Virginia Has Been ‘Fatigued’ by Conventions for Years
Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Chairman Rich Anderson, in lamenting the drawn-out and divisive ordeal that Virginia Republicans have subjected themselves to on deciding how to nominate candidates in 2021, sent a letter to activists last week describing himself and others as “fatigued.”
This morning, unit chairs from Fairfax, Prince William, and other localities across the Commonwealth sent a letter to State Central Committee (SCC) excoriating them for the debacle.
It’s a sentiment well-earned and widely felt; this has been a slow-motion train wreck for months. At every step of the way, the dumbest thing that could happen is what happened.
Last week was no exception, when pro-convention voices on the SCC call confidently declared Liberty University as a willing host, only for that delusion to last less than a week before RPV and Liberty jointly decided otherwise.
It’s still March. The only thing we can be sure about is things will get dumber.
We should expect nothing less from a state party, an SCC, and an activist base that has spent the last decade self-immolating over this stupid, stupid issue while election losses mount up.
Rich Anderson may be “fatigued” now, but the rest of us have been fatigued for a while, given the last four years that have punctuated the ridiculous corruption and farce that comes with conventions.
Time for a quick stroll down memory lane:
2018: 6th District Convention
The 6th District convention, which coincided with an open seat that would determine the next Congressman-for-life from the Valley, also featured a fight over the Chairmanship. In the end, who would’ve thought that Cynthia Dunbar’s failed candidacy would wind up the least embarrassing part of the ordeal?
The convention was mired in controversy and corruption, and required RPV to step in to ensure fair rules and distribution of convention delegate lists. It also featured a bitter majority of the District Committee committing to spend a ridiculous $30,000 on legal defense for the failed candidacies of Dunbar and former Chair Scott Sayre, hamstringing their new Chairman out of the gate.
The aftereffects of the divisive convention are still being felt today, and no one (especially the current Chairman) seems to have any interest in de-escalating the tension. Remember that when convention advocates laughably claim that conventions result in the party walking out “united.”
Lesson Learned: Convention supporters learned that conventions give them power over candidates and delegates, and the process is easy to manipulate to favor one candidate over others.
2019: 97th District Nomination
A year later, Virginia saw another dragged out debacle in the 97th District, which featured two sham nomination processes to fight, that split the party over who would be a backbencher in a minority party in Richmond.
The months-long circus featured multiple debatable actions from many different committees — and debated they all were. The origins of the dispute is too convoluted to summarize here, but at the heart was whether the 97th District nomination should be a convention or a canvas. (At this point, it almost goes without saying that the process was corrupt, with the convention voted on and planned by the challenger campaign who served as a Committee member at the time.)
A pivotal moment was whether a meeting to cancel the convention and change to a canvas was properly ended without a vote by the Chairman’s sole discretion, and thus which nomination method (a canvass, voted on after the Chairman stormed out, or a convention) was legitimate.
As a result, we had two different party-run nominations: a convention held by one candidate, where that candidate won with some ~95% of the vote, and a canvass won by the other candidate, where that candidate won with some ~95% of the vote. Oh, and a unit Chairman lost their position in yet another debatable violation of Roberts Rules and the Party Plan.
Ultimately, the entire thing came down to the 1st District Committee ruling by supreme authority that one candidate’s fake nomination was legitimate and the other’s was not, and the SCC voting to uphold the 1st District’s ruling.
There were two important statewide effects from all this: 1) New RPV Chairman Jack Wilson involved himself in the bitter fight and made enemies as a result, and 2) More importantly, SCC created a precedent where it can deem anything it wants to be a legitimate nomination process.
Literally anything. Without hyperbole: I could send SCC a letter declaring that I held a convention in my living room last night where I won the nomination for Governor, and SCC could vote that my convention was legally held, recognize my nomination, then submit to State Board of Elections for my name to appear on ballots in November.
Lesson Learned: Convention supporters learned that SCC has unchecked power to do whatever it wants, and can even rewrite history if it wants. No oversight exists to stop them, no matter how corrupt the process is.
2020: 5th District Convention
The lessons learned about corruption the prior two years would come into play in 2020 as well. Namely, corruption doesn’t matter if you win.
Paid political consultants for a challenger campaign also served as voting members of the 5th District Committee, and openly and brazenly manipulated the party process to stack the deck in favor of their client. This is something that can’t happen with primaries, but is baked into the process of holding a convention.
As a result, Congressman Denver Riggleman, who won with 165,000 Republican votes in 2018, was kicked out of Congress by less than 1% of that total in a rigged process.
The 5th District Committee, including members paid by the Bob Good campaign, voted to hold a drive-through convention at Bob Good’s home church. The 5th District is expansive, and the single location was an hours-long drive from several population centers in the district. In the end, only 2,500 people participated, and fewer than 1,500 voted for the nominee.
Those 1,500 voters are fewer than most individual precincts, but it was enough to oust the only independent-minded Republican in the caucus, and replace him with an anti-gay conspiracy theorist who declared COVID-19 “phony,” despite having killed more than a half-million Americans and hundreds of his own constituents.
Lesson Learned: Convention supporters learned the greatest benefit of holding a convention is the unchecked corruption involved in controlling the process.
2021: Statewide Convention (?)
If you’re not fatigued re-visiting all the above, then you’re likely a convention supporter. Corruption and limiting the ability for people to participate in the Republican Party are features, not bugs, of conventions. Limiting participation is literally the explicit stated purpose of conventions made by its advocates. Corruption is just a nice bonus.
Conventions override voters and instead hold as much power in the party bureaucracy: power over delegates, power over Unit chairmen, power over candidates, even power over elected officials. The first rule of politics is that power corrupts. It’s no wonder those who have that power don’t want to give it up.
Mr. Chairman, I agree that we are fatigued by this process. But more than that, I am fatigued by those who insist, year after year, of subjecting us to this absurdity, despite year after year of dismal infighting, corruption, and election losses.
Will 2021, the fourth year in the row Republicans have needlessly shot themselves in the foot, be the wake-up call for Virginia Republicans?
Remember: The only thing we can be sure about is things will get dumber.