Last week, Politico and The Hill both reported that “anonymous” Republicans were concerned with the aggressive approach of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) under new chairman Tom Emmer. These sources made all kinds of fiery accusations under the cloak of anonymity and succeeded in getting Beltway publications to understandably jump at the opportunity to gin up the kind of controversy that captures attention in Washington, D.C., and nowhere else.
Unfortunately, this kind of “friendly” fire from other Republicans is extremely unhelpful. It distracts and ultimately hurts the committee’s core functions — recruiting quality candidates, raising money and aggressively defining Democrats.
But more importantly, the criticisms of Tom Emmer and his NRCC staff couldn’t be further from the truth. He and his staff are running an impressive operation and are doing what it takes to win back the 18 seats needed to win the majority. From fundraising to recruiting to communicating, this team is smart, hungry and relentless.
Let’s start with the fundraising numbers. At this time in 2013, my first cycle at the NRCC, the team raised $27 million and improved to $28 million in 2015. In 2017, the NRCC raised $34 million with another $18 million added by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s efforts. This year? They are at $35 million. Perhaps more importantly, on Monday the NRCC, along with the National Republican Senate Committee, the Republican National Committee and the Trump Campaign, announced an agreement on WinRed, a revolutionary digital platform that will finally help Republicans achieve parity with Democrats on small-dollar donations. Make no mistake, this was no small feat by Mr. Emmer and his legal and finance teams.
On recruiting, there have been similar successes. In places that Republicans need to win, they have recruited top tier candidates who give them the absolute best shot to do so. Candidates like Nicole Malliotakis in the 11th District of New York, Ashley Hinson in the 1st District in Iowa, Evelyn Sanguinetti in the 6th District of Illinois, Kathy Landing in the 1st District of South Carolina and Amanda Makkei in the 13th District of Florida. The National Republican Congressional Committee has done a phenomenal job finding strong candidates willing to run in the most important districts and it is clear that it is placing a priority on increasing the number of women in the Republican caucus. This has typically been an elusive recruiting goal at the NRCC, but Mr. Emmer and his team have had unparalleled success.
Of course, raising money and recruiting great candidates aren’t the only things the National Republican Congressional Committee does. It’s communications team, which has unfairly taken the brunt of the anonymous criticism, is responsible for helping new candidates fine tune their messaging, but also for defining Democrats early and often. For those who think that is an easy task, well I have a bridge for sale if you want to give me a call.
Getting reporters to pay attention to facts about Democrats has never been an easy task, but when you add in the sheer amount of email traffic the average reporter gets, that task becomes nearly impossible. That is why it is absolutely necessary to be aggressive, creative and relentless. In my opinion this team at the NRCC has done it better than any group I can remember, and that includes the 2014 team that I was part of which helped pickup another 13 seats and increase the Republican majority to its highest point since before World War II.
We certainly weren’t without criticism in the 2014 cycle for our communication tactics either. In the 19th District of New York, which was a Democrat-leaning district, incumbent Republican Chris Gibson faced off against a self-funder named Sean Eldridge, who outspent Mr. Gibson five to one. We attacked Mr. Eldridge every day for being a carpetbagger with zero real world experience, who was trying to buy a race funded by a spouse who was practically a billionaire.
We even labeled him “$ean Eldridge.” There were many Republicans who thought our tactics were too aggressive, immature and ineffective; similar to what anonymous sources are saying about the National Republican Congressional Committee labeling candidates like “Fake Nurse Lauren Underwood” and “Little Max Rose.” Well, opinions on the NRCC’s tactics turned around pretty quickly when Chris Gibson ended up beating Mr. Eldridge in a D+1 district by 35 points on election day. I would expect a similar turn if the 2020 NRCC team achieves similar results with their clever branding.
Here is the bottom line: Every cycle we hear similar complaints from hidden mouths about what the National Republican Congressional Committee is doing wrong. Four out of the past five cycles, those voices have been proven wrong. It’s certainly too early to tell whether Republicans can take back the 18 seats needed for the majority, but if they even get close to that I think that you will have Tom Emmer and his revitalized NRCC to thank.
• Ian Prior, a vice president at Mercury Public Affairs, was deputy director of public affairs at the Department of Justice and communications director at American Crossroads.
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