The governing body of the Republican Party of Virginia is the State Central Committee (SCC). It has 80+ members elected to it via the biannual Congressional District Conventions, the Congressional District Committees, several auxiliary Republican organizations, and also several seats that the body elects to itself. The SCC is responsible for selecting the method of nomination for our statewide GOP candidates; be they governor, LG, AG, U.S. senator, and also for presidential nomination contests.
The method of nomination has become a litmus test issue in Virginia Republican politics. The big-government extremist wing of the party prefers primaries and the conservative/libertarian wing of the party prefers conventions. What matters is that this issue highlights the divide within the party here in Virginia.
In 2015, the SCC considered holding a convention as our method for our presidential contest and it seemed likely that it was going to happen. Pressure was brought to bear to keep it a primary and in this environment a “compromise” was proposed. (I should mention that I am skeptical of “compromises” in politics. Too often it is just another word for “capitulation” or “surrender”).
The compromise proposed that we have a primary in 2016 for the presidential contest, in exchange for having a convention in 2017 to select our state wide candidates. This nominally seems fair on the surface as both wings of the party get a turn with their preferred method of nomination in a two year period.
How this was viewed as a compromise I don’t know. The last several governor races were selected by convention and conventions are great for giving people reason to become more involved with the party processes. Not having a convention in 2017 should not have been on the table. But this “compromise” put it on the table and this “compromise” gave cover for some people to vote for primary when they should have stuck to their guns. The compromise was passed by a bare margin, but it did pass and everyone who wanted a primary in 2016 got a primary in 2016. That placed a huge onus on making sure the compromise was kept for 2017.
In a coalition everyone needs to get something, otherwise people do not have any reason to be part of the coalition. It is about not boring holes in your own boat by failing to be a good coalition partner. Keeping the compromise would have been good for the Republican coalition. It would have been a not-insignificant datapoint to show that the two wings of the party can work together. People like myself, who are highly critical of the big-government extremist wing of the Republican Party, would have had to have conceded that on this thing the establishment kept their word for once. That would have been nice. That would provide a framework to ease tensions within the party, by the establishment showing that they can act in good faith and keep a promise once in a while. That would have provided a not insignificant foundation for healing within the party.
This year we should have seen the SCC vote unanimously for convention, because, really, who wants to be on record taking a clear vote to add more fuel to the intra-party fire in such a blatant foot shooting manner?
Apparently a majority of the SCC did. On Saturday, August 27th the the SCC voted 41-40 vote for a primary in 2017.
This is bad.
There are people on both sides of the equation within the GOP who are making a not implausible case for operating in good faith to try to move towards party harmony and keep the Republican coalition together. This vote completely and utterly discredits those individuals. Why should anyone aligned with the conservative/libertarian wing of the party try to get along with the establishment wing of the party at all? The big-government extremist wing of the Republican Party just gave the conservative/libertarian wing of the party a huge axe to grind in great big neon letters. Every vote for primary on the SCC was a vote for disharmony within the party. This vote gives fresh reason for intra-party conflicts and so frames the intra-party conflicts for the next couple of years. This vote is reckless and tone deaf on the part of the Republican establishment. Intra-party conflicts brought Republicans to loosing every state-wide office in 2013 and they encourage the repeat of that with this vote.
My heart goes out to those people on both sides of the equation who put effort into the compromise. The rug has been swept out from under you and you will have a much harder time in the near future of being able to work towards party harmony. Though I may be skeptical of specific attempts on your part, I am amenable to your broader efforts. You guys didn’t deserve this.
There were forty-one people who were each the deciding vote on this matter. On the one hand they got their way. On the other hand their margin of victory was so slim. It is for that reason that conservatives and libertarians should take heart and view this as an opportunity. It would not take much to reverse the establishment majority on the SCC. Over the next couple of years conservatives and libertarians will need fresh reinforcements to put the peace breakers into a minority on the State Central Committee so that we can make the state party be the party it always should have been: one that keeps its promises.
John Brill is the former Chairman of Roanoke City Republican Committee and the former Chairman of the 21st State Senate District Republican Committee.