"Shut up!" said the chairman of the 2008 Washington State Republican Convention, recently conducted in Spokane. The target of his ire was a Ron Paul supporter seeking clarification of when alternates could vote in place of absent delegates.
The absent delegates were McCain supporters exiting en masse to stifle discussion of an anti-war resolution. The boycott didn’t work. Remaining Ron Paul delegates put the Washington state Republican Party on record against President Bush's war policies. Though not mentioned, Iraq or Afghanistan were the obvious targets of a resolution demanding stronger Congressional involvement in overseas troop deployments.
The good news in this otherwise unpleasant exchange was the determined Ron Paul delegate, who exclaimed, “We will not be driven out [of the Republican Party].”
At its height, the Ron Paul presidential nomination campaign polled a little less than 10 percent of all U.S. voters. On a very snowy day, 1,200 Spokane Ron Paul supporters turned out to hear him speak. That compares to George W. Bush’s Spokane crowd of 800 in his 2000 campaign. In politics, commitment often trumps numbers. Paulite-Republicans swept the Spokane County GOP convention. In spite of the dust-up, they even had a limited impact on the Washington state convention.
A lot of what happens in the post-2008 GOP will be determined by where that Paulite energy flows. For many Paulite-Republicans, “driven out” would mean returning to political inactivity; for others, joining the official Libertarian Party. Currently the Libertarian Party has a Washington state headquarters (in Seattle) and active chapters in several counties, including Spokane County.
What if the Paulites go Libertarian? Ask Republican non-Governor Dino Rossi, or Republican non-Senator Slade Gorton. Both lost by less than the Libertarian vote in their last races.
What if they return to political inactivity? Ask hand-wringing managers of 2008 GOP campaigns. Though running neck-and-neck with Barack Obama, McCain’s weakness is in the numbers of supporters who are expected to actually vote for him, encourage others to do so, fund his campaign, or otherwise support his cause. The same story holds for many other Republican candidates, including locally important candidates.
That is why Republicans of all stripes must pray the Paulites stay within the GOP, and work hard to keep them there. Their numbers and energy can provide desperately needed new blood to replace GOP blood shed on Election Day 2006, and what indicators suggest may flow again this fall.
The “Shut up” exchange illustrates how rocky the marriage will be between Paulite-Republicans and regular Republicans. Like any difficult relationship, there will be naysayers and competitors for the affections of the sparring partners. Naysayers will include regular Republicans more concerned about immediate party loyalty than anything else. Today that means loyalty to John McCain. Competitive suitors will be leaders of the official Libertarian Party.
Their wooing line will be (as always) that commitment to either major political party is wasted, both parties being subservient to a corrupt, always power-grabbing establishment.
History points to the merits of making the marriage work. America's major political parties have never presented cohesive philosophies. Paulite-Republicans should not expect tomorrow’s GOP to do so. However, neither have minor parties grown into majority parties. The GOP is the rare exception among many failures, being borne of the slavery conflict that broke America’s entire party system, then the nation.
History’s more optimistic lesson for reformers is that much of the bedrock of modern American government (good and bad) sprang from minor party platforms — but indirectly. New initiatives moved first to major-party platform planks, then to law. Our monetary system (now called the Federal Reserve) became law under Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. However, its origins trace to advocacy by Populists and Progressives. Likewise, many social programs associated with Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt originated with the Socialist Party.
Lest it not be obvious, I am a Paulite-Republican. However, my lifetime involvement in Republican and libertarian affairs still dedicates me to mending the libertarian-Republican union — again — this time repairing the damage done by George W. Bush to this important GOP support relationship.
Having disclosed my bias, honesty dictates I disclose the alternative to making that relationship work. All else failing, I would advocate a “friendly divorce,” like that brokered between the Democratic Party and former Democrats who created the Green Party. Following that model, Paulites would join the Libertarian Party or some alternative, existing or yet-to-be formed. However, their focus would be on education rather than electioneering. That could mean purely educational programs, or it might mean “educational” campaigns. However, the latter would be limited to non-competitive R/D races.
That said, I hope the Paulites take the harder, more productive route: that is, the route of building within the GOP. Regular Republicans take note. That means you must be nice. You are both needed.
However, at this juncture, it is the newcomers who are vital. Their enthusiasm for Ron Paul’s message is the marker that they will work to reopen the “freedom window” of the GOP tent, the window that has been all too dark the past several years. That task will require many young, strong arms.
Yes, Mr. 2008 Washington state Republican Convention chairman — and many young, strong voices.