An article in the Washington Post yesterday about the perceived troubles of the Republican Party of Virginia gets most of the facts right, but only scratches the surface on the truth about GOP unity.[read_more]
The gist of the article by Paul Schwartzman is that there is infighting in the Virginia GOP (not exactly news there). Those pushing this story want you to believe that this is a unique brand of disunity that will harm the 2016 GOP nominee, and that because of that the national GOP is looking at taking action. Which is hogwash, by the way.
The unavoidable subtext of Schwartzman’s piece is that this is all the fault of “tea party” and “libertarian” activists who burst onto the scene in 2012 and stole Bill Bolling’s primary away from him in favor of a convention that would presumably be more friendly to Ken Cuccinelli, which in turn has alienated “centrist” Republicans.
So, that’s one way of seeing it.
The “divide” Schwartzman references as having “burst open” in 2012 is actually a very old one that predates by a long shot the tea party and the modern liberty movement to which Schwartzman ascribes it. It is the perennial convention versus primary debate, which has a lot more to do with a person’s view of the role of the Party than it does with a person’s ideology. Even though conservatives tilt more heavily toward conventions and moderates tilt more toward primaries, the primary vs. convention question really is not is a neat ideological marker; Republicans of all stripes reside on both sides of the question. If the Bolling/Cuccinelli tussle is emblematic of the “divide,” one need look no further than the nearly identical voting records both gentlemen had while serving together in the Virginia Senate to know that ideology isn’t the issue.
In fact, Virginia Republicans are pretty united in what we believe. We almost all agree on opposing Obamacare. We almost all agree on the need for lower taxes and smaller government. We almost all agree that the free enterprise system is the best way to lift the most people out of poverty and darkness. We almost all agree on life. The vast majority of us (including those that constitute a majority on the State Central Committee) don’t consider ourselves “tea party” or “establishment” or anything other than simply Republicans and conservatives. We’ve found candidates that people from all portions of our coalition could back enthusiastically, even as recently as last November (and even though they weren’t nominated by state-run primaries).
Do we differ on some key issues? Of course. Plan ’13 from Outer Space comes to mind, as my friend D.J. McGuire points out. Support for immigration amnesty is another one (though on this issue I suspect there is very little disagreement among actual rank-and-file Republicans). But Mary Matalin, quoted in the WaPo piece, nails it when she says:
“The contentious issues and factions will be vetted in what promises to be a full-throated rock ’em, sock ’em primary season,” she said in an e-mail. “Whatever divides us pales in comparison to our unity in opposition to liberal, left incompetence.”
In this sense, Virginia Republicans are no different than Republicans in any other state.
But like the old radio man Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.
Schwartzman is right that something changed in 2012. That was when, for the first time, the consultants and lobbyists who had for so long exerted a dominant influence over the Party lost their footing, as an influx of new members on the RPV State Central Committee (together with a large contingent of returning veterans) established a strong majority in favor of nominating candidates for statewide office by conventions instead of primaries. So, instead of being able to maneuver the votes on nomination methods to best suit their clients’ needs (see, e.g., the field-clearing early adoption of a primary for George Allen in 2012 engineered by lobbyist and Allen campaign manager (and RPV First Vice Chairman) Mike Thomas, or the attempted field-clearing early adoption of a 2013 primary for Bill Bolling achieved by his consultants Boyd Marcus and Ray Allen), these folks ran smack up against a grassroots wall of people who voted their beliefs instead of what the consultant class told them to do.
Unlike when they quickly dispatched a previous threat to their control, this time the entrenched interests couldn’t simply engineer an ouster of the invaders. No, this time they have to play a longer game that is focused on winning back a pliant majority when the State Central Committee is reconstituted in 2016. Part of that strategy is genuinely admirable and helps the party by the politics of addition. Part of it, though, is selfishly destructive of the Party by creating and driving a false narrative of division and rancor where none would exist but for their own machinations.
The 2014 slating scandals, organized by the Eric Cantor-affiliated YG Network under the leadership of Ray Allen and with support from lobbyist Mike Thomas and other consultants, was the opening shot in this guerrilla counterrevolution, fired well before Dave Brat’s surprise toppling of Cantor. For this group, whether the slating resulted in victories for their candidates was almost immaterial…the most important part of the strategy was to tie the party in knots of appeals and legal challenges, to purposefully make party-run processes look bad and cause division and strife with endless whirlwinds of controversy and, as Ray Allen himself put it, to bankrupt the party as a means of making its recapture that much easier. After all, it’s very easy for well-connected politicos such as themselves and sympathetic elected officials to call donors to point out all the controversy (while naturally not taking credit for their handiwork) as a reason for the donor to give elsewhere and ride it out until 2016, when they’ll get rid of those nasty ol’ “tea party extremists” once and for all.
