A postelection civil war is brewing among Republicans, with some conservative activists angry over the party’s poor performance this cycle gunning for party Chairman Reince Priebus and planning demonstrations at the Republican National Committee’s annual winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C.
The protesting activists adamantly oppose the re-election of Mr. Priebus to a second two-year term and say they have a suitcase full of gripes about him. Some are blaming Mr. Priebus and other top party officials for the misspending of GOP donors’ money in President Obama’s clear victory over GOP nominee Mitt Romney Nov. 6 and also for the Republicans’ badly outclassed get-out-the-vote efforts.
“Republicans want a change. They have had it with Priebus,” said Mike Karem, a Kentucky GOP strategist who has been involved in Republican presidential campaigns since Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election victory. “We lost the presidency; we lost House seats, Senate seats; we picked up only one governor; and we had 3 million fewer Republicans turn out for Romney and other Republican candidates than turned out in 2008.”
“If [Mr. Priebus] worked for you, would you keep him based on his record?” Mr. Karem added. “The answer is, ‘Hell, no!’”
Mr. Priebus, a former Wisconsin GOP chairman who won strong early reviews after taking over a dispirited and financially troubled RNC in 2011, is not without a strong base of support. Most of the RNC’s 168 voting members have pledged to support him for a second two-year term. He also has the support of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner and is preparing a counterattack against his detractors for as early as Friday, a Republican close to the chairman’s office said privately.
But Mr. Priebus’ critics may have an ally in the party’s libertarian supporters of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. They’re still angry over what they say was an illegal change in party rules by the Romney campaign and the RNC to minimize Mr. Paul’s support and visibility at the party’s Tampa, Fla., convention in August. Mr. Karem has been emailing fellow Republicans a link to a website backing Mr. Paul (www.dailypaul.com) that is organizing its own protest in Charlotte and even collecting donations for a “hospitality suite” at the Westin hotel, where RNC delegates will gather.
“This protest will be focused on party rule changes and systematic disenfranchisement of delegates that were overseen and railroaded through by party leadership in a premeditated, undemocratic fashion,” the website says.
“Due to these events, we find Reince Priebus unfit for party leadership. His actions are unbecoming of Republican tradition, damaging to the principles of conservatism, antithetical to American values and morally reprehensible.”
One prominent Virginia Republican official, who asked not to be named, said some of the anti-Priebus protests spring from a posting on the influential conservative website RedState.com charging that consultants “more interested in profits that in winning elections” had hurt the party during the recent campaign. Mr. Priebus strongly denied charges that his chief of staff, Jeff Larson, had profited from his ties to the corps of high-priced consultants attached to the Romney campaign who produced little in the way of positive results for GOP candidates in key races in swing states.
“Larson gets zero — not a penny” from the consulting firm, FLS, singled out in the RedState report, Mr. Priebus said in an email. “He severed all relationship legal or otherwise with FLS well before taking the job.”
In a Nov. 19 tweet, RedState founder Erick Erickson said, “I fully support @ReincePriebus for re-election as chair of the RNC.”
Many Republicans, both pro- and anti-Priebus, say the Romney campaign largely took over the RNC’s get-out-the-vote program, leaving Mr. Priebus and his RNC team mostly as sideline observers.
The anti-Priebus forces — none of whom so far seems to be associated with the RNC — do not appear to have an agreed-upon alternative, but some privately have floated the name of Al Cardenas, a traditional conservative who led the Florida GOP before becoming chairman of the American Conservative Union and the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“As a former member of the RNC’s executive committee — an institution I have always loved and respected — I am humbled to have been mentioned as a possible candidate for chairman of our party,” Mr. Cardenas told The Washington Times.
Saying he will follow Mr. Priebus’ lead, Mr. Cardenas nonetheless left the door slightly ajar for his own candidacy.
“I have a full plate at the American Conservative Union now and will keep a vigil on the wishes of the members of the RNC and its chairman,” he said.
• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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