RNC meeting on rules may decide future of the GOP

Are GOP leaders determined to keep power at all cost, or can they reach out to the grassroots and share power in a party with a future? Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2013 — This weekend the Republican National Committee will reluctantly give those who agree with the concerns of the grassroots of the party a chance to make their arguments against new rules that were announced at the Republican convention in Tampa. Under pressure from party members, they finally agreed to schedule a special session to address problems with the rules at the Spring Republican National Committee Meeting this  weekend in Los Angeles.

At issue are several changes to the rules, all of which have the effect of reducing the influence of state parties and grassroots party members as voters and convention delegates in determining party policies and the selection of the presidential candidate. They make official the top-down organizational methods which led to the ill-fated Romney nomination and hand control of the party to a small leadership class which is dominated by long-time insiders and powerful special interests.

The rule changes which are being objected to include rules which would take most of the control of the state primary process away from the state parties, make primaries winner-take-all, eliminate caucuses, make the results of popular primaries binding on the state party, let candidates reject and replace elected delegates and set a higher threshold for nomination to make competitive races and brokered conventions almost impossible. What’s more, the party leadership is proposing more changes from its “Growth and Opportunity Project” to limit popular input to the nomination process, including shortening the length of the primary and reducing the number of debates.

Taken together, these new rules severely limit the input of average voters and rank and file party members and pretty much hand the nomination to the candidate who can come out earliest with the most support from party leaders and big money donors. Even though a more grassroots candidate could be competitive over the length of a campaign, they make sure that candidates relying on lots of contributors and a slow buildup of popular support are at a huge disadvantage against wealthy candidates with high name recognition.

Party leaders want to hand-pick the candidate, something which they tried last year and have proven they aren’t very good at. It’s a formula to guarantee us more Romneys and more failure, and with the giant war chest being built up by Karl Rove’s PAC it may very well amount to anointing Rove “kingmaker” for the party, a prospect which many Republicans find pretty unappealing.

Grassroots groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus are up in arms and are doing everything they can to influence committee members prior to the meeting, with efforts like a petition and a write-in campaign using email and Twitter. RNC committee members are a lot more accessible than most elected representatives, so this sort of effort might have a major effect if enough people participate. They will be backed in Los Angeles by supportive volunteers who are traveling to Los Angeles to observe the process and demand transparency and accountability. 

SEE RELATED: Open Letter to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

Committeeman Mark Willis (ME) will be arguing that the rules passed at Tampa should be declared invalid, and that the 2008 party rules should be considered still in force.  Committeeman Morton Blackwell (VA) will offer a more pragmatic solution in the form of repealing the worst of the rule changes using a provision of one of the rules passed last year which allows the committee to modify the rules with a supermajority vote.

Committee members are far from unified on these changes. While they are members of the national party leadership, about half of them are elected directly by party members in their states and the rest are appointed by leading Republican officials in their state. They all have loyalties at home and an obligation to protect the interests of their state parties. This is important because a number of states are hurt by these rule changes. Some, like Minnesota and Maine, have a long history of relying on a caucus rather than a primary and don’t want to give up that collaborative process. Others, like Iowa and New Hampshire, have a large stake in the public attention they get from being early in a long primary process.

There has been a lot of talk about a new inclusiveness for the Republican Party. To make that claim convincing, the Party should start by welcoming their own members back into full participation with a guarantee they won’t be shut out in the future. That would be a good first step to establish credibility before opening the doors to younger voters and minorities.

If the Party refuses to take the grass roots into account, it wll be clear that its leadership would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Like Milton’s anti-hero, holding onto power will matter more to them than keeping their party politically relevant or even winning elections. If they pursue that course, they will drag the whole party down so long as they are holding the reigns as it plunges into the lake of fire.

SEE RELATED: When Black meant Republican

In the aftermath of the election, they at least realized that something had gone wrong, but they have continued to stagger from crisis to crisis, in an ongoing struggle between a party leadership reluctant to embrace change it knows the party needs and the rank and file of the party who have solutions which party insiders are afraid to give a chance.

This meeting of just a few hundred people may determine the future of the Republican Party. Will it shut out grassroots activists and become a party of the elites and perhaps follow in the footsteps of the Whig Party to obscurity? Or will the leadership realize that they are charting a path for destruction and invite the rank and file to the table, welcoming a serious effort at reform and a new strategy for a better future for the party?


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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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