Ron Paul supporters in Nevada had their crowning achievement this weekend – they “took over” the state party. It took them four years of planning, coordination, and subterfuge, but they won a smashing victory over the weekend by sticking it to “The Establishment”.
And in doing so, they (at best) did nothing. At worst, they immeasurably damaged the cause of liberty in this state, and indeed, perhaps the entire nation.
Some commentators, like the Reno Gazette-Journal’s editorial today, have risably claimed that the Ron Paul contingent “understands the dynamics of party politics better than the party rank and file”. But this is simply untrue, because the Paul people forgot the underlying purpose of the party in the first place. What they did was the equivalent of singing a song in a foreign language you don’t know – you can learn to mimic the sounds perfectly, but that doesn’t mean you understand the meaning of the lyrics.
Let’s review. The purpose of a political party is to help candidates from that party win elections. Period. If you can’t influence election outcomes, you are irrelevant in politics and policy debates. Party members, committees, and delegates don’t set tax rates, ratify treaties, confirm judges, pass or repeal regulations, produce budgets, select cabinet appointments, or in any other way directly control the actual policies which govern our everyday lives and our economic futures.
The only way a party influences actual policy is if it influences elections. The only way for a party to do that is to have power and influence over who runs and who can get elected. Traditionally, parties do that by raising money for candidates, and by making themselves indispensable to the actual job of winning an election via volunteers, influence, credibility, and resources like walk lists, voter rolls, and precinct maps.
The Ron Paul Revolutionaries, however have shown a remarkable INability to accomplish any of the things that influences candidates. Consider:
- Ron Paul supporter James Smack took over as temporary chairman back in February, and then promptly fired the Finance Chair – very likely costing the state party tens of thousands of dollars. Since that decision, the party’s fundraising has been nothing short of pathetic ($53K cash on hand in March compared to $400,000 for the Dems, as reported by Jon Ralston a few weeks ago) – exactly as I had predicted.
- Speaking of Smack, his tenure coincided with an actual reverse in the progress Republicans had been making in closing the registration gap with Democrats statewide. Attempts to use the caucus as a tool to register additional Republicans were rejected by these folks on the most distant paranoia of voter fraud. (How ironic that these same people are now claiming the caucus vote didn’t matter anyway…)
- Ron Paul state campaign chair Carl Bunce recently told Steve Sebelius, when asked about the ability to raise funds, “I don’t care, first of all.” Yeah – no one needs money to win elections in this media age! Bunce went on to imagine a fantasy world where secret and wealthy Paul supporters come out of the woodwork when “they see the party running like-minded candidates,” in spite of this never happening in history even where “like minded candidates” have run for office.
- The state GOP will get a fundraising boost from the convention fees collected this weekend (that’s one of the purposes of a convention), and I’m sure Paulestinean-supported GOP state chair Michael McDonald will claim it’s part of a trend. But with no other major fundraising event between now and November, such a “trend” will almost certainly be ephemeral. McDonald himself only recently emerged from bankruptcy, has a history of ethics issues related to public funds, and would have lost his house but for a shortsale bailout from an old political crony. It’s hard to see any serious donor handing significant amounts of money to a guy like that, particularly when there are plenty of alternatives.
- Ron Paul himself has failed to win a single primary or caucus. Even where he and Romney were (or effectively were) the only two on the ballot, voters rejected the Paul message (and his supporters) by wide, wide margins. Today was Indiana’s primary, and voters there overwhelmingly voted for Romney while also (rightly) turning out Richard Lugar for not being conservative enough. Paul came in a distant second – fewer people voted for him than voted for people not even in the race any more (same for West Virginia and North Carolina today). Why would any candidate think this “machine” could deliver for them here or anywhere?
- The caucus results here in Nevada showed that the vast majority of even the most dedicated Republican activists (those who came out to vote in a low-turnout caucus) were not Paul fans. In November (and even in June), it will be these types of regular voters who decide the outcome, not 1,000 Council on Foreign Relations fearing, wild-eyed anti-Republicans. Candidates will recognize (because they talk to more people than just the hard line activists) that more people are actively repulsed by what they saw this weekend than are energized by it.
- Many Paul supporters are quite open that they’ll vote for Paul or no one, and even if they don’t, the Paul campaign already has been caught urging supporters to lie about their true plans. Any candidate for public office will assume at this point that Paul supporters are unreliable at best, dishonest at worst, and will act accordingly – just as Governor Sandoval, Dean Heller, and Joe Heck did by finding other things to do over the weekend of the convention.
- Carl Bunce already announced that the long term plan is to oust guys like Dean Heller and Joe Heck for their insufficient purity. Why would any candidate or official adjust his policy positions to please a group already dedicated to their ouster?
- Ron Paul candidates have already run against more traditional conservatives (in a real vote amongst the general public, of course), and when they do, they lose miserably. Smack lost to Dean Heller by over 76 percentage points back in 2008. No leading GOP candidate for any state or local office that I’m aware of claims to be a member of the Paul Revolution (even if some candidates may be carefully courting Paul voters).
- Nevada Republicans learned a hard, hard, hard lesson in 2010 – a candidate who is able to be painted as too fringe, too crazy, and insufficiently competent will lose winnable races to unpopular liberal Democrats. Visit the comments in any Ron Paul-supporting website, twitter feed, or Facebook group – the crazy is built right in. I’m all for tackling our debt in a more serious way than most GOP candidates seem to want to, but I’m not so into blaming America for 9/11 (or suggesting it was an “inside job”), or worrying about the CFR, the Bilderbergs, or the Jooooooooos (always politely referred to as “Zionists,” of course). Even if these legitimate nutters are in the minority in Paul circles, they are a significant enough minority (and are tolerated and accepted without rebuke by the majority, to be sure) to easily paint the whole movement with that brush.
