Who Is Reince Priebus?

January 14, 2011 5:21 pm ET

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus was today elected to succeed Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Despite his age — he's under 40 — Priebus has spent time carving out his place as a Republican politician, running an unsuccessful campaign for Wisconsin state senate in 2004, and, more recently, serving as the RNC's general counsel. He's largely stuck to strictly conservative positions, coming out against gay marriage during the RNC chair debate and suggesting that anyone who favors a woman's right to choose is "not a Republican." Priebus' conservative credentials are mildly tainted by service in a law firm that supports health care reform and worked to channel stimulus funds to clients, but as the RNC chair elections approached his fellow Republicans' biggest criticism was his close ties to Steele.

Priebus' Political History

Priebus Served As RNC General Counsel Until Bid For Chairmanship. From National Journal's Hotline On Call blog:

Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee's top legal counsel, resigned his position early Sunday morning, The Hotline has learned, a move that will be widely interpreted as a major step toward running for chairman of the organization and a big blow to current chairman Michael Steele.

Priebus, the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, was once Steele's closest ally on the committee. Priebus pushed to elect Steele in 2009, and in the two years since has served as Steele's conduit with committee members.

"In a private letter to Chairman Steele, I did resign today as General Counsel. I appreciated the opportunity to work with all of the members that make the RNC so special," Priebus confirmed in an email to The Hotline. [National Journal's Hotline On Call, 12/5/10]

Priebus Is Currently Chairman Of The Wisconsin Republican Party. According to his bio on the Republican Party of Wisconsin website, Reince Priebus has held the position of chairman since 2007. [WisGOP.org, accessed 1/14/11]

  • Priebus Is The Youngest Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman In History. From the Milwaukee Business Journal: "At 35, Priebus, who first began volunteering for candidates at 16, is the youngest chairman in the history of the Wisconsin Republican Party." [Milwaukee Business Journal via MichaelBest.com, 2/22/08]

Priebus Lost Run For Wisconsin State Senate In 2004. From the Associated Press: "Priebus ran for the state Senate himself in 2004 but was defeated by Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch." [Associated Press, 12/6/10]

Priebus Has Served As An Education Clerk For The Wisconsin Legislature. From Priebus' bio on the Republican Party of Wisconsin website: "Chairman Priebus also previously worked in the Wisconsin legislature as the Committee Clerk for the State Assembly Education Committee." [WisGOP.org, accessed 1/14/11]

Ties To Steele Are Fellow Republicans' Primary Criticism Of Priebus

Priebus' Ties To Steele Criticized By Connecticut GOP Chairman Healy. From National Journal's Hotline On Call blog:

"At no time until he chose to run did Preibus [sic] issue any directive, memo or public utterance on Steele's disastrous tenure," Healy wrote in the memo. "Now he wishes to walk into breach and rescue us from Chairman Steele, his legions and supporters who have done quite well for themselves at the expense of our Party."

"When Steele made several inane comments about Rush Limbaugh, the double-standard he was held to because of his race or the war in Afghanistan, Preibus [sic] was put in charge of damage control, often asking members to sign letters of support," Healy went on. "There was no doubt about his loyalty to Steele and his eagerness to show other members he was speaking for the chairman." [National Journal's Hotline On Call, 1/1/11]

Priebus Supported Steele As RNC Chairman. From National Journal's Hotline On Call blog: "In 2009, Priebus was Steele's top backer on the committee. As general counsel, he was frequently asked to serve as Steele's top liaison to committee members and to put out fires after Steele uttered an embarrassing comment or angered a faction of the GOP. In a memo to RNC members, Connecticut Party chairman Chris Healy, who is supporting former RNC political director Gentry Collins, said that makes Priebus culpable for the RNC's poor performance." [National Journal's Hotline On Call, 1/1/11]

Priebus' Law Firm Doesn't Add To His Conservative Credentials

Priebus Is A Partner In The Litigation Practice Group Of The Law Firm Michael Best & Friedrich LLP. From his bio on the Michael Best & Friedrich website: "Reince Priebus is a partner in our Litigation Practice Group, Co-Chair of the Construction Group and Government and Public Policy Group. Currently, Mr. Priebus handles all aspects of corporate litigation." [MichaelBest.com, accessed 1/14/11]

Priebus' Law Firm Supports Health Care Reform. From Think Progress:

Over the summer, the firm created a series of presentations to explain health reform to its clients and to pitch the firm's services for employers looking to comply with new health reform regulations. In one presentation, John Barlament, a colleague to Priebus at the firm, said that a health reform repeal is not only unlikely, but that the lawsuits brought by Republican Party allies to declare the law unconstitutional probably have no merit. Referring to the controversy over the individual mandate, Barlament explained that the commerce clause of the constitution "gives Congress authority to act on his legislation." [...]

