Transcription – John Ryder Interview

Q:              Where was Ken Mehlman in this?

RYDER:      And I’m trying to remember whether — did Mehlman serve as chairman?  I think he did, for one period of time.  And I think Mehlman was there as chairman and Maria Sino was deputy to the chairman when he was there.

Q:              Well, in addition to the kind of personal relationships that Bush had with RNC members and the rewards he gave some of them in the form of appointments, was there a sense among RNC members that he was interested in helping them — their candidates back in their home states succeed?

RYDER:      Yes, very much so.  Very much so.  I mean, he was very supportive of the party and helped the party raise its money, and helped states perform their functions as well.

Q:              Is that unusual, for presidents to–because the line on some presidents is that [00:24:00] they’re interested in the National Committee to the extent that they can use it, as opposed to helping the National Committee to help build the party from, you know, top to bottom?

RYDER:      Well, he’s the only president I’ve had direct experience with — only Republican president I’ve had direct experience with.  So you know, he was very, very supportive of the party.  But I suspect it’s — you know, if you look back, it’s, like, — and if you look at the other party and their relationships with the National Committee, it’s like anything else, it varies by person.  Some people are going to be very supportive and others are going to be more White House-centric.  There is a tension there.  Is — you have the White House — the presidential campaign team, [00:25:00] which is not the RNC or the National Committee team.  And so they have their agenda, which is to elect the guy they’re working for.  And the National Committee’s agenda is a much broader agenda involving 50 state parties and a multitude of candidates.  So the — there can be some tensions there.  And then if the presidential campaign team is successful and they get in the White House, the White House tends to consider itself the center of the political universe and tends to view everything as being in orbit around it, including the National Committee.

Q:              And you think that was true, in general, during Bush’s first term? —

RYDER:      I think that’s true in general.

Q:              You think it’s true in particular, Bush’s first term?

RYDER:      I think Bush [00:26:00] was probably a little more deferential to the National Committee than most presidents are.

Q:              Well, he — I think I’ve seen data that he — in the 2002 midterm election, when he wasn’t on the ballot, but a lot of Senate seats and all the House seats and a lot of governorships were on the ballot — that he made more campaign appearances and raised more money for those — for his party’s candidates than any other president in history.  Did any of that manifest itself in Tennessee, where you had a Senate election and a governor election and so on, in 2002?

RYDER:      Well, Tennessee, like a lot of the South, was undergoing this tremendous transition to the Republican Party.  And you know, it’s a transition that started probably as early as the 1950s, when Eisenhower was able to carry [00:27:00] Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and Florida.  Between the two elections, he carried all four of those states at one time or another.  And then, you know, it grew over the years, and sometimes slower and sometimes — and then it became a torrent, really, after 2008, and in 2010 particularly.  But in 2004, you could see a lot of this transition in the South happening.  So presidential support, while valuable in raising money, was not as critical in Southern states as it was in some other states.

Q:              There was — there were stories that in ’02, White House staff members intervened in some Republican nominating process [inaudible] state candidates.  And I remember that year there was a primary between Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant, [00:28:00] seeking the Republican nomination.  Did you feel — did you get any sense of the White House had a thumb on the scale in that primary contest, to help Alexander?

RYDER:      As co-chairman of Ed Bryant’s campaign, I — we felt some pressure from (laughter) Washington on that.  And to an extent, you know, Ed was able to run against Washington and say, “I’m not part of that crowd.”

Q:              So how — felt the pressure in what (inaudible)?

RYDER:      Well, in terms — you feel it most emphatically in fundraising.  Is, you know, there are donors that are going to be more aligned with the — they’re going to be very responsive to indications [00:29:00] from the White House that they’re supporting Alexander, and a challenger candidate, and you really almost have to view Ed Bryant — Congressman at that time — as being a challenger because Lamar Alexander had been governor and secretary of education, and he was virtual incumbent when he was running in the primary.  So it was an uphill race and that means that you have to get the kind of money that you get when you’re running an uphill race.  And that’s harder to raise.  But that’s where you feel it most, is in fundraising.

Q:              Why do you think the White House wanted to see Alexander be the nominee?

RYDER:      They thought he had a better chance of winning in November.

Q:              And the Republicans did pretty well in that — in fact, that —

RYDER:      They did indeed.

Q:              Having lost their majority in the Senate when, as you mentioned, Jeffords defected, they regained it in [00:30:00] ’02.  Something else that happened during Bush’s first time was the passage of bipartisan campaign reform act known universally as McCain-Feingold.

RYDER:      Yeah, poor Chris Shays gets no credit for that, or blame, as the case may be.

Q:              He was the House —

RYDER:      He was the House sponsor, yeah.