Ever since the Republican National Committee officially made reality-television host and sweat-drenched pepperoni monster Donald Trump their presidential nominee, things cannot be said to have gone particularly well. In the weeks since their convention went over like a lead balloon with the public, Republicans have watched as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton built a durable-looking lead in the polls, while waiting for their own nominee to make that long-promised “pivot” to something that looks like a competent, professional campaign.
Many Republicans have given up on that pivot ever turning. As The Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic reports: “More than 100 GOP officials, delegates and staffers have signed an open letter calling on the Republican National Committee to cut ties with Donald Trump and shift precious resources away from his struggling presidential campaign to focus on retaining the House and Senate.”
This letter cites numerous deficits in Trump’s candidacy and character, including his “divisiveness,” his “recklessness,” his “incompetence” and his “record-breaking unpopularity.”
Hold on, we’re not done: The letter goes on to rap Trump for his “campaign of anger and exclusion,” the way he has “mocked and offended millions of voters” and his “dangerous authoritarian tendencies.”
Ordinarily, this is the sort of thing that might prove to be a searing read for its recipient. But this letter, I’m afraid, is going to end up on the desk of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, and he’s the one man who doesn’t seem to think that anything is amiss. Rather, the Dr. Pangloss-channeling Priebus appears to be under the impression that he’s been doing a very good job ― one that makes him deserving of future rewards. As Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports:
But in recent weeks, Priebus has begun telling friends and allies that he’s seriously considering running for reelection. During last month’s Republican National Convention, he approached Henry Barbour, a loyal ally who is the nephew of former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, and told him he was thinking about a return.
“He wants to keep his options open for running for reelection,” Henry Barbour said in an interview.
Other party leaders who’ve spoken with Priebus — some of whom have reached out to him to gauge his intentions — say they’ve come away with the impression that he’s increasingly likely to seek reelection.
“It’s a move that would come as a surprise to many,” writes Isenstadt.
I should say so! In recent weeks, the RNC has seen a plethora of staffers head for the exits, with discontent over Trump’s nomination being an often-cited reason. “Some,” Politico’s Daniel Lippman reports, “said they worried about the stain that working to elect Trump could have on their resume.”
Many that remain are internally urging a different type of disengagement ― one in which they cut off support for Trump in order to redirect their energies and efforts to saving the party’s down-ticket competitors. As Politico’s Eli Stokols and Kenneth Vogel note, these reports were followed hard by denials that any sort of groundwork was being laid to leave Trump to his fate. Most notably, RNC strategist Sean Spicer insisted, “There is no talk of shifting resources in mid-August and it’s unlikely that would happen until late September or October.”
So it’s a disagreement over the timing of such a conscious decoupling, not a denial that plans aren’t being hatched. Still, Priebus has been very adamant, insisting, “Don’t believe the garbage you read.” (Unless, of course, you are a major GOP donor and are used to receiving various sub rosa communications in newspaper headlines.) Meanwhile, as New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz noted at the beginning of the week, the Republican National Committee’s Twitter account has undertaken an effort to keep itself free of garbage: Since July 28, it’s gone out of its way to avoid reminding people about the identity of the party’s nominee.
If Priebus seems to be fairly defensive, that’s arguably because Trump’s ability to lurch his way into the GOP presidential nomination was largely the chairman’s doing. Back in September of 2015, Priebus forced the GOP presidential primary field to sign a pledge agreeing to not disparage their party’s eventual nominee, whoever he or she turned out to be, under the belief that it would save the party from a Trump independent run. Instead, the pledge ended up constraining the rest of the candidates, none of whom wanted to be responsible for sending an angry Trump off on an outside-the-party presidential bid. Priebus’ demand for enforced timidity set the stage for the collective action problem that followed, giving Trump the inside track to claiming the nomination.
That decision alone should deal a fatal blow to Priebus’ continued tenure. One person who evidently agrees is one of the primary candidates on whom he forced this pledge ― former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who Time’s Zeke Miller reports is already plotting a takeover of the RNC by doing her own spadework in the down-ticket races and breaking bread with influential party chairs across the country.
For Fiorina, this could be yet another iteration of her mostly unsuccessful efforts to refashion herself into a Republican Party bigwig. That said, there could not be a riper target than Priebus ― the man who had four years to implement the plan laid out in the infamous 2012 “GOP autopsy,” only to ham-handedly manage his party to what is shaping up to be an even more infamous death in 2016.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.