In politics, we too often allow the passions of the most recent battle dictate our future decisions without always properly thinking about the unintended consequences that might come. The anger or frustration over losing a political fight can manifest itself in several ways. The fury of the method of how to nominate candidates has become such a force of division with RPV that it has become a tool that factions use against each other. People who have supported conventions now support primaries and vice versa based on personal feuds. It’s almost byzantine to follow at this point.
Sen. Mark Obenshain just announced he will be looking to pass party registration in Virginia. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard conservatives say they would support primaries so long as there was party registration. It seems to have been the one compromise that exists to end this near decade long war over primaries versus conventions. The divide has on the surface been between conservatives and establishment, but that is not entirely accurate when you dig deeper. With the infusion of rouge elements like the Ron Paul libertarians of 2012 and the Donald Trump populist of this year, the divide is murkier. Libertarians used the convention process to exercise an out-sized influence on the party, while the populists now rage against conventions after what happened in Harrisonburg earlier this year. Establishment Republicans saw their leader Eric Cantor crash and burn in a primary, while Ed Gillespie beat back his tea party challenge successfully in a convention. The roads are no longer straight, but full of complicated intersections.
I have to be honest, I actually have no problem with our current open primary system (awaiting pitchforks). My problem with party registration has nothing to with the sound and fury of our internal fights but rather the energy of how a party runs and who runs it. Are we an organization that has the party run its people or people that run the party? That, for me, is the core question. Party registration is about control. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you are on, party registration puts the party, and whoever is running it, in a position to define what a Republican is. I prefer Republicans ourselves to mobilize our voters through an open ballot to decide that question. I don’t need whoever sits in the building on Grace Street to tell me otherwise.
Party registration is just as restrictive as a convention and just as amiable to manipulation. As someone who has supported both Paul and Trump (to an extent), I see why so many want party registration. The party doesn’t want people involved that they cannot control. Conservatives and tea partiers gravitated toward conventions in the past because they were more motivated in their smaller numbers, but the establishment caught up on that game in Roanoke back in 2014. Trump supporters, many of whom are lapsed Democrats or lapsed voters in general, saw how they can get their legs cut out from under them at a convention. Primaries, when competitive and not restricted like in 2012, allow for our candidates to bring in as many voters as they can possible find and help grow the party.
A common smear on the Donald Trump campaign was that it was a vehicle for Democrats to interfere in GOP business. I can’t say that it didn’t happen at all, but Trump’s voters aren’t Democrats. They aren’t necessarily affiliated but these are people we want to engage. Nothing makes you feel more excluded that being told you can’t vote for your preferred candidate because you won’t register or have to spend all day at an arena. What are we so afraid of? Let’s gamble that our candidates are better than theirs, both in internal fights and with the Democrats, mobilize and grow. Party registration won’t grow the party, it will just create a political ruling class that controls who gets in and who gets out. I say, let the leaders in our party be the ones that squirm at who votes for our candidates. Let’s give our candidates the largest amount of potential voters to go out and win over with their messages and let the chips fall where they may.
Don’t be controlled, don’t support party registration.