Devil’s Advocate, Steve House, April 17, 2015

Station:   Colorado Public Television 12, Channel 12

Show:      Devil’s Advocate (with Jon Caldara)

Guests:    House


Date:       April 17, 2015

Topics:     Presidential Primary, Liberty Wing of the GOP, Caucus system, Open Primary, Messaging, Pro-choice, Pro-Life, Marketing, Social Conservatives, Libertarian-Leaning Conservatives, Chairman, Brand, Candidates, General Election, Limited Govenrment, Baby Boomers, Builder Generation, Silent Generation, GenXers, Gen Z, Millenials,

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HOST JON CALDARA:  Think of the worst job you can have.  Think of the worst job you’ve ever had.  That is a joy compared to running a political party in Colorado.  Meet the man who took it on for the Colorado Republicans, Steve House.  Glad to have you here.


CALDARA:  Honestly, I think this has got to be the worst job in politics. I know you love it, but the Party chair – and I imagine it’s the same on the Democrat side – you know, if you lose, it’s all your fault.  If somebody doesn’t win the primary, it’s your fault.  If there wasn’t too much money, it’s your fault. And if you ran the wrong guy in the primary who then got beaten in the general because you didn’t vet him properly – which is not your job at all — it’s your fault.  So, I just want to say in advance, it’s your fault.

HOUSE: Yeah.

CALDARA:  Why would you want this job?

HOUSE: After that statement, I’m thinking about writing my resignation, right now.

CALDARA:  But you know what I mean. It is one of those necessary jobs but if you do it right, pretty much everybody is hacked off.

HOUSE: It’s true.  I think the one thing that I look at it as differently than other Chairs have looked at it, is I look at the state Party as a business.  And it’s a business that is servicing a need in the communities.  And that business is trying to help create an infrastructure for candidates to be able to display what they believe in to the people who are going to vote for them.  My job is to create that infrastructure so that they can do that.  And then, follow a set of rules, make sure that the voting is done in an honest, transparent, fair, and open way in a primary, and then we support a general election candidate.  The great thing about it is that I get to also message the Republican brand, which I think is going to be the wonderful part of this, as part of the job.


CALDARA:  So the idea of “we run the races”, and when you think about it, we don’t have open primaries. So, Republicans vote for Republicans, Democrats for Democrats, which is why – when I see somebody who isn’t affiliated, they’re wasting their vote, because they can only vote in the general. And there’s always this pressure of does the Party get involved in a primary– push one guy forward and try to hold somebody back, or do you play the umpire and just keep it fair and then push whoever wins. And, it’s easy to say we’re going to be fair, but sometimes it doesn’t work well.  I think of the Dan Maes experience.  It can blow up on you. And then everybody says, “Why didn’t you vet that guy?”

HOUSE: Oh, yeah. I think that that has been a significant problem with the Party, but I also think that if you really set the Party up right, and you stay focused on the things you need to focus on, which is:  who are the voters, what do they care about, where are they, who votes, who doesn’t vote.  And then you make that playing field sort of a fertile ground for candidates to step into, the best candidates will rise to the top. Today, we make candidates do it all on their own. I mean, there is some data process that goes on within the Party that is helpful and within the RNC that’s helpful.  It’s just not anywhere near what it needs to be to be competitive with the Democrats.  And I think once we do that, great candidates will rise up in every primary situation, on their own, and we won’t need to mess around with it.

CALDARA:  Is there – there has been talk about changing the primary system. That is, perhaps have open primaries, to do something – the thinking being that primaries, you usually get more hardcore conservatives – sometimes hardcore social conservatives, and people who are not going to be able to win in the general [election].  Now, the same thing happens on the other side.  The thought being, was, ‘How do you change that so you get – this is a terrible word, but, someone more palatable in the general?’  Do you think we ought to move toward an open primary system, or do you like what we have?

HOUSE: I actually like our caucus process fairly well.  I think we need to execute it better.  We need more people involved in it, like they do in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and other areas.  I think the question mark that the legislature is going to have to deal with here, shortly, is, ‘Should we have a presidential primary?’  Because the bigger issue with the presidential primary is we’ve got one-point – eh, a little – almost 1.1 million unaffiliated voters.  If you had a presidential primary and you retain the caucus system, those unaffiliated voters would likely have to choose sides in that scenario.  So, open primary: no.  I think you need to be affiliated with a Party so that you can choose the Party’s nominee, based on your basic principles and beliefs as a voter.  But the idea of potentially having a presidential primary is something that we will debating here very quickly.

