The big story from this weekend’s Republican Congressional District conventions, and one that the mainstream media has so far missed, has been the remarkable inroads that Ron Paul supporters have made within the leadership structure of the Republican Party. These Ron Paul folks care more about what’s going on than the Republican rank and file, have turned out pretty incredible numbers of supporters to attend these conventions, and won a significant number of seats not only as convention delegates, but on the Republican State Central Committee. Change like this hasn’t happened within the party in decades, and the implications are fascinating.
Ron Paul supporters have made their top priority getting their people elected as delegates to the national convention. In their view, they think they can seize control of the convention in this remarkably national effort, and award Ron Paul the Republican nomination for President. That’s utterly foolish and actually downright dangerous as a tactic for reasons I’ve described previously. Simply, these folks don’t understand the rules and they’re not going to get Paul nominated, but even if they could, the political backlash of thwarting the will of the primary electorate in such a way would be utter political suicide. I don’t think even Ron Paul would take such a political risk.
A secondary effort, and one that hold much more potential to effect long-term change in Virginia, is to elect their people to leadership positions on the State Central Committee and as District Chairmen. In that, they haven’t been nearly as successful, but in a few districts so far they’ve managed to garner some substantial representation. While a national delegate in a Republican convention has far less power than one might think, and is power which only lasts a few days, State Central and District Chairmen hold considerable power that lasts for several years and can substantially change the Republican Party of Virginia.
Let’s start with the District Chairmen, of which the Ron Paul contingent appears to have won at least one of these in five races held so far. These 11 district chairmen sit on the executive committee of the Republican Party of Virginia and hold all plenary power when the State Central is not meeting. The executive committee has the power to remove the RPV Chairman, control day-to-day operations of the party, control some budget items, and essentially direct the day-to-day operational workings of the party. If the executive committee is at odds with the RPV Chairman, the RPV Chairman will lose.
State Central is the other power center in RPV, and they’re supposedly the ultimate deciders of what happens in RPV, but the actual reality is that the executive committee is pretty much in charge by virtue of their influence on their delegations. State Central does however decide the means of nominating statewide candidates, and decides on disputes appealed to State Central regarding issues that arise in conventions in Virginia that aren’t resolved at the Congressional District level. I’m missing a few things here purposely because they aren’t as critical in the equation, but essentially State Central not only determines policy, but acts as a judicial body. All disputes get resolved at State Central, and if you’re trying to stage a revolt having seats on the body that settles inter-party conflicts is tremendously useful.
The Ron Paul folks have taken a sizeable number of positions on State Central, somewhere between a quarter and a half of the members selected so far, although the numbers aren’t quite clear at this point. They have some folks on the executive committee, and although it looks like not enough to actually drive decisions, it’s at least enough to cause trouble and facilitate some tactical revolts from time to time.
So what does this all mean? Well, unlike the issue of having ignorant newbies show up as national convention delegates, the reality of having a Ron Paul contingent on State Central and on the executive committee might well become a welcome development if you’re a grass roots sort of person rather than a blind follower of the establishment. Since there’s utterly no political policy development done at the executive committee or State Central level, what you end up with these folks are people dedicated to grass-roots organizing and who have a very deep distrust of entrenched political power. I might not agree on a number of policy issues with the Ron Paul folks, but they’re spot-on in terms of returning political power to the voters and ending RPV’s penchant for becoming a slave organization to whoever is currently the top state-wide Republican elected official.
For years many of us have been hoping to find a way to wrest control of RPV away from the senior elected officials and returning it to the electorate. For a number of reasons we haven’t mustered the numbers necessary to do that, but the Ron Paul supporters have. They’re better at getting folks to show up at conventions and have actually managed to get their people elected to party positions where other movements, such as the regionally, ideologically, and organizationally fractured Tea Party, just haven’t made that happen to any significant degree. The opportunity for cooperation between the grassroots, Tea Party types and the Ron Paul adherents is pretty remarkable at the State Central level, since they pretty much have the same objectives, at least within the relatively confined swim lane of what State Central can actually do.
If the Ron Paul contingent on State Central is smart, it’ll ally with grassroots and Tea Party reformers and establish an unassailable majority dedicated to ending RPV’s subservient role of being little more than an adjunct to whoever the highest Republican elected official happens to be at any given time. Although I suspect many of the newly-minted Ron Paul adherents on State Central might not be aware of this dynamic, it should become abundantly clear to them that this is the case in short order, and when they figure it out their inevitable rebellion will need support. In some districts where a “throw the bums out” dynamic played out (such as in my 1st Congressional District) there will be some ready allies who not only will agree with the need for some sort of rebellion, but are armed with the institutional knowledge the Ron Paul contingent lacks which will be critical to that rebellion’s success. The only uncertainty here is whether they’ll have the foresight to understand this, or whether they’ll simply treat everyone not like them as an enemy, driving these natural allies away and ultimately giving the establishment an opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of near certain defeat.
Given what I’ve seen this weekend, the Ron Paul folks have a tough challenge here. Many of them are in completely unfamiliar territory, have little understanding of the organizational dynamics in play, and tend to hold rather fanciful notions of what powers they have. Their leadership has demonstrated a rather stunning inability to craft effective long-term strategies to implement the changes they want to make happen, and instead has focused on often unrealistic short-term goals thinking that by some novel means a small minority of dedicated activists can seize control of everything without building important coalitions or fostering more broad-based support for their objectives. Outworking your opponents despite long odds can deliver some success in the short term. Translating that into long-term success depends on the ability of this movement to not just work hard, but work smart, and so far the Ron Paul folks have yet to prove that’s within their skill set. Zealotry only gets you so far. Judgment gets you the rest of the way.
The political establishment is in real trouble here, but it is far better equipped to confront this challenge than the Ron Paul types are likely able to execute it. The establishment wrote the rules, has long-developed resources ready for a fight, and the power of the Governor’s office to wield. Their numbers may be smaller than before, but it’s still going to be a battle to seize control from them. Neither the establishment nor the Ron Paul folks will likely win an outright majority on State Central, leaving the question of control up to whichever side is best able to appeal to members who aren’t firmly set in one of these camps. Ideologically, the Ron Paul folks should have the advantage, but whether or not they can leverage that advantage depends entirely on how well this untested group can quickly shift from being motivated outsiders into savvy insiders.
If the Ron Paul contingent continues their takeover attempt in the remaining District conventions they’ll end up with considerable power, and an opportunity to implement some really positive changes in RPV, returning it to grassroots control. We’ll just have to see if they can execute on that opportunity.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
Leave a Reply