I’ve been thinking…
This week we learned that the current Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV), John Whitbeck, is planning to step down. John is a friend of mine and I thank him for his efforts and his willingness to serve in a very difficult job. I wish him the best. This is an appropriate time to share some thoughts about the state of our party, what we should be about, and some suggested guidance for selecting a new chairman.
To begin with, it’s time to acknowledge a simple fact. The GOP in Virginia is in huge disrepair. And before anyone is tempted to suggest this is a result of the election of President Trump (whom I support), I can assure you that our disorder far predates his election. Indeed, the Virginia GOP has been on the slide as early as Mark Warner’s election to Governor in 2001 but certainly as late as the defeat of Senator (Governor) George Allen in 2006. This is not a new phenomenon. Nor will it change until we address some fundamental concerns within the party I call “home”.
I’m a Republican, because I am a conservative, not vice versa. If the Republican Party weren’t the party of conservatism, I’d be gone tomorrow. For me it’s about faith, family, and freedom. That’s why I am a committed adherent to the principles that our Founders gave full voice in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. I’m also a supporter of the free enterprise system. Remember, everything that’s good about our economy has its roots in small businesses. They should be allowed to thrive. That is why less government, lower taxes, and more opportunity is the right path. Besides, a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you’ve got. These values are fairly represented in the Republican Creed. Unfortunately, our political dysfunction has obscured this fact from many people here in Virginia, who would be inclined to support us if our issues, not our rivalries, were at the forefront of what we do.
I won’t attempt to define every problem that besets us. That would take several chapters. But we do need to acknowledge that the primary purpose of our RPV organization and local GOP Committees is to elect Republicans, who are committed to our conservative and free market values.
First, we need to recommit to the core reason our party and local committees exist: to elect candidates who are duly nominated. We can’t do that if we are in a state of constant internal conflict and bitter rivalry between social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and free market “moderates” who chaff when we stand up for the social values essential to our culture, and ability to sustain our freedom. Once we have a candidate (even those we didn’t support for the nomination), we need to do our level best to see that they are elected. Period. If we do anything less, then we cease to be a party.
Second, it is not the role of the party or its committees to pick winners and losers. That is reserved for primary or convention contests. Candidates willing to step up are in a sense entering the free market of political ideas. They succeed or fail based on how they make their case to the people charged with selecting a winner. But when the party or committees “put a finger on the scales” in any fashion, they disrupt the process while damaging their legitimacy among all of us.
Third, party leadership is not designed to be a stepping stone to elective office. Persons who are entrusted with party leadership can’t serve two masters. It’s almost inevitable that a person set on being an elected official who is also a party chairman at any level will begin to set the conditions for future efforts. If you want to hold elective office, you should think twice before you assume leadership of a committee.
Finally, it’s not the size of your committee that is essential, it’s the size of your voter turnout. In that regard, the role of the party and its committees is to do work. That is to raise money, make phone calls, write letters, distribute literature door-to-door, put up yard signs, work social media, attend and support rallies, talk to neighbors, hold gatherings, and organize worship communities, small businesses, and community organizations to support our candidates, as well as man the polls, both inside and out. You do need a committee large enough to do that work. But don’t forget that the real work is outside the committee engaging voters to support our candidates. It’s not a social club to make you feel good about your politics, nor is it a debating society for your special issue. It’s a working organization and if you don’t have time for it, you should not take on the commitment.
I hope our new Chairman or Chairwoman will subscribe to these ideas. But the immediate challenge is selecting that person. So here are 10 suggestions for the State Central Committee from someone who knows a thing or two about elections.
1. Don’t select who anyone who is a current publicly elected official. (Essential conflict of interest.)
2. Don’t select anyone who is an “also ran” looking for a consolation prize. (This isn’t a game show.)
3. Don’t select a person on an ideological crusade. (Encourage them to pursue that elsewhere.)
4. Don’t select a person who is an ally of any current office-holder or current candidate for public office. (See “1” above.)
5. Don’t select a person based on their ability to give a rousing speech. (Go for organizational skills, not rhetorical flare.)
6. Do pick a person who can raise money. (Can’t do your essential work without it.)
7. Do pick a person willing to keep the party between the bright lines of the Republican Creed. (This is a must.)
8. Do select a person who understands their job is to advance Republican Party principles, not to advocate for any candidate prior to an official nomination.
9. Don’t select a person to defend the outlying positions of any candidate, when those statements or actions fly in the face of the Republican Creed.
10. Don’t select a person incapable of standing up to political nonsense or agendas that weaken the appeal of the GOP to Virginians.
State Central has a big task. I hope they choose wisely. The new Chairman must be well-versed in campaigns, politically wise, understand public policy, have a heck of a good rolodex, and be willing to spend a great deal of time raising money for party voter outreach and effective advocacy for our candidates.
Finally, this may seem counterintuitive, but beware of folks who want the job really badly. That person may well be the wrong choice. I suggest you seek a reluctant warrior with the skills to do the job as it must be done. Maybe instead of waiting or advocating for candidates to show up in front of you, you might want to put together a search committee of people you trust to find that person or persons. Then the hard part will be convincing the chosen candidate to take the job. Remember, you’re not picking an elected official, you are picking your CEO. Approach it that way and don’t be surprised when things are functional and we start winning—again.