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On Conventions And Liberty

By Greg L | 10 June 2014 | RPV, Virginia Politics | 10 Comments

The conclusion of another state-wide Republican convention, one that nominated the candidate that nearly all of the anti-convention activists hoped would win, hasn’t much abated the whining from them that we shouldn’t ever have a state-wide convention again.  They got what they wanted as an outcome, but it isn’t enough.  They’ll be satisfied with nothing less than state-run, state-financed and state-regulated primaries forevermore, remaining defiantly ignorant of the value of a convention and the insidious danger posed by the statist notion that government has any legitimate role to play in how a political party chooses it’s own candidates.

When government has control over how political parties select their nominees, we get to colloquially refer to election laws with names like “The Incumbent Protection Act,” have internal party matters litigated in federal court, and watch people not part of a political party make decisions about how that party can go about its business. Political parties then become organs of the state, and it’s not the members within that party who get to determine what the party does, but whoever at that time can exercise the greatest degree of financial or political leverage behind closed doors.  Your constitutional rights, which are supposed to be protected by the process a political party is supposed to engage in, risk being stolen by precisely that political party using all the fearsome and terrifying power that the state can bring to bear.

It is one of the last vestiges of the “Progressive Era” that hasn’t been thankfully swept away, alongside Eugenics, Prohibition and government Censorship.

Conventions provide a tremendous opportunity for candidates to get a head start for their campaigns while spending very little money.  The barriers to entry for people to participate as candidates are tremendously low and the gathering of committed activists that can form the grassroots core of a tremendous general election effort is an opportunity we are only beginning to leverage to it’s fullest extent.  Whoever can command the support of the majority of the delegates at a convention potentially leaves that event with a roster of door-knockers, phone-bankers and volunteer campaign staff that no other method of selecting a nominee could ever hope to provide.

Yes, if only RPV would ever “get it” that the whole point of a convention, beyond the immediate business at hand, is to enroll hundreds, if not thousands of highly engaged activists in a general election campaign and focus on that effort.  We’re not quite there yet, but that’s just a question of the people in charge seizing a vision that looks forward instead of navel-gazing about the ethnic composition of the speaker’s roster and making sure every minor player in state politics gets adequate recognition.  There are egos to overcome.  It’ll take some time.

If you have a state-run primary you pretty much enroll no one to help with the November election effort.  If you have a state-wide, party-run firehouse primary you can’t possibly afford to spread out enough resources to do that.  Only at a state convention do you concentrate activists and the staff that could actually get them committed to working for the next few months together in one place and have enough time to actually pull it off.  Having the party turn a profit at a convention is a great thing, but having a few thousand activists marching out of the convention hall with a mission and an organizational structure to support them in accomplishing it would be far more valuable.

Campaigns, at least ones that are well run, already accomplish this to some degree right now.  The months-long effort to register delegates gives them a great list of volunteers, the convention’s credentials report gives them great data about who on that list is the most motivated to work, and the campaigns do reach out to those on that list to volunteer for the campaign.  That doesn’t serve the party as well as it serves individual campaigns, especially if there are multiple offices being considered at the convention, but at least there’s a high quality list some enterprising campaign operatives can use to go fishing for volunteers if they think of it.

Anyone who wants to ensure that candidates blow through their campaign funds way too early during an election cycle and are persistently short of volunteers, or maybe think that it’s a good thing that money constitutes the most significant barrier to entry towards becoming a Republican nominee can feel free to turn over party operations to the state.  I’m sure our Republic will do just fine if we hand all authority over to the people who have the strongest incentive to make nominating mechanics as barricaded with regulation and as monstrously expensive as possible as we develop a permanent political class of Clintons, Bushes, Warners and Byrds.  Our elections will become about as meaningful as those in Detroit and our state just as economically vibrant and beautiful.

Or you can understand that by jealously guarding the principles of liberty and freedom we end up with better government.

