The Role of Parties (Tea and Not) and Chairmen

So, I’ve finished winding down the campaign, collecting all the signs I could still find, sending out thank-yous to volunteers and contributors, and wrapping up the accounting.  Time for a few thoughts on where were are and where we go.

First, on a national level, it’s heartening to see the Tea Party caucus standing firm on substantive issues so far.  I think everyone is realistic about what a Republican House, in the absence of the Senate or the Presidency, can actually accomplish.  It can block, and it can force the Senate Democrats to take deeply unpopular votes, in effect making them take legislative bullets for the White House.  Or not.  A series of simple, punchy, one-subject bills should do the trick.  They can also defund Obamacare, investigate the White House’s abuses of power in the Black Panther case and Gerald Walpin’s firing.  People don’t really expect them to do much more than that, and it appears that both the Tea Parties and the electorate at large are mature enough to understand this.

If the establishment Republicans (I’m lookin’ at you, Lindsay Graham) persist in defending a business-as-usual approach, this thing has the potential to turn into the French Revolution. If we follow Michael Barone’s comparison of the Tea Parties to the New Left of the late 1960s, with the entry of a large number of activists into one party’s politics, increasingly lofty heads will roll, handing governance over to the opposition for a long, long time.  If, as it seems can happen in Colorado, the Red Queen-type voices are marginalized while the Tea Party learns to play the general election game a little better, there’s considerable hope.  Look for the ProgressNow-types to try to find the wedge issues to undermine that comity.

Which brings us to a discussion of new Republican Party leadership.  For the purposes of discussion, let’s assume that Dick Wadhams decides to move on.  I’m not going to use this spot to defend or attack Dick.  His performance was what it was, and I’d rather focus on the role of the party in modern electoral politics, and more specifically the role that party chairmen – at all levels – play.

It used to be that the Party Chairman was the biggest of bosses, the guy in the smoke-filled room with the biggest cigar.  Not anymore.  Not since the campaign finance changes essentially knee-capped the parties, creating the era of the 527 and the candidate.  The party simply cannot brand itself any more through spending, it can only do so through the candidates that it chooses as its standard-bearers.  What made “Democrat” cool in 2008 wasn’t any spending by the party, or even by the 527s, but Obama.

It’s also true that, in Denver at least, we have probably maxed out what we can get through sheer hard work.  We’ll still have to work as hard, but we’ll have to start thinking strategically about how to engage more people, expand our base, and our influence.

Candidates aside, the party needs chairmen who understand that aside from the organizing of the regular party activities – districts, Lincoln Day Dinners, candidate recruiting and vetting, and so on – their role is to help coordinate friendly groups, and help reach out to unaffiliated voters who can be on our side.  We need to do this strategically, not merely jumping off on whatever seems like a good idea.  While the term “social networking” is just a little over-used, I believe that the Left has been using that far more effectively to identify, mobilize, and treat friendly unaffiliated voters as a normal part of the process.  We can do that, too.

Ultimately, the goal of these groups is to see certain policies implemented, and in order to do that, we’ll need to elect Republicans, or at least, defeat Democrats.  (I’m not going to engage in speculation about the ultimate demise of the Republican party.  Take that to another post.)  That means that the Republican party will continue to play a central role in partisan politics.  And it means that the party chairman’s role, while infinitely more complex in balancing groups and getting them to play well together, is no less central to the success of the ideals we all care about.

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