Reince Priebus’ rules for Republicans: RNC chair seeks African-American ‘hearts and minds’

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RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (left) stands with New York Republlican Party chair Ed Cox and Rev. A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York on March 11, 2013. (Photo by Joy-Ann Reid)

Republican National Committee chairman Reinhold Reince Priebus embarked on an African-American “listening tour” in Brooklyn, New York, Monday, and the results were simply platitudinous.

Flanked by New York state GOP chairman Ed Cox and Rev. A.R. Bernard, a black, would-be mayoral candidate who hosted the get-together at his fortress-like Christian Cultural Center, Priebus proceeded to lay out for the dozen or so members of “the people” — mostly black Republicans or folks who seemed to be church members, along with considerably more members of the media — how he believes his party can broaden its base beyond the stodgy white guys who wave pitchforks at government spending that isn’t on their Medicare or Social Security checks.

Well, Priebus didn’t actually lay out the plan. Not with any specificity, anyway. Apparently, that comes on March 18th. Mostly, he just talked about his feelings. The RNC chair feels that the GOP has to start being a “heart” party. They’ve got to get down to their spiritual essence and “spark a revival!” Here are Priebus’ ten rules for letting the Grand Old Party’s little light shine.

1. “You’ve got to show up” - Priebus repeated the phrase nearly a dozen times, including with a handy, Republican-friendly business analogy: “We haven’t tried to make the sale,” he said. “And if you’re gonna try to make the sale you’ve got to show up and try to make the sale. You’ve got to ask. You’ve got to show up.” Hopefully the IRS is cool with you showing up to politic at a church.

2. Don’t make excuses, place blame – In what totally, seriously was not an attempted slam on his predecessor, Michael Steele, Priebus explained that he was “not gonna make excuses for the past but, when you’ve got a party that’s $26 million in debt, that can’t pay its bills or its staff, it’s pretty hard to be that big, grassroots community-based organization that I know we need to be.” In other words, it’s the black guy’s fault.

3. You’ve got to show up early – “You can’t get to know people or build relationships if you parachute in four weeks before an election.” So get out there, Republicans! Maybe take Donald Trump with you — he’s got “a great relationship with the blacks.”

4. Always “keep it real” – See, the GOP doesn’t have an issues problem, or an image problem with black Americans, it’s got a “quality of contacts” problem. When you’ve been “showing up four weeks before election when the other side has been there four years… guess who wins?” You guessed it: the people who’ve “been there,” and who have “authentic relationships.” Did I mention Donald Trump?

5. Know your limits – Priebus is “not looking for a few good headlines by hiring a couple of people down the hallway.”

6. Be “organic” and “community based” – This process could take “four, eight or twelve years” to work. Maybe longer, according to Priebus.

7. Recognize that what you’ve got is a “marketing problem” – But remember, “there is no pitch if you don’t” … wait for it … “show up. If you don’t show up you don’t get to make the pitch.” And talk about “lowering taxes on small business so folks can pay for their kids’ tuition,” and “school choice” when you show up. Black people will love that.

8.Get yourself map from 1988 – That’s the last time the GOP won a “decisive national election,” according to Priebus. Sorry, Dubya.

9. Know your history – When it was his turn, Cox waxed nostalgic about the proud racial history of the GOP, from President Lincoln signing the 13th Amendment, to Teddy Roosevelt inviting Booker T. Washington to dine, to the Republican Chief Justice who wrote the Brown v. Board of Education decision, to Richard Nixon desegregating southern schools (even if he did so kicking and screaming…) After 1974. It’s pretty much “school choice.” Really can’t say enough about school choice.

10. Be helpful – Priebus declared, with masterful insight, that “Governor [Mitt] Romney’s “47 percent” comments during the 2012 presidential campaign were “not helpful.” So is pushing voter ID laws that disproportionately impede black and brown voters, or not standing up to right-wing media mavens who disparage African-Americans as lazy welfare cheats “helpful?” Priebus deflected my question on that. But he did say some stuff about “shouting from the mountaintop” that anyone who wants to is welcome to be a Republican, before the Reverend stepped in and attempted to clarify things by saying there are extremists “on both sides,” which I’m not sure was entirely helpful.

In the end, Priebus had a little something for every soul, including a reference to Hialeah, which is actually in Florida, not Brooklyn, in answer to a question from an Hispanic lady.

And he closed with this:

“Be granular … be genuine … be real.” Go to an immigrant swearing in ceremony, and tell people what’s “good and interesting about the party!” And darn it, “put a smile on your face.”

“This is real,” Priebus said as he, Cox and the pastor prepared to “show up” somewhere other than the church’s vestibule to keep on “listening” to African-Americans. “This is not just a press conference.”

Otherwise, why would anyone have shown up?

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.