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  1. Steve Thomas said on 10 Jun 2014 at 3:54 pm:
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    While I too am opposed to SBE run, tax-payer funded primaries, for many of the same reasons as you, I disagree with your assertion that a Firehouse Primary (Party Canvass) would be too great a lift for RPV to handle, and too resource intensive. In order to hold a Party Canvass, there would need to be one polling place per congressional district (2 would be better). Now this may sound odd to ask someone to drive to a school, perhaps in the 30-60 minutes away to vote, but when compared to driving 3-4 hours each way, and spending 1-2 days in a distant city, the idea of a “local” canvassing station doesn’t sound crazy.

    I do think the cost to the party would be less than that spent on a Richmond or Roanoke convention. The cost to the individual voter would be less as well.

    Now, if given only two choices, Convention or Primary, I will choose a convention. However, the 10th district demonstrated that there is a viable alternative. The problem I have with this entire Convention vs. Primary debate is the Canvass is either never considered, or dismissed as “too difficult”. Those that facilitated the 10th District Canvass proved that it can be done, and can be done well.

  2. Greg L said on 10 Jun 2014 at 4:51 pm:
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    A canvas is far preferable than a state-run primary on all sorts of levels.

    My issue with a canvas is that you don’t have a captive audience of activists that you can start enrolling for the general election. You get marginally interested people who wander into a polling place for all of the ten minutes (at most) it takes to cast a ballot and they leave. Maybe there’s a campaign worker that they’ll briefly talk to. The party gets votes, a list of people who came to vote, and that’s it. There’s vastly little that the party gets as a result of the considerable expenditures it makes.

    As a mechanism that helps grow the party and get people active in elections, it’s utterly ineffective.

  3. steve thomas said on 10 Jun 2014 at 5:34 pm:
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    Greg, MGOP signed up 24 new members during the canvass, so again, I disagree with the assertion. Plus, what did the state convention get for a total potential pool of activists? 2700? You could pull from a potential pool 10 times as large. People who couldn’t burn 1-2 days to go to a convention.

  4. J Doe said on 10 Jun 2014 at 7:45 pm:
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    Do you think Eric Cantor would have preferred a convention?

  5. steve thomas said on 10 Jun 2014 at 10:13 pm:
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    Cantor picked a primary, so I’m not sure what your point is.

  6. Stephen Spiker said on 10 Jun 2014 at 10:35 pm:
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    This is 100% laughably wrong. Conventions are prone to shady, backroom deals, shenanigans like slating, and more often than not results in a party that’s more split than unified. You dream of 2,800 people leaving as door-knocking activists, when you and I both know that has absolutely no resemblance with reality.

    The ONLY reason why primaries are “enormously expensive” for candidates is because it’s expensive to talk to so many voters… which is EXACTLY what a candidate will need to do to win in November, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing to seek in a nominee.

    And you use shocking buzzwords like “state-run” and “regulated”, as if the State Board of Elections does ANYTHING but set up polling booths and requires that voters be registered and valid. The only “regulation” is the type that ensures a fairly-run process. God forbid.

  7. J Doe said on 11 Jun 2014 at 5:41 am:
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    The primary didn’t work out so well for Mr Cantor. . . Did it? He may be wising now he had a convention???

  8. Steve Thomas said on 11 Jun 2014 at 8:32 am:
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    J Doe,

    I still don’t see your point, or how it relates to my point: SBE-run Primary vs. Convention isn’t the only consideration. Primary advocates cite greater participation and “inclusiveness”. Convention advocates cite the need for the party to be able to make sure that Republicans are choosing the nominee. As was successfully demonstrated by the 10th District Republican Committee on April 26th of this year, a party canvass satisfies both requirements: Greater Access without ceding control to the state.

  9. J Doe said on 11 Jun 2014 at 9:58 am:
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    Pretty simple point here. . . Since the Primary did not work to Mr. Cantors advantage, he just might be thinking a convention could have produced results more favorable to him. That’s it.

  10. Steve Thomas said on 11 Jun 2014 at 10:51 am:
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    J Doe,

    Considering the food-fight his consultants and allies caused at the 7th CD convention that was indeed held ( to elect delegates to the state convention), due to all of the shenanigans they pulled at the local unit level, I’m not sure a more favorable result would have been possible.

    Cantor lost because he forgot that he his first job was to represent VA-7, and was only concerned about getting elected to Speaker of the House. He could ignore reality, but he can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

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