The GOP in Virginia needs a Presidential Primary

The Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee will next meet on June 27 in Staunton, where they will be deciding on our delegation selection method for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Normally, this wouldn’t be that controversial. In the 21st century, we’ve generally held a statewide primary to determine who wins pledged delegates.  Those delegates are selected at district level and statewide conventions during most elections when there was either a Democrat in the White House or the presidency was up for grabs.  For almost twenty years now, Republicans from across Virginia have had the ability to vote for a Republican presidential primary candidate during a state-run primary.

That may not happen in 2016.

Why? Because given the current make up of the State Central Committee, which has been packed with pro-convention activists as part of long-term plans to remake RPV, the forces that want all conventions all the time appear to have the votes to make that happen.

We can’t afford to let the most divisive issue in Virginia GOP politics get in the way of what’s best for the Commonwealth.  And we certainly shouldn’t let personal preferences for specific candidates lead State Central to game the system to give their candidate an edge.

I’m not going to rehash the usual criticisms with conventions. If you care, you can read those here, here, here, and here. You’re either a primary supporter or a convention supporter. Nobody in Virginia GOP circles is agnostic on this issue.  There’s plenty of time to argue conventions vs. primaries, but not when the stakes are this high.

Virginia needs to regain our national credibility.  It’s no secret that we are the RNC’s pet project right now, and with Eric Cantor’s primary and the other high profile gaffes and scandals we’ve seen, the GOP brand in Virginia has been hurting.  Most of that isn’t because of the policies or stances of our elected officials (Bob Marshall excluded), but because of the dysfunction of our internal party processes.  Starting with the packing of SCC in 2012 that led to the primary/convention flip in the Governor’s race, that led to the controversies of the statewide convention in 2013, the statewide losses in 2013, the Cantor fiasco, and RPV’s constant money woes, we haven’t been putting our best face forward, either for the RNC or the rest of the country.  Switching from a primary to a convention is yet another signal that RPV is going backwards, not forwards.

Nobody can argue that conventions are not exclusionary.  They aren’t welcoming.  They aren’t designed to be welcoming. They are designed to test your patience and tolerance for nonsense. Conventions do two things – they exclude all but the most hardcore of the hardcore, and they milk the hardcore and candidates for dollars to keep RPV running.  That’s really the only compelling argument that the pro-convention folks make, that this is an easy way to refill RPV’s coffers.  Given RPV’s troubles raising money, which has as much to do with State Central’s dysfunctional appearance to big dollar donors as anything, forcing those who want to have a say in who gets to be Virginia’s choice for President to pay for the privilege is an obvious move.  It’s certainly the only way RPV will get any money from me (that’s a hint to stop the robocalls, please).  It’s also an easy way to fleece Republican presidential candidates of a five or six figure filing fee to get on the ballot.

When conventions became a fundraising tool instead of a nominating tool is anybody’s guess. But in order to raise the money, you have to assume that folks participate.

Will they? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t advise a candidate to waste time on Virginia if we were to go the convention route. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Under existing RNC rules, the earliest we can hold a convention or primary is March 1.  With at least seven other states (and maybe more) holding caucuses or primaries on that day, we’ll be competing with states that have an easy primary process, while ours is not easy.  Even after we cut in half the signature requirements that resulted in only two Republicans getting access to Virginia’s ballot in 2012, our process is still not easy to negotiate. But it’s far easier than a convention process, because before we hold a statewide process, potential state delegates are going to have to attend a mass meeting or some other local process to certify them as delegates to the statewide convention.  That means we’ll be holding local conventions either over the holidays or during the General Assembly session.  

That’s right – the same time these campaigns are gearing up for the critical Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, we’re going to force campaigns to scour every Congressional District in Virginia for folks to sign up to be delegates to the state convention. 

Who is going to do that?

Signing up delegates to two conventions is much harder than collecting petition signatures or running a GOTV operation. So what’s likely going to happen? I’m willing to bet that a number of Republican candidates will ignore Virginia completely. They’ll choose not to compete here, focusing their attention on bigger states on the same day (like Texas) or states that are critical for certain campaigns to win (like Florida).

A presidential primary for Virginia does at least two things – it ensures we are relevant to the presidential nomination process and it keeps us from losing any more credibility nationally.

The best case scenario is for State Central to put their own pro-convention agenda aside and do what is best for all Virginia Republicans.  That means going with the same process we’ve used for the last three contested presidential nominations. Doing so allows more Republicans to help select our nominee, and keeps Virginia relevant by not creating a mess that candidates will prefer to ignore rather than engage.

If not, we’ll only be marginalizing ourselves. Again.

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