Transcript: Face to Face with Reince Priebus

Schieffer: welcome to Face to Face, this is the midweek web edition brought to you by the folks at Face the Nation. And our guest this time is the Chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, and we're in his office. Mr. Chairman, thanks for talking to us. Okay, so Mitt Romney squeaks by in Michigan and he wins handedly in Arizona. Is he the nominee?

Reince Priebus: Well, I mean Bob, as you know, this is going to be a long process. I think he had a good night yesterday, and I don't think we can deny that and I wouldn't even try to. I think he had a good night. But you know we've awarded about 175 delegates so far, over 400 will be awarded next week. So you know, I think we've got to wait and see. Obviously this is fluid, and as you know, the way the media is reporting this, a day feel likes a week and a week feels like a month, so --

Schieffer: Are you ready for it to be over? I mean just from the standpoint of what's good for you?

Priebus: Actually you know, there are some advantages to having a nominee. I mean one is coalescing and having, you know, bringing in the money. But quite frankly, we're doing really well on the money, I think you know that, we've got more money in the bank than the DNC, and we're going to have a big February again. We had a big January. But in the end I just happen to believe that putting our country to sleep with our nomination process is not a good way for us to go. I happen to think that a tough primary with a little bit of drama -- I think it's good. Listen, in our country's history we've beaten -- if you take Ford out of it -- we've beaten an incumbent President 4 times in the history of this country. I just happen to believe everyone talking about our nomination process, every channel, all cable all day long and network -- I think it's good for us. It's not bad. And so I don't really care one way or the other. I think we're going to be ready to beat Barack Obama.

Schieffer: Well, now someone who takes a little different view of that is John McCain. He says it's like a Greek Tragedy. He said bring the curtain down, get this thing over with, they're tearing each other apart.

Priebus: Well, you know we've got -- this town's full of opinions and I'm not saying that one is right -- I'm not saying I'm always right. I just happen to believe that having a nomination process that people are talking about, given the difficulty in beating an incumbent president, and given the issues that are at stake in this country -- I like my chances better under that scenario than four years ago and putting the world to sleep with our nomination process. We've never had a nominee before March. I mean it's February 29th, I know this will air a few days from now, but McCain wasn't the nominee until mid-March, Bush '41 wasn't the nominee until April 19 I think it was, even on his reelection effort. So this hand-wringing about having to get a nominee. I guarantee you that June, July, August, September, October, it's going to seem like an eternity and no one's going to be worried by the fact that we didn't have a nominee until March or April.

Schieffer: Well when do you see now, when do you think this is going to come to a conclusion? Do you think it might go all the way to the convention?

Priebus: No, I don't think that's going to happen. But I think April or May at the latest is when we'll have a nominee. Just by virtue of the math I think that's going to be the case. You're going to see now, we're going to have 10 or 12 states at a time now in the process, and then winner-take-all starts in April. You know you're really only looking at, from when John McCain was the nominee, maybe an extra 30 days. Maybe. If that. So I think this is much ado about nothing. I think it's going to be very clear soon.

Schieffer: Are you a little worried, though, that maybe this campaign is kind of drifting off into areas that are not especially productive? I mean, clearly unemployment, a referendum on President Obama's presiding over the economy, the economy seems to be getting better, but yet leading up to Michigan there's all this talk on birth control and these social issues. Is that good or bad?

Priebus: Well, I don't know whether it's good or bad. I think it's important for our country to have a debate over the first amendment and whether you can take a healthcare bill -- I mean even Olympia Snowe said this today on television -- it's important. It's not about contraception and what women should be able to do or not do in regard to birth control -- that's not what we're talking about. What we're talking about is whether or not government, a fundamental issue of liberty and freedom under the constitution, should have the authority to tell a church as to whether or not they should be forced to violate the tenets of their own faith. I mean, that's really the issue. Now should we do a better job in messaging and should we allow the media to take this in a place that puts it out of control in the narrative? Yeah, I think we need to do a better job. And I do think we should follow Reagan's 11th amendment when it comes to these primaries and candidates' advertising. And I do believe that my 80% friend is not my 20% enemy. But as Chairman of the party, you know I really can't get into a place of being a referee over what's good and what's bad in the primary process.

Schieffer: Well I mean, I think you will admit that while the president did advance that -- telling the Catholic Church they had to pay for the birth control pills for employees in their hospitals and schools and so forth -- he did back away from that. Or at least he says he backed away. But the debate that's been going on in the primaries has gone far beyond it, almost to a debate over whether or not, you know, the country should endorse birth control.

