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Oppose the trend toward centralization of power in our party structure.

Please see below the text of an email that I just sent to RNC Chairman Preibus.

Morton Blackwell
Virginia Republican National Committeeman

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Dear Reince,

I ask you to back off from supporting some of the proposed changes to the Rules of the Republican Party being presented this week to the RNC Standing Committee on Rules for approval and then to the full Republican National Committee for final passage.

In an unprecedented abuse of the power in the hands of a candidate about to receive a Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign forced through at our national convention in Tampa a number of changes in the national Rules of the Republican Party. Everyone knew that none of the changes could possibly help to produce a Republican victory in 2012 and that those rules changes in 2012 would apply fully to the 2016 election cycle.

For generations, all previous Republican candidates who had sewn up our presidential nomination wisely refrained from using their power to demand that the national conventions about to nominate them pass any particular rules changes. They and their campaigns knew that changes passed at the convention that nominated them would control our national committee operations and the Republican presidential nomination process in the next following four years.

Our presidential nominees tend, wisely, to allow our long-term rules to be determined by representatives elected from each of the states to serve on the RNC’s Standing Committee on Rules and on the national convention’s Rules Committee.

This is a good example of power in our party flowing from the bottom up.

The rare occasions when sure-to-be nominated presidential candidates threw their full weight into deliberations about rules changes were when there might be a minority report filed from the Convention Rules Committee that would have to be debated and voted on by the entire convention.

Convention floor battles over the rules happened most recently in 1972 and 1976.

In 1972, President Nixon nailed down every aspect of the national convention except the controversies over the rules. He allowed liberal Republican Senators Charles Percy (Illinois )and Jacob Javits (New York) to duke it out in a rules battle with conservatives led by Californor Gov. Ronald Reagan. Conservatives won that convention floor battle, and Nixon went on to win reelection in a landslide.

In 1976, President Ford couldn’t stop a convention floor fight over party rules because it was not yet clear whether the convention would nominate President Ford or Gov. Reagan.

All other presidential nomination winners have tended to use their power over the rules process only to prevent convention-floor battles because they believed that such battles distract from the political message they want the convention to deliver to the national television audience.

I’ve attended all the meetings of the Republican National Convention Rules Committees starting in 1972, and I have served as a member of all of our national conventions’ Rules Committees starting in 1988. For 40 years, I worked with like-minded conservatives against changes which tend to centralize power within our party and on behalf of rules improvements which open greater opportunities for power in our party to flow from the bottom up, rather from the top down.

Republican rules matters seldom attract much public attention.

Although for literally 40 years I had always taken an active and sometimes important role in deliberations and decisions regarding our national rules, I never sought and almost never received any media coverage at all for my involvement in party rules matters.

Like many others similarly involved, I considered work on rules matters an important, sometimes burdensome, but quiet duty. But the unprecedented series of power grabs introduced and passed at the Convention Rules Committee meeting in Tampa by the Romney campaign through Ben Ginsberg (their designated representative on the Convention Rules Committee} attracted the instant attention of print, broadcast, and online media.

Everyone knew that Romney lieutenant Ron Kaufman of Massachusetts was in charge of national convention matters for the Romney campaign. Everyone also understood that Ben Ginsberg of D.C. was the Romney/Kaufman leader at the Convention Rules Committee meetings.

Under pressure, many members of the Convention Rules Committee did whatever Ron Kaufman and Ben Ginsberg let them know they wanted done.

That’s unfortunate. Willingness always to do exactly what one is told to do is overrated as a measure of party loyalty.

Ron Kaufman admitted two months ago in my presence that what he really wants is for Republicans to hold a one-day national presidential primary across the country. His position favoring a one-day national Republican primary runs directly counter to the almost universal consensus among generations of participants in our national rule-making process that front-loading the schedule of our delegation-selection process is very dangerous to our party.

Front-loading gives enormous advantages to the wealthiest candidates and to not reliably-conservative Republicans who are likely to be deliberately and quickly popularized by the liberal media. Front-loading increases the possibility that someone would win our nomination because of some short-term fluke. A brief primary season allows insufficient time for us to evaluate candidates’ abilities to function well in a rigorous big league of a national campaign and makes it less likely that grassroots conservatives would have sufficient time to unite behind one of several more conservative candidates.

During the Convention Rules Committee meeting in Tampa, I warned repeatedly in unmistakable terms that the Romney/Kaufman/Ginsberg power grabs would generate massive outrage from conservative grassroots Republicans and seriously hurt the Romney presidential campaign.

Those predictions quickly proved accurate when huge numbers of our national convention delegates demonstrated their outrage by voting loudly on the convention floor against adoption of the Convention Rules Committee report.

