This week, the Republican National Committee (RNC) will hold its spring meeting in Los Angeles in what could be a defining moment for the party. Many committee members are looking to overturn rules that were adopted at last year’s Republican National Convention which disenfranchised many grassroots delegates.
Back in August, Dean Clancy of FreedomWorks explained the rule changes at length, noting the profound affect they have on the process by “shift[ing] power from the state parties and the grassroots to the RNC and the GOP presidential nominee.”
There were two specific changes — Rule 12 and Rule 16 — pushed by Ben Ginsberg at the behest of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Rule 12 allowed the RNC to change its rules at any time or any place in between party conventions. Clancy called this move “unprecedented,” and explained that the change gives the RNC the ability to completely ignore the convention on a whim, if it so chooses.
Rule 16 is also problematic because it targets delegates who vote their conscience in convention. For example, if somone ran as a delegate and pledged to vote for Mitt Romney, but then finds out something unsavory about him and they switched to another candidate; they would have been stripped of their delegate status.
While there may be states that require delegates to vote a certain way, they’re typically not bound to a particular presidential candidate. This rule change was clearly aimed at Ron Paul supporters and conservative activists skeptical of Romney’s record — forcing them to choose party over principle — and it help gives GOP insiders more leverage at picking the nominee.
This power grab frustrated many conservatives and grassroots delegates, many of whom were asking how centralization reflectes the principles the party so frequently espouses.
However, those rules could be completely undone this week.
Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute and a RNC member, made a motion back in January to have the rule changes reversed.
“Instead of further centralizing the Republican Party, we should welcome newcomers and treat them fairly, politely, and cordially,” wrote Blackwell, who was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the rules changes at the convention. “What good is it to centralize power if doing so prevents us from recruiting new grassroots activists to our Party and building an organization which can win future elections?”
Blackwell was joined by a number of conservative and grassroots leaders, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, who are urging the RNC to do ensure that the base of the party is included in the process.
But the establishment is pushing back. In e-mail obtained by United Liberty, Henry Barbour, son of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and one of the members behind the controversy, announced his opposition to make the RNC rules more friendly to the grassroots.
“I believe the [Rules Committee] did a good job,” wrote Barbour. “I support the compromise that was crafted on rule 15 because it helps ensure states respect the will of the voters by selecting delegates in accordance with a binding primary or caucus.”
“However, we also made certain that state parties drive who the delegates are and not the campaign. I realize some people don’t believe that is the case, but I believe they are mistaken.”
In a separate e-mail, Barbour was more direct in his opposition.
“As the RNC prepares to meet in Los Angeles this week, there is an ill-advised move to reverse all the rules passed by the RNC Convention Rules Committee in Tampa last summer,” he wrote. “For those who serve on the Rules Committee, I hope you will join me in fighting these efforts. For RNC members not on the Rules Committee, I hope you will urge your state’s member of the Rules [Committee] to defeat this effort, but you should be prepared to vote against the efforts in general session on Friday to undo the good rules that were passed in Tampa.”
Barbour added that he is “all for making changes to our rules if they will help us win elections,” but he never explains how the rules passed at the RNC in August actually help the Republican Party.
Bruce Hough, an RNC member from Utah, was nothing short of dismissive of the push to undo the damage done at the convention last year.
“It has been proposed and deemed imperative that the rules revert back to pre-2008 vintage,” wrote Hough. ”I am not ‘informed’ specifically as to why that should occur and cannot see the wisdom of rushing to such a conclusion.”
Hough went on to explain that the RNC is “charged with electing a Republican President of the United States” and added that “[e]verything else we do is supportive of that objective.”
“There is no need to rush any changes to the Party Rules, all of which were duly adopted by the convention rules committee and the general body,” he continued. “We have time to identify specific issues to discuss, giving ample opportunity to prepare for in-person meetings yet to be held before any real deadlines are imminent.”
Shutting out the grassroots, as Barbour, Hough, and others on the RNC have done, does little more than discourage the Republican Party’s base and come across like a power grab. There are candidates, such as Romney, who may feel as though they are entitled to the nomination and want an easier path down the primary process.
But the misleading narrative is that the process is a bad thing. Shouldn’t candidates be fully vetted? Shouldn’t the primary process provide an atmosphere for tough questions for a potential nominee? So why is this a bad thing?
The quest for political power has been the driving force behind some terrible laws. Enacting bad rules under the panacea of “winning elections” is a terrible argument, and it’s one that sends a discouraging sign to those of us watching to see if the Republican Party has truly changed its ways.
The good news is that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has been warm to changing the rules, but the hurdle that Blackwell and others face is pretty high. They’ll have to convince 75% of RNC members, thanks to Rule 12, to vote to overturn there offending rules. The reaction from the establishment, as evidenced by Barbour and Hough, indicates that conservative- and grassroot-minded RNC members may have a shot at righting a wrong.