CALDARA:  Talk about the other side:  advertising for Republicans.  Now, you know, talk about trying to market new Coca-Cola – you know, this has always been a problem for Republicans, and I’ll take one shot at it.  Because it is a big tent. And so, you have pro-choice. You have pro-life.  You have social conservatives, you have Libertarian leaning conservatives, and they’re all over.  And it’s really easy to kind of pull some of the outliers and try to paint the entire Party that way.  What do you think the Party needs to do to change that image, and what can—what are you going to be able to do?

HOUSE: I think that the Republican Party has to create a preference for the brand, in general, rather than rely strictly on letting candidates get into races and define it.  I think people do not understand what it means to be a conservative. And I think, in reality, they don’t know how being a conservative connects to them individually.  So for kids who are twenty years old, or twenty-five years old, if you ask them where Republicans are, they will give you some derogatory terms like ‘old white men’.  Right?  The reality of it is, Republicans are conservative enough to help them realize their dreams. They just don’t know that. So, I think we’ve got to create a brand out of this Party that is preferable by voters in this state, and then when candidates step into races, they’ll already have that brand backing that up.  And right now, we haven’t done that.

[The following notes represent paraphrased comments from the remainder of the interview.]

CALDARA:  [The left does a great job of defining our brand — homophobic, war on women, rich white guys, war mongers, etc…. and we need to show people it’s about less government, individualism and freedom.  How do you make that change?  Growth is greatest among unaffiliateds.]

HOUSE: I think a lot of the unaffiliateds are unaffiliated because they don’t want to deal with social issues, they want to talk about fiscal issues and how America is being run.  And they’re tired of both parties and their stances.  I think what we really have to do is define it at another level.  Because, if you’ve been around politics for a long time and you’ve been paying attention to people like Jon Caldara and the Fox News network and other people, you get what limited government means.  If you’re thirty years old, and a late-stage Gen Xer, and you look at it and you go, ‘I don’t really understand what limited government means, so the Democrats are for taking care of everybody, and the Republicans are for something I don’t understand. So, if I don’t understand Republicans, and I listen to the Democrats, and they are the ones doing the definition, I can’t win as a Republican.’  That has to change right away.

CALDARA:  [Talking about tactics, mechanisms and infrastructure.  Run elections and then get out the vote.  Taking care of Republicans during the primary and then appealing to unaffiliateds during the general.  What needs to change?]

HOUSE: [Right now there is 5 voting generations alive today. The Builders—our silent Generation, the Baby Boomers—which is where I’m at, The Gen X generation, the Millenials, and the Gen Z. You have to communicate differently to each voting base.  We need to develop the mechanism to communicate with them first.]

CALDARA:  [Niche marketing and Social media saavy?]

HOUSE: [We have to have the saavy.  We can hire the saavy.  25 year olds don’t open direct mail, they don’t open email, they certainly aren’t going to watch TV ads, so we’ve got to get to them at the place where technology meets them directly, and we haven’t done that, but that’s a big part of the plan.]

CALDARA:  [Kids don’t even know where to get a stamp! We don’t understand this generation, how do we get there?]

HOUSE: [We have to meet people where they are. 527s also play a significant role — they’re making people react, and we don’t understand this. We have to know who the voters are and what they want, what their preferences are. Then we have to communicate through the appropriate technology.]

CALDARA:  [Messaging:  getting to unaffiliated women and single moms.  Tough but crucial demographic.  Cory Gardner was able to connect to them wonderfully.  Probably because Udall was all Uterus.  Cory was a likeable guy.  How do we reach that demographic?

HOUSE: [It starts with attitude.  Bob Beauprez lost unaffiliated women demographic by 18 points to John Hickenlooper. Cory lost it by one point.  They say that both Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner are positive people, with an enthusiastic view of America, and they talk about solutions.  People would prefer that optimism to the negativity that we see on a regular basis.]

CALDARA:  [Where do we find the Republicans to run for office?  It’s a tough job. Where are the next Cory Gardners?  Do they exist?]

HOUSE: [Oh, they exist.  If you look out between now and2018 — we have some impressive up-and-coming leaders that are outstanding.   GenXers are rising up (born in late 60s and early 70s), through county commissioner ranks and legislature, coming up through local offices that can compete and win.]

CALDARA:  [What about the U.S. Senate seat?]

HOUSE:  [That’s a tough one, because Michael Bennet is not an unpopular guy.  The real test is how do we get to 2020 in power.]