This past week Nevada held its state Republican convention. As is likely to be the case in many other states, Ron Paul supporters were disproportionately represented among the delegates, making up close to half the convention membership rather than the 14% which he received in the state caucuses. With a strong grassroots organization, Paul supporters have dominated or taken over many district conventions nationwide, excluded delegates for other candidates, and sent large contingents to state conventions. Nevada is only the first in what may be a series of attempts to take over state conventions leading up to a similar takeover of the national Republican convention in August.
At the Nevada convention the response of the convention chairman, with the support of the state party organization, was to shut down the convention altogether as soon as it became clear that there would be an attempt at a coup by renegade delegates. They apparently plan to reconvene the convention and have the credentials committee disqualify Paul delegates to achieve the result they want.
Clearly it’s not a good thing for party nominating conventions to end up with disproportionately large numbers of delegates who support a candidate who did not do all that well at the polls. Even worse when those delegates manage to take over the convention. The result is the effective disenfranchisement of the majority of primary voters who chose not to vote for that candidate and might end up with no representation at their state convention. That essentially amounts to a coup.
It’s equally bad for this to lead to situations like the one we saw in Nevada where party officials have to step in with a heavy hand and institute repressive measures to counter a potential takeover by a vocal minority. That totally negates the primary and caucus process and likely disenfranchises not just the troublesome minority but many others as well. It leaves party insiders to basically pick the candidate and write the platform with no input from the people.
Nevada was one of the states most vulnerable to this sort of takeover, because the popular vote was heavily dominated by Mitt Romney and despite his subsequent endorsement of McCain, that left a vacuum which enthusiastic Paul supporters at various district conventions could leap in and fill. A similar situation may exist in many other states where McCain came in second or won a narrow victory, including Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, Michigan, Alaska, Utah, Maine, Massachusetts, and Wyoming. Other states may also be vulnerable where Paul supporters are particularly well organized. I know that here in Texas where Paul didn’t do particularly well in the primary vote they will be represented quite well at the state convention. As many as a third of the total states might run into serious challenges at the state conventions, despite a popular vote which should dictate a clear McCain victory nationwide.
Nevada may show us the shape of things to come. Attempts to take over district conventions either succeed or result in a harsh negative reaction; this has already happened in almost every state. They are followed by attempts to take over state conventions, again with mixed results. Ultimately that all leads to an attempt to take over or at least disrupt the national convention, leading to a massive floor fight, chaos, and disunity going into the vital contest with the Democrats. The result will not be a presidential nomination for Ron Paul. More likely it will be a violent negative reaction against Paul’s supporters, a crackdown at the national convention, and a great deal of chaos and weakening of the party and the nominee, possibly serious enough to throw the election to the Democrats.
The renegades who were brought into the nominating process behind Ron Paul do have some very positive objectives. They want to return the Republican party to a set of core values which are pretty laudable. They want to make the party more libertarian, reduce the size of government, and insure adherence to the Constitution. Almost no one in the Republican party would disagree with those basic values. Yet because many of them come from outside the party and have a negative attitude towards the party leadership based on the actions of the current administration, they have assumed from the beginning that they would receive a hostile reception, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the mistaken belief that they would be greeted only with opposition, the Paul supporters have been working to overthrow the party by force rather than trying to work within the system to achieve their goals. The result is that they have created the opposition which they assumed would be there, often among people who would have welcomed them with open arms had they taken a less confrontational course. There are lots of mainstream Republicans who would like to see the party return to a more positive set of libertarian values. They would be natural allies of the Paul supporters had anyone in the renegade movement chosen to approach them.
By treating the entire party as hostile and by alienating potential allies and turning them into enemies, the chances of any success for the Ron Paul movement is greatly reduced. While they could have had a great deal of influence and had a real role in setting the party’s agenda, they have instead made an all or nothing bet to either take over the party completely or be totally rejected. As demonstrated in Nevada a lot of power still lies with the party leadership and the likely result is that the party will reject these newcomers and their ideas with them and as a result move even farther away from their positive values and towards the authoritarian model of the neocons and religious right.
This process is only just starting and it may not be too late. Paul supporters and mainstream Republicans share a lot of common values, and if they could recognize this and work together instead of being at each others throats a disaster could be avoided and a lot of good could be accomplished. There are several things they need to realize.
• First, they share a common enemy. No matter how bad the current GOP leadership and administration are, the radical left as represented by Clinton and Obama is far more hostile to principles of individual liberty and small government than any Republican would ever be. Winning the White House and keeping the radical left out of power should always be the first objective.
• Second, they share common values. Virtually all Republicans value principles similar to those held by Ron Paul supporters. They’re just more used to having to accept compromises. That doesn’t mean they want to compromise those values, and given an opportunity to make those values a reality they would seize it.
• Third, Ron Paul’s ideas have a future, but his candidacy does not. Paul is not going to win the Republican nomination, and even if he did he would be a disastrous presidential candidate. He’s not personally appealing and has unsavory associations which make him unelectable. Despite that, his ideas could still go on and become the basis for a great new Republican platform which would influence the party and all of its candidates for years to come. That’s what efforts ought to be focused on.
• Fourth, the party is never going to permit a coup. The leadership would rather split the party and lose this election than give up power. They would accept a great deal of change in the direction and policies of the party, but they aren’t going to put up with totally throwing out the results of the primary or running an unelectable fringe candidate who got less than 5% of the primary vote nationwide.
• Fifth, John McCain is more useful than people realize. McCain may not be anyone’s ideal libertarian, but like lots of mainstream Republicans, at heart he believes in some very libertarian values. He’s also much more responsive to criticism and attempts to influence his positions than most other political leaders of his stature. This has been one of his weaknesses, but it could be turned into a strength. If faced with a strongly libertarian platform and party, McCain will adapt to represent those values and he’ll be a much more effective spokesman for them than Ron Paul has ever been.
If Ron Paul supporters can accept these realities they have a chance to really change the Republican party and lay the groundwork for a very positive future. If they can switch their focus from taking over conventions and creating hostility to infiltrating and dominating resolutions committees and shaping the platform they will find allies waiting for them and lots of opportunities to bring about real change. If they don’t change their tactics all they are going to produce is a weakened GOP and getting themselves excluded.
State conventions are coming up in the next week in Delaware, Maine and Mississippi and they could be the starting point for finding common ground and unifying the party towards achieving common goals. Mainstream Republican groups like the GOP Unity Forum are trying to open a dialog and offer the hand of welcome to Ron Paul supporters willing to work to promote shared values and set the party on a more positive course without having to resort to tactics which will leave the party weaker and mean a victory for the socialist left in the general election. It’s time to choose between chaos and defeat or unity and victory. If chaos continues and hands victory to the Democrats in November then everybody loses.
Changing the direction of a political party isn’t the work of one election, but there is a lot which can be accomplished, quickly laying the groundwork for future success. The party as a whole can be moved in a more libertarian direction. A clear and unequivocal liberty-oriented platform would give the presidential nominee a decisive message of the kinds of policies he should focus on and the kind of campaign of principle which he ought to run. It would be a message which he cannot ignore and it would be a great first victory in the process of restoring the Republican party to the party which it ought to be.