- The apparatus of the party has never been less of a monopoly. Obtaining voter data in a format easily manipulable and targetable is now something any moderately competent campaign manager can do, and do inexpensively. Presumptive legislative caucus leaders Pat Hickey and Mike Roberson are already aggressively assuming the roles of statewide coordinators for various campaigns, sharing message discipline and resources and doling out endorsements even in primary races. And many folks who would otherwise volunteer with the party will no longer do so in a party bent on self destruction (count me among that number), and will instead volunteer directly with individual campaigns. The National Republican Party has deployed its own independent staff to assist Republican candidates in Nevada independently of the state party – further underscoring the expected ineffectiveness of the Revolutionaries.
- The Paul folks simply have no intellectual credibility. For people who wave around the Constitution like a bloody shirt, prominent Paul folks (like James Smack) are astoundingly ignorant of what that document actually contains. That even goes for Paul himself. Locally, our governor is the first in our state’s history to actually decrease the size of our state government (by $500 million!) – but many Paul folks still wanted to pass a resolution censuring him for being insufficiently fiscally conservative – are you kidding?
- Paul folks don’t have any moral credibility, either. There are plenty of people fed up with corruption and elitism in politics. But given the Paul campaign’s previous exhortations to lie in order to get ahead (and not just here), as well as their tortured and infinitely flexible logic in justifying their plan of disregarding every binding primary vote when they get to Tampa, even those who might be convinced by the Paul message will know that no one in the Paul camp can be trusted to stick to principle or to keep their word. As a local example, how many of those Ron Paul delegate candidates informed their precinct caucuses that they’d be fighting to unbind state delegates in favor of Paul even if he lost the vote? I bet it’s a big fat zero – a lie by omission if ever there was one.
The only thing Paul folks showed they could do was make a ruckus at a convention that most Republicans didn’t think was meaningful enough to attend in the first place (given their expectation that their delegates were bound by their votes in the caucuses). The Paul folks did displace our national party representatives, but given new National Committeeman James Smack’s demonstrated inability to raise money, win elections, register new voters, or so much as get the sitting governor and US Senator of his own party to attend the convention he planned, it’s doubtful either he or new National Committeewoman Diana Orrock would have any influence. Performance, merit, and results matter to true conservatives, after all.
In short, nothing that happened in Sparks this weekend eliminated a dime in wasteful government spending, reduced a tax rate by an iota, or simplified a single regulatory scheme. Indeed, by pushing Republican candidates away from the putative base of the party, it probably made those things less likely to happen.
So why am I upset by all of this if the Paul people can’t get their way in the end? Ironically, it has a lot to do with the fact that I agree with many of the Paul campaign’s broader thrusts.
By marginalizing themselves, these Paul folks are marginalizing libertarianism in general. I’m not a libertarian in the strictest sense (I think they ignore the importance of culture and tradition in protecting liberty), but the GOP needs more of that philosophy infused into the party as a check against the “Big Government in the Name of Jesus” types – particularly if we’re to have credibility on debt and spending issues.
It was a good idea to work within the party and pull the center of gravity further to the right, as opposed to just running third party. But instead of working with existing party folks who are sympathetic to the economic arguments Paul makes, the Paulestineans attack them for insufficient purity if they haven’t yet learned to worship fully and unquestioningly the Gospel According to St. Paul. (“Paulestinean” because they’ll blow themselves up along with everything around them if they can’t get 100% of everything they want.) This drives away far more volunteers or even new registrants than it attracts, and will make more traditional GOP activists far more reluctant to trust the younger generation, as they eventually must.
That’s true of candidates and elected officials too. The more insane “The Party” looks, the more distant these folks (aware of the lesson of Sharron Angle) will want to get in order to stay viable in a general election. That’s true both organizationally and in terms of policy positions – does anyone think this weekend’s embarrassment will make Governor Sandoval re-think his stance on the tax sunset extensions? How ironic that the Republican Party is pushing Republican candidates farther to the left.
Finally, by making the party irrelevant, they’ve completely wasted the last year or two of hard work many of us have done in trying to rebuild the party’s strength and credibility. And even though candidates have other tools available to them, The Paul folks have taken away what should be one of the most effective tools (the party organization) away from GOP candidates who actually want to win elections but can’t afford to be seen too close to a group widely viewed as self-destructive and crazy.
Nationally, the most Paul supporters can do is be embarrassing at the convention – sending signals to independent voters who may not like Obama that the alternative party as a whole is untrustworthy and downright crazy/scary. That’s what happened to the Democrats in 1968 when their convention descended into chaos. Such a scenario wouldn’t just hurt Romney – it would negatively impact Republicans up and down ballots nationwide. Even in the unlikely event Paul supporters could wrangle the nomination for him, most Republicans would never view a “win” in this manner as legitimate, and would not support him in the general. You don’t advance the cause of liberty by functionally stealing elections.
In other words, the Paul folks can hurt, even if they can’t help. They can destroy, but they can’t create. They set back the cause of liberty, even while claiming to champion it. How terribly frustrating this all is to a true conservative who gets that his cause is nothing without being able to win elections.
So tell me again – just what exactly did all these Ron Paul supporters actually “win”?