Interviewee: John Ryder
Current: Member, Harris, Shelton, Hanover, Walsh, PLLC; General Counsel of the Republican National Committee
In 2004: Member, Harris, Shelton, Hanover, Walsh, PLLC; Member, Republican National Committee (Tennessee)
Interviewer: Dr. Michael Nelson
Fulmer Professor of Political Science, Rhodes College
Fellow, SMU Center for Presidential History
May 2, 2014
This transcription has been prepared according to the strictest practices of the academic and transcription communities and offers our best good-faith effort at reproducing in text our subject’s spoken words. In all cases, however, the video of this interview represents the definitive version of the words spoken by interviewees.
Q: John Ryder, you, at the time the 2004 election year began, you were in your 8th year as a member of the Republican National Committee from Tennessee. What does the Republican National Committee do in elections?
RYDER: Well, I was finishing my second term. National Committee members serve for four-year terms from convention to convention. So my term actually ended at the end of the convention in New York. At that point in time, on the National Committee I was vice chairman for the Southern region and involved in, thereby, on the executive committee of the RNC. The RNC, like any party organization, assembles and trains volunteers, and warehouses them in the sense of maintaining lists and maintaining their availability to be put into service at — during the campaign. It can provide a messaging platform for the party’s principals and in support of the candidate. And there is a certain amount of joint fundraising that the national committee can do with a presidential campaign which no other party organization can do.
Q: So the connection between the party organization, the RNC, and, say, the Bush — let’s start with the first Bush election campaign. What was the RNC doing in 2000, the first time George W. Bush ran?
RYDER: Well, it was interesting because George Bush obtained broad support [00:02:00] from within the RNC during the nomination process– that is, members of the RNC endorsed him in large numbers. So there was always a good relationship between President Bush and the RNC. And that worked well. In 2000, when you’re coming off a period where you’re not the party in power, then the RNC does — and the DNC would operate similarly — the chairman becomes the spokesperson for the party and attacks the incumbent president of the other party, appears on the Sunday talk shows and dishes up the party line. But you’re also beginning to assemble and refine the resources that will be put into play in the campaign. And that may be data, it may be lists of volunteers, [00:03:00] lists of donors, the structural apparatus that can be deployed in the course of the campaign.
Q: And is the focus of the national committee on the presidential election or on — or does it include the other elections that are going on in conjunction with the presidential election?
RYDER: To a great extent, the primary focus of the national committees is on the presidential level. Remember that under the Federal Election Campaign Act there are three recognized federal committees: the national committee, the national congressional committee, and the national senatorial committee. So the senatorial and congressional campaigns have their own committees that focus primarily on those races. And then you have the Republican Governors’ Association which focuses primarily on governors’ races. So the RNC is the only entity that focuses principally [00:04:00] on the presidential.
Q: And do you work together with these other —
Q: So for example, in 2000, was there any effort to knit together the Bush for President campaign with the various Republican campaigns for Congress and governor and so on?
RYDER: Yes, and even more so in 2004. And interestingly, the liaison in 2004 between the Bush campaign and the senatorial campaign was Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. So that created a very important nexus between the senate and the presidential campaign.
Q: Who, at that time, was majority leader of the Senate, am I right? In 2004?
RYDER: I’m trying to remember whether he became — yeah. Yes.
Q: After the ’02 —
RYDER: The — yeah, when we picked up a couple of seats in ’02 to switch it back. After [Jim] Jeffords had switched in 2001 [00:05:00] to switch it, it was — remember, after 2000, it was 50-50 and Vice President Cheney would have broken the tie for purposes of organization. Then Senator Jeffords of Vermont switched parties, which gave the Democrats a brief majority. Then the Republicans picked up two seats in 2002 to regain the majority.
Q: And then Trent Lott said something, indiscreetly, complimentary about —
RYDER: Strom Thurmond.
Q: — Senator Thurmond.
RYDER: Well, he said something — yes — indiscreet about — not well thought out. The words were not well chosen. (laughter)
Q: And — and so Lott resigned as Senate majority leader and Frist was elected.
RYDER: That’s correct.
Q: Republican National Committee, Republican National Convention —
RYDER: Well, the National Committee is the host organization for the National Convention. [00:06:00] So the Convention is organized by the National Committee and under the direction of appointees and employees of the National Committee.