This is why it came as no surprise to when someone close to the matter revealed to several people (including me) that RPV First Vice Chairman Mike Thomas was actively encouraging another Party official to sue the Party over a decision made by the State Central Committee, and that Bill Bolling and others had agreed to pick up the tab for the legal fees.
As Thomas conceded in the Post article,
“It’s not about ideology. It’s about tactics and control,” said Mike Thomas, who was Republican former governor George Allen’s campaign manager and is a vice chairman of the party’s governing board.
I could not agree more.
Once you get beyond the manufactured controversies and the engineered disputes (launched and kept alive with generous amounts of dish-dealing to the Washington Post), you realize that the Virginia GOP isn’t unlike the Party in other states. After you set aside the whipped-up tribal rivalries, you realize you already have a lot in common with the so-called “tea party extremist” sitting across from you, or the so-called “establishment RINO” sitting next to you…this is the diversity of opinion Shaun Kenney praises here. Just don’t allow yourself to be used or fooled, as the Post has, by the tactics to gain control employed by those whose livelihoods depend on deceiving you into thinking that the ideological gap between you and your fellow Republicans is a lot wider than it actually is.
Pretty much nailed it there, Steve. Having joined the party in a leadership position 20 years ago, I would not disagree with your assessment of the key players working to sow hate and discontent throughout in order to “KEEP IT SMALL, KEEP IT ALL”.
At a lower level, you can add Nancy Russell (Hanover Chair) and Donald Williams (Chesterfield Chair) as pawns of the Cantor Dynasty on the GOP chessboard denying conservative Brat Packers from joining the party and building our strength and numbers.
History repeats itself. What goes around comes around. Cantor’s demise should be a teachable moment for our country club brethren. Now they intend to teach the Brat Pack a lesson in running Bill Bolling against Dave. The question remains….will Mr. Brat choose a primary or a convention?
For the sake and future strength of the party, I should think Brat would be wise to choose a convention and bring new blood into our party’s ranks. That is….If they can get past the local unit gatekeepers.
[…] An article in the Washington Post about the perceived troubles of the Republican Party of Virginia gets most of the facts right, but only scratches the surface on the truth about GOP unity. The gist of an article by Paul Schwartzman is that there is infighting in the Virginia GOP, and that because of that the national GOP is looking at taking action. The unavoidable subtext of Schwartzman’s piece is that this is all the fault of “tea party” and “libertarian” activists who burst onto the scene in 2012 and stole Bill Bolling’s primary away from him in favor of a convention. That’s one way of seeing it. Read the rest of this article HERE. […]
There has been infighting in both the Republican and Democratic parties since – well since forever. Not sure there is much that is news worthy about that. I’ve been a Republican for a looong time and if there was ever an era of peaceful harmony I sure missed it and much the same can be said regarding the Democrats. In many ways things have improved as I don’t believe there is as much resort to fisticuffs as I remember in years long past. I think unity is a very overstated concept. Ideological friction can generate new ideas and new ideas are in short supply across both parties in the 21st century. I rate “endless” cash and incumbency to be far greater issues then a lack of mutual admiration.
I too think it’s an oversimplification to equate convention with conservative and primary with moderate. I do think at times, however, some forget the nominating process is a means to an end; not an end in and of itself. The nominating process is the means for us to pick a candidate who can win a seat for the GOP in the end–the general election. I for one don’t believe it is a static either/or choice, as I think the playing fields in different election years and in different races should be a factor in choosing the nomination process with the goal of setting the GOP candidate up for the best chance of success in November. That may mean different nominating processes in different election years or in different local races. Of course, candidates are going to want to choose a process that is best for them as an individual candidate, as after all, they are in it to win it. But, I believe party officials must choose the process that gives the party its best chance to actually elect a Republican lawmaker to office who can vote to impact social policy in accordance with our GOP philosophies. Remember, we aren’t involved in politics to thump our chests and make a point; we are involved in politics to make a difference–and we believe the difference that can be achieved via enactment of Republican policies serve Virginians and Americans best…and better than those of our opponents.
I think the primary v convention argument is really just a symptom of a larger misconception between the grassroots and the establishment. The grassroots thinks the party machinery and structure exists to serve the monied interests and so they want to take it over to make it serve the people. The establishment understands the party machinery and structure exists because of the monied people and wants to keep them happy. Where the grassroots fails is by thinking its possible to capture control of the party and the machinery intact. It doesn’t work like that. Control of the party has changed hands and now things have to be rebuilt from near scratch. That could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing, it just depends on how well everyone does their job.
