Republicans recognize that the beating they took in November ought to be the occasion for some sweeping changes in the party's functioning and orientation. "Soul-searching" is a popular phrase at this week's gathering; banners have been hung featuring the slogan "Renew. Grow. Win," and various presentations, mostly closed to the press, are set to examine what went wrong and how the party can do better.
But the idea that some new blood might be a good thing has gained no currency at all among the GOP's grassroots activists. Not only will Priebus coast to reelection, there has also been no turnover among senior staff at the committee. (Partly, this is because, since the number of Republican elected officials has shrunk, there are fewer jobs out there for GOP staffers and operatives.)
One person perplexed by this state of affairs is Mark Willis, the committeeman from Maine who is challenging Priebus for the chairmanship. An IT manager by day, Willis lives with his wife and children on a 20-acre farm in Dennysville, a tiny town not far from the easternmost point in the United States, where he raises Icelandic sheep for fleece and meat.
"The chances of me winning are pretty small," Willis told me. "But someone ought to step up and challenge [Priebus]. I don't think he should run unopposed after the convention and election we just had."
Willis is a member of the "liberty movement," the libertarian strain of the party led by former Rep. Ron Paul, whose members staged a protest at the summer's GOP convention in Tampa when they felt they were treated unfairly by the party establishment. To be nominated for chairman, he needs the support of the majority of RNC members from three states. Currently he has two, Maine and Nevada. "I have until Thursday at 5 p.m. to get a third state," Willis says. "I'm an optimist."
Willis has an eight-point reform agenda for the party, including undoing the rules changes pushed through in Tampa that prevented Paul from waging a floor fight for Romney's delegates. He also wants to fire all the RNC's pricey consultants and institute competitive bidding for contracts -- something even committee members who don't share Willis's desire to end foreign entanglements and eliminate the Federal Reserve can sometimes be heard to grumble about.
To Willis, the committee's complacency in the wake of its November drubbing makes no sense. "People have not been held accountable," he said. "If the status quo does not change, this party is doomed. Someone has to say it. But I think people just don't want to rock the boat."