Ignoring the need to unite our party for victory in November, the Romney campaign’s power grabs in the rules process sent home from the national convention thousands of angry Republican activists. That was a stupid mistake, and the perpetrators remain unrepentant. In fact, they continue to want more centralization of power and further national intrusion against state parties’ decision-making regarding their states’ delegate selection process.

The Romney/Kaufman/Ginsberg power grabs have interrupted a long and healthy restraint in the rules process by those holding great power at the top of our party. Previously, presidential candidates who had already won enough delegates to win our nomination and incumbent RNC chairmen did not exercise their decisive power to force national rules changes at our national conventions. That was largely because such rules changes would primarily affect the process four years later.

All competent presidential candidates knew that throwing their weight around in the rules process at the national convention would certainly anger many Republicans whose united support they would need in the coming general election campaign.

Non-incumbent presidential candidates knew that, if they won the presidency, the party rules would give them no trouble when they ran for reelection.

Incumbent Presidents running for reelection knew they wouldn’t be candidates in the next following cycle.

Incumbent RNC national chairmen routinely subordinate themselves to the campaigns of the coming presidential nominee as soon as the identity of that nominee becomes certain.

Thus national rules changes were for generations decided openly through a bottom-up process by representatives elected from each state.

The Romney/Kaufman/Ginsberg power grabs in Tampa overturned the bottom-up process and opened up a slippery slope toward more and more control from the top down.

Here are my thoughts about the six proposals I understand will be offered by your appointed subcommittee this week.

1. Rule 16(c). The requirements for proportional allocation of delegates in March 2012 worked reasonably well. If there had not been a dramatic series of power grabs in the rules process in Tampa, some change like this might have been devised then. Nevertheless, a clarification like this might prevent avoidance of meaningful proportionality.

2. Rule 16(c)(2). This proposal is a virtually meaningless sham. The proposal should be amended to replace “March 15” with “March 31.” To stop the stampede toward front-loading of presidential primaries, the rules in effect in 2012 required proportional allocation of delegates in March primaries. The Ginsberg power grabs in Tampa entirely eliminated the proportionality requirement. The subcommittee proposes restoring proportionality only in the first half of March. If the whole month of March is not included, RNC members should defeat this proposal. A full month would give an underfunded candidate who beats expectations in early March a reasonable time to raise funds and recruit volunteers. No wealthy candidate could sew up the nomination in a flood of mid-March winner-take-all primaries. One full month means something; two weeks is trivial.

3. Rule 17(a). The 2012 enforcement provision did not work to prevent states from scheduling their presidential primaries before the period in which binding delegate selection could be legitimately conducted. These more severe penalties might work.

4. Rule 17(f). Deleting this provision would help make the rules internally consistent.

5. Rule 20. It’s a very bad idea, and there is much to be said against it. Except when absolutely necessary, as in preventing an otherwise unstoppable disaster, like a mad rush of frontloading primaries leading toward what amounts to a national primary day, the national party has no business telling the states what to do regarding their selection of national convention delegates. Granting the RNC Executive Committee the authority to grant a waiver to states which violate the deadline provision amounts to putting the decision in the hands of the RNC chairman. I served a term on the RNC Executive Committee and never saw any open opposition to what the national chairmen wanted. Every “decision” was unanimous. The office of RNC Chairman has overwhelming power already, for good or for ill. If the deadline were kept at 35 days before the convention (see below), Rule 20 could be and should be enforced.

And by the way, since Dean Burch became RNC chairman in 1964 during the Goldwater campaign, I have known personally all of the RNC chairmen, about 20 in number.

Some were solidly committed to conservative Republican principles; some were certainly not. Some turned out to be contemptuous of conservatives. Some were unquestionably determined to do what they believed to be in the long-term interest of the Republican Party; some showed little concern about how bad a mess they left for their successors. Some were unfailingly considerate to Republicans who respectfully disagreed with them; others took obvious delight in bulldozing down those who dissented in any way. Some had many great talents; some were in way over their heads. Some were dominated shamefully by political consultants. Some were virtual figureheads whose tenures were micro-managed by White House staff of Republican Presidents. (And please don’t ask me to criticize any of those former national chairmen individually.)

Regardless of their merits or faults, all former chairmen had quite sufficient powers at their disposal.

But all former RNC chairmen were importantly constrained because they had to follow the national Rules of the Republican Party, rules which could be changed only by the national convention.

Because of the new Rule 12, as a result of a motion by John Ryder, you are the first national Republican Party Chairman to have an opportunity to use the immense power of your office to get the RNC membership to change major portions of The Rules of the Republican Party between national conventions.

The Democratic Party has been shamefully corrupted for many years by internal power struggles to change their rules between their national conventions to favor different factions of their party, different party leaders, or different candidates for their presidential nominations.

That is why I strongly opposed the awful, new national Rule 12, moved by John Ryder with Ben Ginsberg’s full support, at the Convention Rules Committee meeting in Tampa.