I respect what you are trying to do in this post, Steve — bring us together — but you didn’t quite make it work. Just saying something doesn’t make it so. If you’re talking about the state party, maybe, but definitely not our national representatives.
You wrote, “Virginia Republicans are pretty united in what we believe.” Then you followed it up with a list of things we “almost” agree on. The question has to be asked — if “most” of us agree on those things, why do “most” our Congressmen support the opposite? We just saw this with the DHS funding debacle. Before that, we saw it on the CRomnibus and the reelection of John Boehner as Speaker. We’ve watched our Representatives help grow government. And the evidence predicts we are going to see another finesse on ObamaCare, to which this Republican Congress will mount no serious challenge.
From my perspective, which admittedly is nowhere near as comprehensive as yours, the problem is that the Democrat-lite side of the party controls the big money and is closest to the big donors. That creates a situation where the grassroots can’t compete on a level playing field and can only “win” — elect a candidate in line with “most” of our values — on rare occasions when all the stars align. That is the source of our problems.
Thanks for all you do,
My Congressman, Morgan Griffith, bucked John Boehner’s sellout on DHS funding. When he did that, the American Action Network — founded in part by Eric Cantor’s chief of staff and with a network including Ed Gillespie, Haley Barbour and Jeb Bush — announced it was going to run ads against him claiming he was exposing America to terrorism. (BTW, those of us who worked our tails off to get Ed elected now face the question — “would a win really have mattered?”)
I don’t know the answer to all this, but this piece you wrote just struck me as a well-meaning attempt to paper-over a significant problem. With our present trajectory, I don’t see any chance of us rebuilding the old Reagan-type coalition which included the middle-class, and “most” of us getting those things your list contained. The big money presently tilts legislation toward Democrat-lite, which is not what “most” of us want. Many, though perhaps not “most” of us, are wondering if this party is worth the time an effort.
With Republicans like Boehner and Comstock, who needs Democrats?!
When writing articles such as this, please do not assume that every reader will understand inside baseball references, or the fine points of VA politics. As a relative novice to the VA political scene, perhaps I speak for many other readers when I say that I wish authors would fully and carefully describe the issues at hand and the players involved.
Thanks for the feedback, Cathy. I acknowledge it’s easy for us to get caught up in the “inside baseball.” We’ll try to do better about that. In the meantime please let us know here in the comments if there is anything we can clarify.
[…] UPDATE x2: Steve Albertson over at The Bull Elephant offers his US$0.02 and ends it on a high note: […]
Call me Vince as in Vince Lombardi. Winning isn’t everything…..it’s the only thing. Right now…both sides of this so-called battle are too busy snapping towels with their own followers. And, we are losing. Money isn’t being raised and the grassroots are decaying. As things now stand, Hillary Clinton has a better than 70 percent chance of winning Virginia. Separate and apart from all the infighting, Virginia’s demographics are changing right before our eyes.
When I look out at our Party, I see a party of losers who are hellbent on losing and then bellyaching on the Wednesday following the election in an attempt to blame the opposite faction. I hold both factions accountable. And, this modern Virginia GOP is becoming the laughingstock of national politics. The hell with both factions…or all factions. We are all responsible. And, until we get our stuff together, we will continue to be a party of losers.
To paraphrase: Winning is everything, even at the expense of principle. Doesn’t matter what you do after you win, as long as you win. Policy doesn’t matter…winning matters.
Did I get that right?
That’s a crock a crap, Eric. But when we lose, we get Obama appointees to the bench (lasting several decades), endless Democrat regulations, endless years of Democrat executive orders undoing Republican made law. So, did I get it right that you are okay with Democrat appointees to the federal bench — for life? Think again, brother.
John Roberts, who gave us Obamacare, is one of the “good” republican appointees. Oops.
Republicans fully funded Obamacare. Republicans are enabling Obamas executive actions. While IN THE MAJORITY.
Parties don’t legislate. People legislate.
yeah…well….kagan and the other chick have done so well also. Look….I want the same things as you….let’s get that out there. Ok?
I get it, I do. What I’m saying, I guess, is that even when we win, we’re still losing. We already have the majority, RIGHT NOW. Republicans.
And you’d have no idea from the legislation that is passing.
Well……here’s the thing….we all need each other to win. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. If we don’t win Virginia in 2016, we probably lose the Republic forever. Let’s get our shit together. For the sake of the country.