Transcription – Chris LaCivita Interview

Q: In ’04, there’s this famous I think quote from Bush, reportedly said to Karl. “I don’t want a lonely victory. I don’t want what Nixon had, I don’t want what Reagan had.” Meaning, you know, Nixon, Reagan, Eisenhower, Clinton for that matter, win landslides, but their party loses seats in the Senate. Did you have that sense that even in ’04, I know your involvement was limited, that Bush was about building a Republican — an enduring Republican majority, starting in ’02, carrying over into ’04? Doing things to help Senate candidates that reelection-seeking presidents usually don’t do? Because they’re looking out for themselves? Was that your —

LACIVITA: [01:37:00] Well, I mean, it was the — it was — and I guess the guys internally at the committee could answer better than I, but as an observer and a player in that cycle, it was a quintessential team operation, right? I mean, it was your — it was — the RNC was tasked with identifying and turning out voters, and so the level of coordination from the lowliest county committee all the way up through the ranks of whether it be a Senate race, a House race, all the way up to the president’s reelect, the level of coordination and detail that went into planning and execution was unprecedented. Just, you know, if you were running a Senate race in an important state to the president’s reelect, [01:38:00] unless you really said something or did something dumb, you were — your campaign’s success or failure was directly linked to the president’s success and his failure. Not just from, you know, a wave standpoint or a mood — you know, these factors that are hard to measure–but tactically, the amount of volunteers working in a particular county. If you were a chairman of local county that was essential to a state’s victory, you were loaded for bear. And if you were — because you had everything you could possibly want to execute and implement. If you were a county chairman who — in a state that had a competitive House, Senate, and president– you know, and key to the president’s — really, God help you. Just because the sheer volume of [01:39:00] people, material, money, to implement, I mean it was highly coordinated. You know, and it was funny, because I remember election night, when the first set of exit polls came out. They had Republicans losing, Republican Senate races losing, and this was like the three o’clock numbers or something. You know, and I remember saying there’s no way, because I was privy to independent expenditure polling data for the Senate races. So I knew what the numbers were, and I’m like, “These guys have totally screwed it up.” And we thought it was some, you know, our initial reaction is, it’s got to be some kind of conspiracy to suppress turnout. You know, and then we quickly regained our senses and said no, some idiot made a mistake. But sometimes you wonder, but I remember when those numbers came in, we’re like, there’s just no way that that’s — that these early exits are feasible. [01:40:00] But yeah, I mean it was amazing, the amount of coordination. I mean, and they — what we did in 2002, they perfected in 2004.

Q: Republicans ended up gaining four seats, but a seat they lose, net of four. But a seat they lose is in Illinois, to Barack Obama —


Q: — who wins by a landslide.


Q: Against what ended up being a pretty easy candidate to defeat, Alan Keyes. Were you involved in —

LACIVITA: Yeah, it’s a great segue. So, very involved. The — in 2004, of course I had just left the committee and was at the committee, because I had just started my own consultancy, if you will. And Jay had me onboard and let me —

Q: This is Jay Timmons?

LACIVITA: Jay Timmons, who’s the — was the incoming executive director. And I wanted to — I didn’t want to stay at the committee, [01:41:00] I wanted to do races on my own. And Jay let me stay at the committee, and was very instrumental in helping me get started. And one of the first candidates they said, you know, you need to talk to is this guy named Jack Ryan. He’s worth $150 million, he’s good looking, he’s a former partner at Goldman Sachs, he just — all he wants to do is talk about education, he teaches at an inner city school run by Jesuits in South Side Chicago, he’s got a great story, blah-blah-blah. And I’m thinking wow, OK, so I go out, and I meet with Jack, he hires me. I quickly realize that he’s got to run against the establishment, the political establishment in Illinois. Which, you know, is an old machine state. Machine political state.

Q: To get the nomination?

LACIVITA: To get the Republican nomination from a Republican standpoint. Denny Hastert was the Speaker of the House, and he didn’t like Jack, because Jack was an outsider. So, [01:42:00] we had to run a primary against — it was a multicandidate, I think there were like four or five people who were in the primary. And a couple of them were perennial candidates, but you know, we had to do our own thing. The local party was not favorable to Jack. Because again, he didn’t come up through their system, and they hadn’t laid hands on him, and all this other stuff. Jack spent $5 million in the primary, and we had a very compelling primary message. We crushed them all, won by 14 points. And so, we’re — you know, we’re positioning to go into the general election, and understand that the Democrats at the time had their own sort of sordid tale that was going on at the time. You had a gentleman named Blair Hull who was — there was a three-way race for US Senate, Democrat nomination. Blair Hull, who was the frontrunner, [01:43:00] and I can’t remember the second guy’s name, and then some social worker or community organizer dude named Barack Obama, who was a state Senator. That’s how we referred to him, I mean it was like who? I mean, I remember I saw one of his billboards in Illinois. I was like man, God, boy this guy’s not going anywhere if he’s putting ads on billboards. I mean that’s like a joke, if you put an ad on a billboard, you’re — you know, that’s — no one buys billboards, advertisement, no one does that. No campaign worth its salt buys advertising on billboards. So I just remember seeing one of them, and I thought it was odd.