Theoretically, the whole point of replacing Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele was to put a face on the GOP that was perhaps just a smidgeon less buffoonish.

Unfortunately, after seven ballots, the Republicans ended up with Reince Priebus.

The chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin once backed Steele for the top RNC job – and was rewarded with appointment as the committee’s general counsel. But Priebus stabbed Steele in the back this year and emerged as the choice of the party establishment for the chairmanship.

So what did the GOP get?

A guy who, either because of incompetence or malice, has repeatedly confused Barack Obama for Osama bin Laden.


During the 2010 election campaign season — when Wisconsin Republicans capitalized on Democratic missteps, while employing sophisticated vote caging and voter intimidation strategies, to secure significant advances in federal and state contests — Priebus was a steady source of embarrassment. His penchant for bombastic statements was every bit as pronounced as Steele’s.

As the campaign took shape, Priebus developed a reputation for taking the cheapest of cheap shots at women who had won top state jobs, particularly Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, a prospective gubernatorial candidate. The state GOP chair’s attacks on Lawton were so over the top that he was decried as “crude” and “scurrilous” in newspaper editorials.

But Priebus earned even wider rebukes when, in the fall of 2010, during an interview regarding Democratic Senator Russ Feingold – a prime target of the party chair’s barbs – called three times for the "execution" of President Obama during a conference call with reporters.

Priebus was trying to suggest that Feingold somehow “soft” on terrorism because of his opposition to capital punishment.

"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," noted Priebus, who objected that Feingold was "out of the mainstream" because he had advocated for following the rule of law when dealing with terror suspects who are in the custody of the United States. 

Note the first reference to “Obama,” not the presumed target of the remark: Osama.

"I find this point that (Feingold’s) made to be completely disgusting. I think it’s offensive to the people of Wisconsin,” continued Priebus. “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.”

Note the second reference to “Obama.”

Asked where Feingold’s Republican challenger stood on questions of trying terror suspects, Priebus replied: "My guess is he would believe that Obama should be executed and he oughta be treated as a war criminal.”

Note the third reference to “Obama.”

Finally, a reporter noted the Obama references and said: "You mean Osama bin Laden I take it.”

"Uh, right," responded Priebus.

No apologies.

No effort to clarify that no one should confuse the president of the United States with a terrorist.

Just “uh, right,” and on to the next attack. That opened something of a debate – in Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent nationally – about whether Priebus was a sly actor, who was intentionally suggesting an Obama-Osama comparison. But Republican defenders claimed it was just another verbal blunder by a state party chair who has never been accused of being articulate.

There was never any question that Michael Steele was a bumbler. But just imagine if the chairman of the Republican National Committee repeatedly confused Obama for Osama.

Uh, right, the new one did.