a second term. He ascended to the stage and, in his last statement as chairman, declared, “I will step aside because I think the party is ready for something different.”

Priebus will have his work cut out for him given that, on the same day he was elected, it was reported that the RNC has a $20 million debt:

Hundreds of major donors have abandoned the Republican National Committee, leaving it $20 million in debt and threatening its future as a central player in the 2012 presidential election.

The RNC raised just $7 million from major donors for the midterm elections, one sixth as much as it brought in for the previous midterms, in 2006. By contrast, the Democratic National Committee raised $38 million from large donors for last fall’s midterms, three times as much as for the 2006 elections, according to a Washington Post analysis of donor records.

Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to this race to begin with and, now that it’s over I can happily go back to not caring about the RNC Chairman.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael says:

    I, for one, will miss the Michael Steele Crazy Train that has provided so much amusement to those of us who aren’t Republicans.

  2. anjin-san says:

    Now Michael Steele has time to kick it at home and listen to his “Pack Rats” albums…

  3. Gustopher says:

    While I will miss Michael Steele’s “Street” approach to whatever it was that he was trying to do, I take some small solace in the face that if you remove all the vowels from Reince Priebus’s name, you end up with RNC PR BS.