Priebus: I don't think that's the case. I mean I don't see it that way. I see it as a debate over freedom and liberty and the first amendment and whether or not in the Obama world the first amendment is founded, you know, as James Madison and the Bill of Rights. If that's the world Obama wants to live in or whether or not he wants to live in the world of Barack Obama.

Schieffer: Do you think it was a good idea for Rick Santorum to attack John Kennedy? I mean that's an issue I didn't expect to come up, I have to say.

Priebus: Well I'm not -- listen, you're real good at this, but I'm not going to dive into refereeing on what these candidates choose to do and not do. Some of these tactics and some of these hits are to the benefit of these candidates and some of them can backfire. And I mean with every measure comes the possibility of it being a benefit and the possibility of it working in the wrong direction. So it's really a bad place for me to be. Where my place is is to raise money, to run a functional, operational RNC, so that when we do have a nominee they've got a place here that they can combine with -- just as Obama has with the DNC -- and that they can plug into our operation and start the process of making sure we defeat Barack Obama and save this country economically.

Schieffer: Let me ask you about Mitt Romney, for example. A lot of the debate has been on whether or not he really is a conservative. Is he a conservative as far as you're concerned?

Priebus: Yeah, absolutely I think he's a conservative. I think all of our candidates are conservative. And you know, obviously there's going to be differences between the candidates and you know, not every person is going to agree with everyone all of the time. But in the end, I believe that our party and our candidates are going to come together, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that we defeat this president. Now, you mentioned the economy. You know, I think comparing one month compared to the next month might not be the best measure. But I believe that if you hold this president accountable for the promises that he made to America-- not my standards or the standards of the RNC but a Barack Obama standard, whether it be the debt, the deficit, unemployment, the environment, jobs, lobbyists, Wall Street -- whatever the topic is, he has not met the standards and promises that he set for this country. And therefore I believe that he has to lose and he will lose.

Schieffer: And you think - is that what you think this comes down to? A referendum on Barack Obama? Is that what you see this racing being about?

Priebus: I think it's absolutely a referendum on Barack Obama. If people in this country don't feel that they're better off than they were 3 or 4 years ago, or they don't feel like he met the promises that he set for this country, I believe that he's going to be a one-term president. I think the best poll and the best indicator is not the head-to-heads, by the way we were ahead in the last Gallup poll against the president, it is the right track-wrong track poll. Do you believe this country is on the right track or the wrong track? And consistently over the past year, including the last two months, those polls have shown that 60% or more of Americans believe we're on the wrong track. That's a bad place for the President to be.

Schieffer: Let me ask you about Olympia Snowe's surprise announcement -- at least it was a surprise to me and most people I've talked to -- did you expect that she was going to announce that she was going to retire?

Priebus: I didn't know that she was going to make that announcement. She is one of the few Greek Republicans in Washington like me, I didn't know. But in the end we have so many opportunities in the Senate to win majority control, both in the battleground states and outside of the battleground states. I feel great about our chances in the Senate and whether we're talking about Nebraska, Virginia, New Mexico, Montana, Florida, Wisconsin, there's so many places to go. Missouri...

Schieffer: What are people saying? I mean she said flatly, it was almost like she was kind of tired of fooling with it.

Priebus: I think she was ready to move on in life too, I mean I don't think we have to hold these folks in perpetuity to the confines of the halls of Congress forever just because that's what you're supposed to do. She wants to move on.

Schieffer: Do you think there is anything beyond that?

Priebus: I don't know, I haven't talked to her. I've gotten the sense -- I put in a call to her today. But I mean I get the sense that she was frustrated with, number one, you're in the minority. You've got a Majority Leader in Harry Reid that isn't willing to compromise on anything or even take up a bill for that matter. I mean Harry Reid won't even, at least he initially said he wouldn't even take up the President's budget. I just think she's there, and she's frustrated by that. I've been in plenty of conference meetings on the Senate side and she's a big player over there, she certainly has a strong voice, and people listen to her. I just think she sees what's in front of her and says "look, I want to retire and move on with my life and enjoy myself."

Schieffer: Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for seeing us today. Hope to see you down the road.

Priebus: It's my pleasure.

Schieffer: Alright, so that's it for Face to Face this week. And be sure to watch Face the Nation on television this Sunday.