BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: I am part of the base. But taking a static view of our base will kill, not build, our party.
This morning, American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform held their Newsmaker Breakfast which was supposed to feature RNC Chair candidate Ken Blackwell, who has been endorsed by many conservatives and RedState. Because Blackwell was stuck in Ohio due to the weather, Louisiana GOP chairman Roger Villere and John Yob were there to represent the Blackwell campaign.
Let me briefly go over some of the positives I took away from this morning's meeting. First, Ken Blackwell's framing of the fundamental change that's needed within the RNC as a "shareholder revolt" is both accurate and bold. The grassroots within (and not within) state and local party organizations have to buy into the objectives and new strategy that the next chairman will bring. Second, I'm glad that Blackwell endorsed the RebuildTheParty.com plan within his own plan. Third, he's a former Secretary of State and could be helpful in voter turnout and anti-voter fraud efforts, if he's elected or not. Fourth, as the only candidate in the race with extensive experience as a candidate for public office, he could have some understanding of how to recruit and train candidates.
But some of the things Villere and Yob mentioned this morning bothered me.
First, Yob repeated several times that Blackwell's number one priority is to "inspire the base." Blackwell's own plan asserts that "an inspired base will lead to more volunteers, greater fundraising, and higher voter turnout." Nothing could be further from the truth. I understand why Blackwell is making this the standard line in his campaign: he's trying to appeal to the so-called "leadership" of the status quo base ... the members of the Republican National Committee. Not only does Blackwell blur the line between policymaking and electoral strategy building within his own plan. Taking this static view of our base, that it's our existing core of 30% of the electorate that we should depend on, is downright infuriating. Blackwell's plan does state that "we must once again begin educating the public about the moral superiority of limited government over the concept of big government socialism." Therefore, the number one priority shouldn't be inspiring the base by itself; it should be about growing the base by finding new and creative ways to articulate our principles, and to integrate voter contact, voter identification and voter persuasion projects. It's not time to rebuild the Reagan coalition of old. It's time to recalibrate, recalculate the electorate as it exists today, and build a new coalition to win elections.
Second, after it was mentioned that current chairman Mike Duncan used the Joseph Cao victory in the Louisiana 2nd as a reason to re-elect him, Villere quickly pointed out that not only did Cao receive nearly zero support from the national organization. But the Louisiana GOP worked hard to win more votes and win more parishes for McCain in 2008 than for Bush in 2004. This flies right in the face of the argument that it's the national organization that needs fundamental change. In fact, it seems like an argument for achieving fundamental change at the state and local parties. And while I see a lot about giving more resources to state parties and increasing accountability towards state chairmen from all of the candidates, this doesn't exactly require fundamental change at the RNC. In fact, the RNC could very well have fundamental change and we could still have many state and local parties in shambles. (See my previous post: We Don't Need a Chairman. We Need Leaders.)
Third, Morton Blackwell was in attendance and gave a strong endorsement of Blackwell. "Ken has gravitas. He will be taken seriously." said Morton. While I have a lot of respect for him, gravitas should not be a prerequisite to being RNC chairman. Sure, a candidate for high public office should have some gravitas. But I want my RNC chairman focused on winning elections! (See another previous post: Ability to Debate on Sunday Shows Should Not Be a Priority Prerequisite to be RNC Chairman.) Quite frankly, none of the six candidates convince me that they can find new ways to win and engage in an exchange of best practices.
(Aside: "Inspiring the base" and promoting "fundamental change" aren't mutually exclusive, and Ken Blackwell seems to have an understanding of this. But as for new ideas, John Yob said that he believes "markets work" and "if you stick with the status quo, you won't have any new ideas." This isn't exactly a convincing argument when it comes to separating yourself from all of the other non-incumbent candidates.)
I've already witnessed the lack of strategic creativity from all six candidates. But the lack of a dynamic vision of what our base is and what our base should look like is truly bothersome. So here's my mission to all who read and write here at The Next Right: after the election is done this weekend, don't take the lazy path and lobby the new national chairman for progress. Communicate with state party officials and push their buttons when it comes to winning at all levels: from Presidential electoral votes to city council races.