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RNC Rules Changes Misquided and Harmful

[Santorum update below, 1pm EDT 8/27]

[Second update  5:30pm EDT 8/27]:

I made a mistake: I understood Ron Zahm to say Rick Santorum was in favor of the rules change, but Santorum has not made any indication one way or the other, and Zahm did not say he did. The error is 100% mine.

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I’m a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention. It wasn’t easy to get here. In fact, it was quite difficult. The work I did led to a stronger party. Rules changes now before the convention would weaken it, allowing candidates to reassign delegates. Candidates should not control the Party. The Party should control the candidates.

The Leadership Institute’s Morton Blackwell wrote an open letter to his fellow delegates last night, urging opposition to the rules changes.

I’m writing you today to urge you to join the growing effort to stop the worst-ever changes in this Rules Committee’s Report and to vote in favor of amendments to Rules 12 and 15. The Minority Reports will restore important rights and protections which state parties and grassroots Republicans would lose under the Rules Committee Report as written.

I should start out with a caveat. I have not seen the Rules Committee report. In typical fashion, that’s being kept from view until delegates are asked to vote on it, which most will do because they support the presumptive nominee.

But this issue is not about supporting the nominee. It’s about overreacting to the quixotic  ”threat” from Ron Paul and Rick Santorum supporters to stage a nomination floor fight.

Such a fight is pointless, and will come to nothing. Insiders and the Romney camp are worried about what such a fuss would do to unity.  Most Paul and Santorum supporters have been warming to Romney as they realize the vast gulf that exists between Romney’s views and those of the current occupant of the White House, and their delegates in particular intend to vote for Romney on the first ballot.  The threat of a divided convention is empty.

Changing the rules to allow candidates to replace delegates, or allowing the nominee to change delegates, or allowing any forced change to the delegate roster after the delegates have been voted on by the people runs counter to the principles of representative democracy. No Republican should favor the idea.

But what’s this about the Party controlling candidates? The idea of a bunch of “unelected” party bosses controlling candidates is counterintuitive, bringing to mind smoke-filled rooms and slaps on the back.

But in reality our political parties are already controlled by candidates — especially incumbent candidates. The politicians raise the money, and as candidates their campaigns perform all of the real get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operations. The political parties typically get behind the incumbent, so as not to risk losing a seat.

Instead, the Party should be doing GOTV, letting the candidates compete on message and name recognition. That’s already a huge advantage for incumbents. But the ability to pull the plug on a corrupt public official would be a great benefit to our republic.

The “unected” party bosses are in fact elected, whether at caucus meetings or in primary elections. There is always a mechanism for removing wicked or lazy people from party positions.  If a party boss or an entire party becomes corrupt, in this era that will become known quickly.

The idea of a candidate replacing a delegate makes me ill. In order to become a delegate, I had to

  1. Decide to become a delegate
  2. Gather signatures to get on the ballot
  3. Work to get my candidate and myself elected

In Illinois, delegates are elected directly by a plurality of votes in each Congressional district. Each district gets a number of delegates, and the top vote-getters, regardless of their pledged candidate, go to the convention. There are some at-large delegates, as well, so Party bosses aren’t left out.

I had to put my reputation and objectivity on the line to choose a candidate. Gathering signatures for ballot access meant standing in the cold asking Christmas shoppers to sign a petition for a candidate most of them didn’t even know, or had barely heard about. I had to organize a campaign in my Congressional district, which spans 35 counties and hundreds of miles. And because we got a late start, we only had a month to get it all done. That we won at all still amazes me.

Other delegates have similar stories. It’s not an easy job to get, and has few perks.

Now comes a certain faction within the Party that wants to allow candidates to reassign their delegates, replacing the ones the people chose with the ones the candidate wants. Rather than  grassroots activists, the existing party bosses would slide into those positions. The result would be loss of energy, not just at the convention itself, but in the campaign.

Would I have done the work to organize for my candidate without the alignment of my personal incentive to be a convention delegate? Probably not.  The threat of losing the slot would have frozen me into inactivity.

And so it would be with everyone. We have managed, over the last few years, to turn the Republican Party into a useful alliance of energetic grassroots, tea party activists and wise, staunch Republican money men. We’ve come to realize that we need each other, and have common goals. Now is not the time to split up that alliance, especially since there is no good reason to do so.

Update, 1pm EDT, 8/27:

Jon Zahm, former Illinois Campaign Director for the Santorum campaign, passed along the news that Santorum is supportive of the measure. “Under the current system,” Zahm said,  ”the winner on Election Day doesn’t necessarily get their share of  delegates. I’m consistent in this, as I proposed that in Illinois the at large delegates be awased proportionally, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul getting the proportion of at large delegages that they won. We had 10 at-larget delegates, and I proposed awarding 5 to Mitt Romney, 3 for Rick Santorum, and one each or Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. It would have been fair, and given voice to several different campaigns. The state party chose go another way.”

I support Rick Santorum and am unhappy that the Ron Paul supporters were able, for example, to take a large number of Iowa delegates despite Santorum having won the state.

But the issue is bigger than support for a single candidate. Candidates need to know about, plan for, and execute a victory plan based on the rules in all 50 states.  The states elect a president, not the people, and candidates need to be able to win according to the rules put forth by each one.

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