It is no easy task to chair a political party that is in opposition. Even when chair of the national committee of one of the two major parties navigates the partisans into position to elect a president—as did DNC chair Paul Butler did in the turbulent 1950s, RNC chair Ray Bliss did after the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater and DNC chair Howard Dean did with his 50-state strategy—credit invariably goes to the winning candidate.
But people who understand politics know that party chairs are the ones who must keep things together in order for presidential nominees to win November elections.
Reince Priebus understands politics.
His understanding has served him well. The Wisconsinite has since 2011 kept billionaires from New York and evangelicals from rural Iowa in the same tent, maintaining the confidence of the party’s contentious candidates and constituencies. It’s possible to disagree with Priebus on most every issue, as I do, and still recognize that he is an able tactician who has done much to shape his party up for the 2016 presidential election.
Now, however, he faces a disruption named Donald Trump.
Priebus set up a debate schedule that was designed to highlight the strengths of GOP candidates and to avoid the pitfalls of 2012, when a long debate schedule and candidates with little to lose tripped up Mitt Romney. Now, however, Priebus faces the prospect of debates focused almost entirely on a candidate who could make the worst of the 2012 debates look like gatherings of the Oxford Union Society.
Trump is leading in the polls. that will decide which candidates get prime debate slots—and which are excluded from the main event. The billionaire will have a place in the first debate Priebus has arranged for top-tier candidates on August 6. And Trump is likely to keep his poll numbers high enough to gain a place in the debates to follow.
That’s an immediate problem for the other candidates, who must struggle to make themselves heard over what former Texas Governor Rick Perry refers to as Trump’s “barking carnival act.”
Eventually, most Republican voters will reject the wealthiest of their contenders.