Priebus anchored by his roots

Washington-area residents are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald might have observed, “different from you and me,” the ordinary residents of Middle America. It’s why I am happy that Michael Steele is being replaced at the Republican National Committee (RNC) by someone from Wisconsin.

Let’s review the former chairman’s biography. He wasn’t birthed in the District, but as they say of adoptive Texans, “He got there as fast as he could.” He was born in nearby Prince George’s County, Md., grew up in a Northwest D.C. neighborhood, attended a local Catholic school and only went as far as Baltimore and Johns Hopkins for college. After a short break outside the District, he returned to Georgetown University’s law school and went to work in the District. He eventually landed back in Prince George’s County, where his career led to party offices and the post of lieutenant governor. Except for a few years in Japan, where he worked for a D.C. firm, it appears that virtually all of the major events of Steele’s life took place within a few miles of Pennsylvania Avenue and Maryland Route 4.

All that living and breathing of the D.C.-area air made Steele’s actions and attitudes a little “freakish,” to borrow Mr. Mellman’s characterization. You see, where one lives does make a difference. If you pick up your morning paper for years and it’s The Washington Post, it affects your mind, makes you look at the world differently than readers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. If you drive to work listening to WTOP on your car radio for decades, you start thinking in a particular manner, one that’s different from folks tuned to a conservative blowtorch like Denver’s KOA. If you watch C-SPAN for “local news” when you get home at night, well, you are just really, really different from the rest of us who watch local newscasts in places like Lexington. Steele just always seemed to me like the end-product of a lifetime of D.C. media socialization. 

Steele is being replaced by Reince Priebus, a man who grew up in Kenosha, Wis., 646 miles from D.C. He probably learned about the world from outlets like the Kenosha News and WRJN talk radio. I mention these because, at least lately, they are not right-leaning media outlets. They appear to lean left. Yet they will still have a local orientation and agenda that instills different values and thought patterns than one learns from D.C. media. 

Priebus matriculated at real-world institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (Madison might have been too much) and Florida’s University of Miami. Then he went home to Wisconsin to work. Of course, you say, he became general counsel for the RNC, thus debauching his virginal status when it comes to sleeping with the District. It was just a brief fling, I counter, a flirtation. For the most part, he has been one of us — one of the oft-ignored denizens of flyover country. That environment doubtless shaped and rooted the man.

Once upon a time, Republicans could feel secure knowing that our pollsters hailed from real American places: Teeter from Michigan, Wirthlin in Southern California, New Yorker Finkelstein and Tarrance deep in the heart of Texas. We thought that predominantly Washington-based Democrat pollsters were out of touch, too close to Washington’s ways. Things changed, though, even for our party. Now almost everyone is in D.C., but the new GOP leader is really from Wisconsin. I’m excited, in Alabama.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.