As surely as anything can be in politics, Rule 12 makes it certain that some future RNC chairmen, men or women who will lack many of your merits, would use Rule 12 to make changes in our national rules for disreputable purposes between our Republican National Conventions. As things now stand, only a national convention can repeal Rule 12, and I hope and pray that our 2016 convention repeals it.

6. Rule 20(a). This proposal should be defeated. Other changes now incorporated into our rules have already greatly shortened (compared to 2012) the time period available for the candidates for our presidential nomination’s contest to win delegates. This goes too far. States which want to elect or select their delegates close to the existing deadline of 35 days before the national convention should be allowed to do so. And if any state were to have the possibility of receiving a waiver of the deadline by “the RNC Executive Committee” (really the RNC Chairman}, any state should be accorded the same courtesy. Virginia frequently chooses to hold our state conventions in early June. But there is no chance of a dangerous “back-loading” of the delegate selection process. This proposal is really bad. The office of RNC Chairman does not need another club to hang over the heads of state party leaders and presidential candidates.

One way or another, a number of other rules changes must be made to prevent the recurrence of especially obnoxious aspects of the national convention procedure in Tampa.

For example, during the roll call vote on the convention ballot for our presidential nomination, each state’s delegation chairman called out the number of his state’s delegate votes cast for each candidate. Then the convention Secretary announced only the number of that state’s delegate votes that state cast for Mitt Romney. Vote totals for other presidential candidates announced by the state delegations’ chairmen were not repeated by the convention Secretary. This unfair practice provoked cries of outrage all through the roll call of the states from delegates all over the convention hall.

Hundreds of properly elected delegates came to the convention and found, through no fault of their own, that their votes weren’t counted. Only votes for Mitt Romney were counted.

Reince, you know I have standing to comment strongly about this, because you know personally that my wife and I each contributed $15,000 to Romney Victory, Inc. just before the national convention.

The unmistakable message to non-Romney delegates was: “We won. You lost. To Hell with you.” Our national party rules should be amended to make sure that this arrogant, hideous practice is not repeated.

This problem will surely be fixed by rules changes adopted in the normal process unless our 2016 prospective nominee or our RNC Chairman intervenes to prevent this badly needed change.

Another example of a Romney/Kaufman/Ginsberg power grab inserted into our rules was upping from five to eight the number of state delegations a candidate for our nomination will have to carry in order to qualify to have that candidate’s name formally placed in nomination at the convention.

A respectable case could be made for preventing a long series of favorite-son candidates from taking up convention time for formal nominations and floor demonstrations.

But to deny a candidate who has carried at least five states the right even to have his name placed in nomination at the convention is unfair and certain to alienate that candidate’s widespread grassroots supporters. And to deny duly-elected delegates the right to have their properly cast votes counted for their candidates at the convention is worse.

I am asking you to support my opposition to certain parts of your hand-picked subcommittee’s proposals. Give a clear indication to grassroots Republicans that you favor a major rollback of the Romney/Kaufman/Ginsberg power grabs. You should take steps to make it clear that you are not now the principal defender of the Romney/Kaufman/Ginsberg power grabs which took place at the national convention in Tampa.

Reince, you may very well get the required 75% vote of the 168 RNC Members for all the rules changes to be voted on this week. You control the large RNC staff (including the whole Legal Counsel staff), all the RNC funds, all the appointing power, and baskets of other goodies to distribute and sticks to wield.

To overcome that line-up of power, I do not have even any staff to run an organized opposition campaign among RNC members. Nevertheless, I intend, as always, to make the case for what I think is right. Many grassroots Republicans will follow closely what happens. By raising the right issues and obtaining record votes when appropriate and possible, I intend to make the public aware of what happens this week and in the future. Perhaps some RNC seats may change hands as people leave through normal attrition and when grassroots Republicans have an opportunity to hold their representatives accountable as the whole RNC membership comes up for re-election in 2016.

And there is another possibility. Conservatives might nominate a presidential candidate in 2016 or 2020 who will support a reversal of what it seems thus far is turning out to be a four-year period of centralizing power grabs.

A soon-to-be-nominated presidential candidate has the power to get exactly what he wants, for good or for ill, from the rules process at any national convention. The Romney campaign proved this at the Tampa convention by stupidly forcing through many outrageous, power-grabbing rules changes, which any politically competent person could have predicted would cause uproar at the convention, enrage many Romney supporters and potential Romney supporters, and hurt his campaign badly. A future conservative nominee could see the problem and set things right.

Tension is currently high between different elements of our party, and millions of grassroots conservatives and libertarians are wavering over their decisions about the value of the Republican Party as a vehicle to advance their motivating principles.

You could do our party a world of good right now by showing your disapproval of the blundering power grabs made in Tampa and demonstrating that you oppose the trend toward centralization of power in our party structure.

Sincerely,

Morton Blackwell
Virginia Republican National Committeeman

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