Chapter One: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction – Convention Season 101
“Convention Season” is now in full swing for Republicans here in post-Trumpian Virginia. If anyone was expecting a slightly less charged atmosphere and some reasonable dialog in preparation to elect a Virginia Republican Governor, think again.
Everyone has heard the old adage,” Truth is stranger than fiction,” and while I hate to inflict yet more wounds on the conservative collective in the Commonwealth, this is certainly true of this year’s proceedings. There seems to be no end in sight to the story of how a select few Virginia voters came to choose the 2021 nominees for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.
After months of “Showdown at the RPV Corral,” there is still so much weirdness in this year’s season that I must digress a bit before writing about the candidates, and relate the strange chaos that already abounds as at least some of the campaigns rip each other up throughout the state in the quest for delegates. When the smoke clears after the convention, if it ever does, who, you might ask, would vote for these candidates in November knowing what has been said and written about the front runners, at least?
For now, recapping for posterity seems appropriate because in the future conservatives may learn what the Democrats already know: that a welcoming united front actually grows numbers and wins elections. I could write a book but no one would believe it, right?
The State Central Committee or SCC, as it is known by activists, is the governing body of the Republican Party of Virginia. Since 2012 this 80-member body has been made up of pro-convention (anti-establishment) and pro-primary (establishment) members split about even in membership. In a nutshell, SCC for the last ten years has done little else as a body in the way of electing conservative candidates other than discuss this one subject.
I include the establishment descriptions because these are used as insults by both sides when they go at each other, remembering ancient feuds that no one cares about. While rebels are usually associated with the term anti-establishment and it’s worn as a badge of honor in other places, this is not so with SCC. The alliances have merged and remerged long ago, and whoever disagrees with any member is now automatically “establishment.”
As the second term of yet another Democrat Governor draws to a close, there is no establishment for Republicans in the Commonwealth. Winners get to build an “establishment.” Losers don’t get to build anything.
In the “olden” days SCC strategized together, both short and long term, helping electable candidates into the pipeline, and worked together to ensure a winning hand for Republicans.
The members understood the bottom line for successful elections; numbers and the ground game of incubating good candidates for both policy and electability. They were folks who were “connected” all over Virginia and while you may not like that term, politics is like any other endeavor. To be successful you have to know real people. Once you go the way of the bureaucrat listening to yourself in an echo chamber, you are eventually done.
The old SCC brought knowledge to the table and those individuals had more often than not run successful campaigns, lending their skill sets as a team to fulfill the mission. They spent no time on whether they agreed with each other 100 percent, but set those differences aside in the pursuit of the end game, bringing good policy to Virginians.
I digress, however, for in these times that is not the case. Let’s take a look at both sides today.
The party of the first part believes Democrats delight in voting in Republican primaries, and keeping it small prevents that. The problem is it doesn’t. Let’s say you seek to become a delegate and you’ve had some Democratic leanings, revealed for example by voting in a primary. The Republican Party Plan can help you out with a caveat.
You simply sign a pledge to behave and you’re in like Flynn. So much for that theory. There is also still some such nonsense about saving the taxpayer money but, in reality, primaries are always included in the registrar’s budget and, if not used, re-appropriated elsewhere. Conventions save the taxpayer squat.
There is also even more myth about primaries enriching political consultants. One has only to turn around on the way out the door at a convention venue to see the piles and plies of literature on the floor to understand those bad old consultants were plenty enriched at said convention. This year alone belies this theory as several of the candidates have already spent $2 million plus to date on ads for the 2021 convention, and it’s likely to be way more.
The party of the second part believes conventions are not inclusive and make it difficult for the elderly, disabled, military, and numerous other groups to vote. They also tout the huge expense given that on a pretty Saturday in the Spring, maybe half the folks will show up? Another point they tout is the name recognition factor. During primaries, candidates’ names appear on ballots all over Virginia as does their advertising via the mail, radio, television, and the internet.
Statewide primaries make for a jump start in name recognition for candidates and provide valuable data about who came out in a given year, including new voters. FYI … Democrats for the most part don’t do conventions and make tremendous use of the data they gather. Hmmmm … are you thinking what I’m thinking?
In a final word about conventions because I’m sure you haven’t guessed where I stand on the issue, let me tell you the following about this method. Don’t be too hard on me though; I have worked and helped with these events since 2005 and have seen it all in real time.
To say that there is a long-convoluted set of rules that accompany conventions is an understatement. They are created by the “chosen few” who make up what is called “The Rules Committee,” and those rules are only as good or as honest as the majority of their appointees. This makes them rife with opportunity to be manipulated especially if their members favor any candidates.
In fact, most of the structure of a convention is the poster child for manipulation. The chosen few also inhabit “The Credentials Committee,” who say yay or nay if you are good enough to get in, and they also make up the “Nominations Committee.”
Instead of straightforward voting, if you are a delegate your vote is “weighted.” Your home county is assigned a weighted vote total based on how it performed in the latest presidential election. So, depending on the number of delegates who sign up, your vote could in the end count for a mere fraction or the other way around.
While I highly recommend attending at least one in your lifetime, kind of like Mardi Gras, I have never seen a convention where many folks left happy or felt they had been treated fairly. Perhaps in the 2009 convention that brought us Bob McDonnell there were some happy folks, but it also gave rise to the beginning of the struggle between Bolling and Cuccinelli which heralded the Virginia GOP downslide. As Forrest Gump said, that’s all I have to say about that. However, now you might have an inkling who today’s “establishment” really is.
The vast majority of Virginians have no awareness of any of these processes but in 2021 they woke asking, “What the hell?” I attribute this in large part to the Trump awakening, but also to how public and odd the fight was for the nomination method in 2021. While lowly committee chairs on the front line are left holding the bag and trying to explain why citizens don’t get to vote this year, now seems a good time to give a shout out to all the folks who have called.
Now at least you know some history and the function of SCC which is to argue over the nomination method. Enter COVID-19 making it ever so difficult to pack folks into a convention hall. Stay tuned for more in my series in the coming days and weeks as I interview our Governor candidates. In Chapter Two we’ll talk about “Strange Bedfellows.”