Reince Priebus wants the University of Chicago to get one of its old law professors back.
In a speech at the U. of C. this morning, the young chairman of the Republican National Committee made the case for his party by hammering the record of President Obama, the school's most famous former law lecturer.
Priebus, 39, displayed a masterful political touch—while deftly handling questions on a range of policy subjects, he glazed over specifics and stuck to carefully managed talking points. His calculated smoothness was markedly different than that of the man he replaced in January, the gaffe-prone Michael Steele.
Trouble is, for Republicans, Priebus's poise also starkly contrasts with the bumbling candidates trying to win the party's presidential nomination.
Although he began his speech denying that he has personal political ambitions, Priebus is a rising star in the party. In 2007 he became the youngest chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party. Under his lead, the party managed to shift the political direction of the state, unseating the liberal Senator Russ Feingold, flipping the state legislature red, and, most infamously, electing the controversial Governor Scott Walker.
Unfortunately, Priebus didn't say much about his role in Walker's Wisconsin. In fact, while hitting his points on Obama ("He campaigned as the Great Uniter; now he's acting like the Great Divider"), Priebus failed to mention the pending movement to recall the Wisconsin governor.
Priebus also deflected the argument that congressional ineptitude and "GOP obstructionism" were responsible for Obama's shortfalls. "The President's jobs bill gets defeated in the Senate by a bipartisan basis," the RNC chief said—twice. "And on the other hand, House Republicans' bills pass on a bipartisan vote."
On this note, Priebus made the same misstatement as the Washington Post: the Senate jobs bill was not defeated, but hijacked by the constant threat of a filibuster.
But the glaring gap in Priebus's speech was any mention of the men and woman vying to lead his party. Since he's officially neutral in the primary race, he can't pick favorites. (Interestingly, Mark Block, the chief of staff to Herman Cain, of the smoking ad fame, went to bat for Priebus last January.) Despite emphasizing the need for a new commander-in-chief, Priebus didn't name a single Republican looking who could win the job in 2012.
He did, however, give us a glimpse of the sort of candidate he wishes his party could field. Asked how the GOP would court Latino voters, Priebus turned it around, suggesting voters should ask themselves, "Am I better off today than I was three or four years ago?"
That line, of course, is from the Gipper.