Something is very wrong at the Republican National Committee

The Republican National Committee may be the last part of the Republican Party to change, but change is inevitable. Photo: Reince Preibus (file) | George Stephanapolous (CSIS)

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2013 — Appearing on “This Week” with George Stephanopolous, Reince Preibus said that overall results of the Republican National Committee meeting in Boston last week were positive and enthusiastic. That there is now “peace and detente” between the liberty wing of the party and the RNC.

Apparently Priebus attended a different RNC meeting than many others did.


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Reports from activists who were at the RNC meeting clearly state that the leadership of the Party has little interest in either reform or leadership. Their priority is not the unifying or growth of the party. Instead the RNC establishment seeks further rules changes and restrictions on participation by grassroots members in order to maintain establishment control over the primary process and the management of the party.

Their top down control and neglect of grassroots voices has lead to disastrous results in recent elections.  They want to keep it a party of, by and for insiders and consultants and treat most of the membership of the party as outsiders with no voice at all.

This was demonstrated in Boston by the refusal of the RNC’s Resolutions Committee to hear key proposals on the party rules. Once again, the most serious resolution, a demand to reverse rule changes made under questionable circumstances at the 2012 convention, was ignored.  A small wording change from Virginia’s Morton Blackwell that would require early primaries to be proportional rather than winner-take-all was deferred to a subcommittee.

The rhetoric coming from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus during this process has been troubling. He seems to be interested in reform that is top down and oriented towards limiting input from the rank and file of the party therefore reducing the chances of candidates being nominated for the presidency presidency that are not chosen by the party elite. 


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At a breakfast for representatives of southern states, Priebus said that his objective in reforming the primary process was “to ensure that when you have a chosen nominee that nobody’s going to take over anything.” This raises the obvious question of how you can have a chosen nominee while the primaries are still in progress, and if that nominee has been chosen in advance, who picks him and what is the point of having a primary?

At the RNC meeting it seemed likely that the chosen nominee might be Chris Christie, who was given the prime Thursday-night speaking spot where he made what sounded very much like a campaign speech.

Christie, who has publicly attacked the liberty wing of the party, was not received well by the liberty activists. Scores of them, paying $50 each for the dinner, showed up wearing large “Stand with Rand” buttons provided by the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas as a reminder that Christie was not the only major contender for 2016.

When offered one of the pins, Governor Christie politely declined.


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As for the sense of harmony and unity which Priebus has been claiming characterized the meeting and which a number of news articles have taken note of, veteran RNC watcher Jeremy Blosser from Texas disagrees:

“We have seen less yelling at these meetings as they’ve gone on, but that is NOT because of anything the RNC has officially done, or anything Preibus has done. If anything, this meeting was the coldest official reception we’ve received yet. The message out there was clearly: ‘We said we’d work to include you, now shut up and sit down and be included, in doing what you’re told.’ Preibus’ speech was less offensive than Christie’s, which doesn’t say much, but it still made that point clear.”

On a more positive note, Blosser does believe that progress has been made in helping many establishment RNC members become more comfortable with the liberty wing of the party, writing:

“When people get to know us they learn that many of the things they’ve been told about us are not true and that they have more in common with us than they thought and we are not fundamentally the enemy … That means fewer people want to yell at us, no matter what the official position being pushed out to them is, and more and more are willing to talk to us and be less interested in directly opposing us, whether or not they have the backbone to support us openly or only come to us after a vote and tell us we are doing the right thing.”

Negative fallout is that top leadership has been resorting to restricting input, even from their own supporters, by holding meetings in executive session or handing work off to subcommittees which meet outside of the regular RNC meeting times. 

Smaller committees are less representative and much easier to control to produce an outcome desired by the leadership.

Part of the problem is that the RNC was not really designed to be representative of the membership of the party. About half the states represented use systems of selecting RNC members which allow no popular input, and this creates a structural certainty that the committee will be made up mostly of party insiders no matter how hard the grassroots try to change it.

Real change at the RNC can only come from taking over the party at a lower level. Change in the county and state parties will inevitably change the RNC and though that change is coming, it will take time for it to be reflected at the top.

Priebus is in a kind of desperate situation, fighting against time and demographic changes, trying to shore up the control of the current party leadership as the sand slips away from under his feet.

He holds the reins of power, but faces an influx of younger party members demanding reform as well as an expanding liberty wing of the party which is becoming more politically effective. He also faces the rise of new national figures, like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who are hostile to the establishment.  Even the most loyal elements of the grassroots are starting to realize that the current leadership doesn’t have any new ideas or a strategy capable of providing the party with a brighter future.

The Republican National Committee may be the last part of the Republican Party to change, but change is inevitable as more and more activists will focus on making changes on the state and local level, rendering the RNC increasingly irrelevant.

The Republican National Committee has met the enemy, and it is the grassroots of the GOP.


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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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