As recently as the beginning of last year, Reince Priebus was riding pretty high as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was reelected with little opposition to a third term as chairman, the first to do so with a Democrat controlling the White House. Republicans had made big and historic gains in the 2014 midterms. Party finances were looking good. Priebus’s famous 2013 “autopsy report” after the 2012 presidential loss, with its call for a more diverse and less angry GOP, was still the prevailing wisdom in the GOP.
Now, 15 months later, you get the sense Priebus is going through the motions, sure to be replaced the next time his party reaches a resting point. To the Trump and Cruz partisans dominating the GOP presidential nominating context, Priebus is the face of the hated Republican Establishment, eyeing their presidential candidates with bad intent and doing what he can to set the stage for a stab in the back in Cleveland or soon thereafter. Just yesterday Trump called Priebus a "disgrace" who "should be ashamed of himself" for the "rigged" rule of the nomination process. But to anti-Trump and anti-Cruz Republicans, Priebus is an empty suit babbling about party unity when he should be taking a stand. Today’s Washington Post has not one but two columns kicking the man in the slats.
First there is journalist and snark-master Dana Milbank, who acidly notes that the more Priebus’s party sinks into the mire of Trumpism, the more its chairman engages in vapid uplift:
Priebus failed to act to stop Trump when he could have, or to coordinate Republicans to clear the field for a mainstream alternative. And now he compounds the damage by sticking with the same moral neutrality and happy talk of GOP unity that allowed the situation to develop.
After the Jan. 14 debate, in which Trump said he would “gladly accept the mantle of anger” and traded charges with Cruz about their constitutional eligibility for the presidency, Priebus tweeted: “It’s clear we’ve got the most well-qualified and diverse field of candidates from any party in history.”
In the Feb. 13 debate, Trump blamed George W. Bush for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and said Bush “lied” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio took turns calling one another liars, and Rubio ridiculed Cruz’s Spanish skills. “Our well-qualified & experienced candidates continue to put forth serious solutions to restore prosperity & strength to America,” Priebus tweeted.
And after the March 3 debate, in which Trump spoke about the size of his genitals, Priebus tweeted that “Republican candidates are the only ones offering the course correction voters overwhelmingly want.”
At this rate, if the worst happens and Cleveland is a bloodbath of historic dimensions, you figure Priebus’s joy at GOP unity will know no bounds.
Similarly, conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin is enraged at Priebus’s refusal to flat-out oppose Trump. Damning with the faintest of praise the chairman’s refutation of the Trump camp’s claims of being robbed in Colorado this last week, which she attributed to Priebus being “momentarily roused from his stupor,” Rubin cuts loose:
What is missing here — as it has been for months now — is any principled defense against the man threatening to replace the conservative movement’s political apparatus with one that is nothing more than a cult of personality. In the latter, any outcome other than one favoring Trump is “crooked” or “rigged.” Acceptable rhetoric is defined as whatever he says; any efforts to present the party as inclusive go out the window.
Priebus continues to passively allow Trump’s torrent of deception, threats and out and out lies to wash over the party, treating him as just another candidate. It was this attitude that sent Priebus scurrying to Trump Tower with the pledge, now shown to be entirely worthless. Priebus’s collapse into moral relativism led him to forgo speaking out against the vast majority of Trump’s outrageous comments, and to only cryptically frown on violence in the race, which Trump alone has instigated and condoned. Worse yet, without an operative moral compass, Priebus again and again praised the entire field and provided assurance that no matter who got to 1,237 delegates, the entire party would get behind him. In short, he offered Trump carte blanche and now stands accused of running a corrupt and undemocratic outfit. You would think he would show a smidgen of indignation.
There’s an informal bipartisan tradition that a party’s presidential nominee — if it’s not an incumbent president who’s already been running the show — is given the opportunity to name her or his own national chairman. No matter who finally claims the tarnished prize in Cleveland, it’s hard to imagine Priebus will be kept around unless it’s to serve as a scapegoat if things go south. And even in that remote contingency, he will not be given the opportunity to authorize and bless a second “autopsy.” No one party chairman can survive that much death.