The Republican National Committee bemoaned its lack of outreach to minorities during the presidential campaign, but after some very public soul-searching, it’s not just Hispanic, black or Asian communities the RNC is making a concerted effort to court — it’s their own base.
The RNC has effectively brought on a “liaison” to Tea Party and other conservative groups. Their hire, Mike Mears, comes with a long track record in the conservative movement after the RNC realized it needed to “take care of their own.”
“The fact is they were going out to all these new communities, but they also basically needed to take care of their own—their folks, partners, what have you,” Mears told TheBlaze in an interview. “How I view a partner is anybody during an election year who does something for Republicans. Maybe not every single Republican that’s running, but at the end of the day, they help elect Republicans—that’s a partner.”
Mears joined the RNC from the socially conservative Family Research Council and before that worked for Concerned Women for America and the Susan B. Anthony List, both groups that oppose abortion.
“When I walk into a room I pretty much have credibility (with conservative groups),” he said. “They can’t take my resume away from me, that’s for sure. There’s no ‘establishment’ tag that you can put on me.”
Mears, who started in July, said his role primarily is to “keep an open line of communication” between the groups and the RNC.
“I joke that I’m part ambassador and part newspaper ombudsman,” he said. “I represent the RNC to these folks, but at the same time I represent these groups to the RNC.”
He said a common refrain from his former colleagues in the conservative movement has been, “I’ve never known anybody at the RNC.”
“Now they do, so there’s no excuse for them not to at least pick up the phone and say hey, what are you guys thinking over there, or, what’s going on?” he said.
Mears has already had a brief introduction to a wider audience: he played “Obamacare” in the RNC’s recent series of ads highlighting the problems with healthcare.gov that was modeled after Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign.
Mears said a large part of his job is “just showing up and listening and hearing what people are saying.”
“(People) say hey, I’d really like to get a message to the chairman. And I say fantastic, give me the message, I’m more than happy to give it to him. I have his ear, I’m able to talk to him about things and that’s worked really well. If you wait for the chairman’s schedule to open up, it could be a while, because he’s very busy trying to build up this party,” Mears said. “I’m kind of in there to bridge that gap.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, where Mears previously worked, said the RNC hasn’t had anyone “on the inside” drawing in or working closely with social conservatives before.
“Social conservatives know Mike, they trust Mike, he’s been around,” Perkins said. “I think this is a very positive move from the chairman listening and understanding that in the last election they stepped over their base trying to reach independent voters and a lot of their core voters stayed home. I think this is a step in the right direction of correcting that.”
[sharequote align=”right”]”(Republicans) stepped over their base trying to reach independent voters…”[/sharequote]
But Amy Kremer, the head of the Tea Party Express, one of the largest such groups in the country, said Mears hasn’t reached out to her and hasn’t heard anyone specifically mention him.
“I’m not surprised that they have hired him or hired somebody to reach out to conservative groups and Tea Party groups,” Kremer said. She said she met with RNC officials shortly after the election and advised them of the disconnect between party leadership and local people on the ground. But, she said, “at the end of the day, the Tea Party movement … is not an arm of the Republican Party.”
While hiring Mears could be a start in mending the fences, Kremer said the focus needs to be at the local level, not in Washington.
“D.C. is not the answer, D.C. is so not the answer,” she said. “You look at … (conservative organizations like) FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, they do have people in D.C. but they also have state directors, state coordinators … people that are actually there on the ground in the states, networking all the time and building that network, because when it comes to election time or when you need to mobilize on an issue, you need to have a network in place.”
Morton Blackwell, a longtime RNC official and former member of the Reagan administration, said Mears will have his work cut out for him.
“This is not a particularly easy job because obviously there is disagreement within the national party,” Blackwell told TheBlaze. “I think it is likely there will be more serious conservative primary challengers to Republican incumbents next year than we’ve ever seen before.”
One thing Mears said he won’t do is preach to or criticize conservative groups for the candidates they put up, after instances where Tea Party-backed candidates have surged ahead of “establishment”-preferred picks.
“I’m not in the business of going to be criticizing these groups,” Mears said. “When their candidate gets through a primary I’m going to challenge them to do everything that they possibly can to get them elected and that means training them and that means coming alongside them, sure, but criticizing, no. No, no, no, no. That’s been the problem. Everybody wants to shoot each other and I just want to stop that the best I can.”
UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. ET — Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, emailed this statement:
Amy Kremer’s comments misstated Tea Party Express’ relationship with Mike Mears and the RNC. Tea Party Express’ Co-Founder and Chief Strategist Sal Russo and myself have had very productive dialogue with Mike over the past few months. He is a great asset to the RNC and someone who holds a lot of credibility with us, as well as movement conservatives across the country. After working with him closely, it is evident he shares our same goal for 2014, and that’s taking back control of the Senate and expanding our majority in the House. We couldn’t be more happy with the RNC for making this hire.
Follow Madeleine Morgenstern (@MadeleineBlaze) on Twitter