Why We Need to Get Past Convention Politics
There are times I feel like a broken record. Sometimes I get frustrated with blogging, as someone who was in the political world day in and day out (heck, it was my livelihood) to go to being literally on the outside looking in has been a liberating experience. It brings amazing freedom of thought, but you feel even more powerless than you were before to get anything done.
A major challenge we face as a party, not in this year or maybe even the next, is that we’re going to have to decide if we’re going to reject the structure that our organization was built upon or embrace it. I have been struggling to channel some of my frustrations into some form of a post, and my inability to get this done has really frustrated my attempts to get anything written.
A quote shared by a friend on Twitter got the ball rolling… he shared a thought from someone else, “Leadership isn’t about telling somebody what to do, it’s about doing it first.” My first reaction to the quote was simply that there are a lot of “firsts” I wouldn’t consider fine examples of leadership. I was thankful though, because his quote helped me find this gem from Ronald Reagan:
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things
At the Republican National Convention, in the midst of the pomp and circumstance that has become the principal business of modern political conventions, a battle erupted over a challenge to the party’s rules. The roots of this battle lie in the inexorably desperate and stupid strategy of Congressman Ron Paul and his supporters to get their candidate nominated in spite of his continually dismal performance during the nomination process.
Their goal, simply put, was that if they can get enough delegates elected who are willing to put their personal preferences ahead of the folks who elected them to the position, then they could get Paul nominated at the convention (keep in mind he didn’t receive enough support to even justify an opportunity to address the convention).
I’m not suggesting they are right – in fact I am going to great lengths to call them out for their petty games. That said, they’re not stupid. Paul and his cronies have figured out they can’t succeed as libertarians, so they’re going to try and take over the Republican Party. Our problem as a party is that we’re about ready to hand them the stinking keys.
You may ask why? Simply put, it’s because we can’t stay disciplined enough or keep people interested in the mechanics of the party, we have trouble electing people to leadership positions in the party. We see it all the time, and some county chairmen actually encourage folks NOT to run for precinct offices because it makes it easier for them to get people in the positions who will do their jobs (whether it be actually doing the work of the party in the precinct or just showing up at the reorganization meeting as a reliable vote for the incumbent chairman).
This attitude extends to running for state convention delegates, which in some states have the final say over who elects national convention delegates. I can’t speak for other states, but in Indiana the convention has become such a joke of an event that the only thing worthwhile about it is the opportunity to network with other Republicans from around the state. In the rare case there is a real convention battle for the few positions nominated there (Lieutenant Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Attorney General), most Republicans have lost any real interest in attending – which opens the door for those not interested in representing the party to run for these offices, win, and attempt to sway the decisions at the state conventions in a non-productive direction.
While the rules battle captured the attention of some organizations who saw the opportunity to raise some money off an internal party dispute and helped Rush chew through some minutes as our designated party contrarian, not much actually happened, In fact as Adam Chan points out in his blog post on the convention, the rules change by no means was a death blow to the foundational principles of our party and the resulting compromise may actually help the grassroots down the line if we pay attention to what’s going on.
Leadership is doing the right thing. The party leadership probably felt they were doing the right thing by exercising control over the delegate assignment process to avoid “embarrassments” at future conventions. Their original plan for achieving that: giving our nominee the opportunity to override the choice of the individual states for how they nominate delegates to the national convention, was NOT the right decision and strike a blow at the heart of how we choose to organize our party. There is a direct line of control from the grassroots at the local, precinct level all the way to the national level. Interrupting that line actually undermines the connection between our grassroots and the national party.
Think about caucus results. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard how frustrated some folks in the party are about the results of a caucus to fill a vacancy. This is an easy problem to solve – find someone to do the job and have then run for the position. As long as we continue to gloss over this vital connection the party will drift further and further from any connection to the folks who want to identify as Republicans.
The solution is not to cut those out who have decided to use the process to their own benefit at the expense of the party – it’s to fight them and have people who care about the direction of our country participate in the process and do the right thing.