Has the GOP Declared "Nuclear War" on its Own Grassroots?


Scott Shackford blogged earlier today about the Republican National Committee's report out today, from its "Growth and Opportunity Project." He focused on their professed desire to stop pissing off the young, immigrants, and gays.

As Politico is reporting this morning, other portions of the report are pissing off another group the Republicans' might want to keep on board: their own grassroots.


Tucked in near the end of the 97-page report, formally known as The Growth and Opportunity Project, are less than four pages that amount to a political bombshell: the five-member panel urges halving the number of presidential primary debates in 2016 from 2012, creating a regional primary cluster after the traditional early states and holding primaries rather than caucuses or conventions.

Each of those steps would benefit a deep-pocketed candidate in the mold of Mitt Romney. That is, someone who doesn't need the benefit of televised debates to get attention because he or she can afford TV ads; has the cash to air commercials and do other forms of voter contact in multiple big states at one time; and has more appeal with a broader swath of voters than the sort of ideologically-driven activists who typically attend caucuses and conventions.

Big donors are reported to have told RNC Chief Reince Priebus that they want Iowa's early caucus to become less important.

Priebus has been trying to rhetorically jump on the Randwagon since filibuster day, when very late in the day he called on all GOP Senators to Stand With Rand. Today Priebus told a National Press Club audience that "for the most part, the party was totally on board with what Rand Paul did" in the filibuster, though evaded a question about whether Rand Paul was, in fact, the future of the Republican Party.

Good thing he's not on record on that, because from Politico's account forces around Paul are peeved at this new report–as are those of the popular vote runner-up in 2012, Rick Santorum.

But allies of potential 2016 hopefuls Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum, sensing a power play by the establishment-dominated panel, reacted angrily to recommendations they think are aimed at hurting candidates who do well in caucuses and conventions and need debates to get attention.

"Caucuses give you a better glimpse of what the base of the party wants," said Iowa GOP Chair A.J. Spiker, who hails from the Paul wing of the party. "And those people, they aren't going to be swayed as easily by television ads as a primary voter. They're a more politically educated voter."….

A close Paul adviser was even blunter, warning the party against pushing primaries rather than caucuses.

"Elimination of caucuses would mean nuclear war with the grassroots, social conservatives and [the] Ron Paul movement," said this Republican.

But it wasn't just the libertarian Republicans who were uneasy about the primary recommendations.

John Brabender, Santorum's chief adviser, said the reforms would favor the moneyed candidates.

"While I commend Chairman Priebus for taking important steps to remedy Republicans' recent election failures, I am troubled by the possibility of a condensed presidential primary process which undoubtedly gives an advantage to establishment backed candidates and the wealthiest candidates," said Brabender.

Any changes to the party's nominating process would have to be ratified by the full membership of the RNC. The first debate on the recommendation will take place next month at the party's spring meeting in Los Angeles, but party veterans don't expect any final resolution on the 2016 plan that soon.

One might remember that the only states Ron Paul did well in as far as winning delegates were caucus states. So:

The committee is more clear cut, though, on their preference for primaries as the best nominating method for building the party.

"We also recommend broadening the base of the party and inviting as many voters as possible into the Republican Party by discouraging conventions and caucuses for the purpose of allocating delegates to the national convention," the committee writes. "Our party needs to grow its membership, and primaries seem to be a more effective way to do so."

C\'mon Republicans, Let\'s Talk Ideology!
Photo credit: outtacontext / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The non-huge-money ideological candidates and their fans see this as another move in the establishment war on the grassroots that began at the RNC in Tampa. I reported on things that the Paul grassroots were pissed about then:

Several times on the convention floor Tuesday, Paulites united with Tea Party members and old-school conservatives to fight rule changes that were seen as inimical to the interest of all grassroots activists, no matter their particular stances. One controversial change out of the Rules Committee would bind state delegations to the results of straw polls or primaries, leaving no room for maneuvering at state conventions.

Independent of ideology, this would mean an end to any future upstart doing what Paul did this year: using the savvy and enthusiasm of his supporters to rack up more delegates at state conventions than they won in straw polls or primaries…..

Some media reported on a "compromise" on one hated aspect of the new delegate rule, which allowed candidates to handpick their own delegations. Many feared shis change would mean only insiders and donors and friends of the winner would ever get to the RNC. The Rule 16 that ended up passing still apparently gives candidates that power. It says, "No delegate or alternate delegate who is bound or allocated to a particular presidential candidate may be certified under Rule No. 20 if the presidential candidate to whom the delegate or alternate delegate is bound or allocated has, in consultation with the state party, disavowed the delegate or alternate delegate."….

Morton Blackwell, the head of the conservative training group the Leadership institute, was Barry Goldwater's youngest delegate in 1964. He's been present at every rules committee meeting for the past 40 years, and he thinks the new rules are "the most awful I've ever seen come before any National Convention….a power grab by Washington, D.C. party insiders and consultants designed to silence the voice of state party activists and Republican grassroots."

Matt Welch was on the scene then in Tampa and interviewed some of those angry grassroots types.