Presentations from Priebus's law firm also tout health reform benefits routinely ignored by right-wing partisans, like generous subsidies to small businesses, vastly expanding health insurance coverage in America, closing the Medicare Part D donut hole, and the end to egregious insurance company abuses (ending the program of capping benefits, ending "rescissions," ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions). [Think Progress, 12/30/10, emphasis added]

Priebus' Firm Steered Stimulus Money To Clients. From Think Progress: "It's not the first time Priebus's law firm has contradicted his role as a Republican partisan. As FrumForum reported, the website for his law firm indicated that Priebus had been part of a team dedicated to steering projects from the Recovery Act to clients. Despite the multiple pages on the law firm website indicating Priebus's involvement in obtaining stimulus grants, he denied ever working on that part of his law firm's business." [Think Progress, 12/30/10]

Notable Statements

Priebus "Believe[s] Our Country Is In A Time Of Great Peril." From ABC News: "'I'm not running for chairman because I think I'm better than anyone or because I think I have all the answers' Priebus said in his announcement video. 'I'm running for chairman for only one reason: I believe our country is in a time of great peril and we have to do something about it.'" [ABC News, 12/6/10]

Confusing The President With Osama Bin Laden, Priebus Accidentally Called For Obama's "Execution." From the Huffington Post:

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, referred to the "execution" of Obama three separate times during a recent media conference call.

"Feingold had mentioned that he thought that it would be good if we captured Obama in the battlefield setting and that he suffered the quote-unquote ultimate punishment there," Priebus told reporters while attempting to explain that Sen. Feingold (D-Wis.) was "out of the mainstream" because of his opposition to using capital punishment -- even on Osama bin Laden -- as a tool of the American criminal justice system.

"I find this point that he's made to be completely disgusting. I think it's offensive to the people of Wisconsin, I hope he has an explanation as to why he thinks Obama ought not to be executed and why he thinks we ought to bring Osama bin Laden to the United States that he should be captured alive and actually have a trial," Priebus said later. [Huffington Post, 10/7/10, emphasis added]

Priebus Argued Against Gay Marriage Because "It's Really Hard" For Single Parents. During the RNC Chairman debate, Preibus stated: "I don't believe that judges can rewrite the Constitution and redraft what marriage is. I-I think marriage is-there's a sanctity of marriage, I believe that. I believe and I agree with Michael that certainly it's foundational in our lives. I believe my kids and believe children should grow up with one father and a mother if possible, certainly with support - single parents, it's really hard. I don't believe anybody, ah, should be denied dignity in this discussion, everyone should be loved. But at the end of the day, ah, I believe that ah, marriage, through the sanctity of marriage, should be between one man and one woman." [Republican National Committee Chair debate, 1/3/11]

Priebus: "If You're Pro-Abortion, Pro-Stimulus ... You Might Not Be A Republican." During the RNC Chairman debate, Preibus stated: "Well I think that being a standard-bearer for the Republican Party has to take into account that our country's in great peril. As I said before, we're about to walk off a fiscal cliff. And I think that the RNC chairman ought to take a chance and promote that conservative platform every time that he or she has an opportunity to do it, because right now just without anything Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi did these past two years, normally it costs about 19 cents on every dollar made in America to run the federal government. Without anything that they've done it will cost by the time by son, who is five years old, is my age, it will cost 40 cents for every dollar made in America to run this country. And if we don't have a chairman who understands that being a Republican means something, that if you're pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-GMC bailout, pro-AIG, well guess what. You might not be a Republican." [Republican National Committee Chair debate, 1/3/11]