Charlie Harper: GOP Convention Demonstrates Cross Purposes
Tuesday, June 7th, 2016
Republicans pride themselves of being the party of free markets. In politics, there are two primary measures of whether or not the markets are working. The monetary measure is fundraising for party activities. The market measure that ultimately matters is at the ballot box.
Georgia Republicans have been maxing out at the ballot box for about decade and a half. The Grand Old Party has near supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, and every single state office elected statewide. Add in both US Senators, and 10 of Georgia’s 14 Congressmen and it’s safe to say that the market has cleared in strong favor of Republicans.
As recently as two weeks ago incumbent Republicans in Congressional and state legislative offices stood before voters within their own party, an unprecedented number facing primary challenges. All but two won outright. Those two missed winning outright against two challengers, each winning over 49% of the vote.
Senator Johnny Isakson leads the GOP statewide ticket and received 78% of the vote against two challengers. Congressmen Austin Scott, Rick Allen, and Tom Graves each received more than three out of four votes. Doug Collins (facing a former Congressman and three others) and Freshman Barry Loudermilk facing four challengers each got more than three out of every five votes. The most recent market indicator says Republican voters are still content and supportive of their legislators.
This weekend the establishment of the Georgia GOP met in Augusta to hold a Convention for the purpose of electing delegates for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, as well as Georgia’s National Committeeman and Committeewoman. These people prefer the term of “the grassroots” or “the base”, but they are, in fact, the folks that officially hold the power and responsibility for running the Grand Old Party of this state. That’s as much a textbook definition of “the establishment” as one can get.
There was a time, long before the state’s political markets cleared in favor of Republicans, when the party activists saw the role of the GOP was to elect Republicans and then support those who were elected. There were passing references from some party leaders spoken from the stage Saturday, but there was a definite feel among many assembled that their current role is to hold elected Republicans accountable.
As such, an often used but re-directed feature of these gatherings has increased in use and tone. Resolutions offered by a select committee have developed a sharpened tone, often with direct rebuke of the elected Republicans they have just elected.
It’s fairly clear that many of those present in Augusta are tired of self-serving members of the establishment stifling debate and passing things based on the will of select insiders reflecting narrow self-interests without allowing review or amendment for those asked to rubber stamp that will. Naturally, the best way to demonstrate this pleasure is to offer a series of resolutions that delegates are neither allowed to read in advance or amend from the floor, then allow a small handful of speakers a couple of minutes each before cutting off the debate and moving on to affix the rubber stamp. This was done Saturday with no sense of irony whatsoever.
Six resolutions were offered with meat so red they should be referred to as resolution tartare. Most contained working that was incorrect, incomplete, and in at least one case, directly offensive to millennials. (Part of the floor debate clarified that the line, properly diagramed, showed the clause was only offensive to some millennials.)
Peak hypocrisy was achieved when Senator Josh McKoon presented a resolution “On getting back to the basics of Republican Principles”. The resolution defined those basic principles, perhaps totally coincidentally, as issues McKoon has sponsored and failed to get enacted into law. The word “censure” did not appear, but it took direct slaps at the state House and Governor’s office, but spared himself and largely his fellow Senators. Self-serving much?
The net result is this statement and the other resolutions telling duly elected Republicans how they should be voting is an unspoken but much louder statement that party insiders know better than the voters. Those same voters that currently have the Republican party at peak strength.
One resolution appears to be headed to try to undo this success. There will be a review of the primary process. Be very wary of attempts to allow the decisions made by voters in the primaries to be usurped by the insiders that populate conventions. It would be the death knell for transparency and the undoing of the market success of the ballot.
There’s that other market measure that deserves a mention, and it is directly related to the activities that occur routinely now at party meetings and conventions. It’s no secret that the Georgia GOP has had cash flow problems. The accounts should be flush again given that each attendee paid at least $100 to participate in the convention, and each candidate on the ballot last month paid qualifying fees with the party as the chief beneficiary.
Back in the day when the goal of the party was understood to elect and support Republicans, donors were plentiful. Now, SuperPAC’s and Independent Expenditure Groups have those same goals, without the bureaucracy of parties nor the contradictory goal of holding elected Republicans “accountable”.
Donors - corporate or individual - are not going to back a group that actively works against the stated purpose of the organization, and they have been voting lately by closing their checkbooks. That market signal should serve as a warning to the current GOP. The desire of a privileged few to usurp the will clearly displayed at the ballot box should be a much larger warning for an upcoming market imbalance.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.