The primary season is over, and Republicans in Harris County and in Texas have new party leadership teams. I wish both well. Now, as we enter the final week of the convention process and the final general election campaign season, I want to share some thoughts for Republicans to consider about the future.
First, to our new leadership of the Harris County Republican Party, I pledge to you both my support, and (as always) my continued candor. Although I standby the concerns and recommendations I made in response to social media posts made by the incoming Chair, and continue to be concerned that such posts will have consequences for our party’s candidates this fall, what’s done is done. I simply hope that lessons were learned about how to use, and how not to use, social media in the future. This hope has been kindled by initial reports of how the recent organizational meeting was run, and by the inspired choice of Kevin Fulton to serve as our new Vice Chair.
As we move forward, I want to share the following general observations with this new team:
- The fundamental responsibilities of any political party are to present a coherent set of principles for public policy that unite a diverse membership of voters, to provide for a primary process to select candidates for office who will promote those principles in public office, and to provide a functioning organization that will identify and mobilize voters to turn-out and vote for those candidates. All other functions of the party should focus on meeting these responsibilities.
- Political party organizations are private associations—heavily regulated, especially as to their function in holding primary elections, but still private associations. Compliance with the law, especially as to the public transparency in conducting primaries, is mandatory. But, while transparency as to the internal affairs of the association also is important, that transparency applies to communications within the governing body; the Chair, officers and EC members have a duty to the association to maintain the privacy of the organization’s non-public business and records.
- New administrations must be allowed to implement changes they deem important to fulfill their vision for the party, but prudent change should build on the foundation of positive accomplishments of the past, not tear down the edifice and start over.
- Although I agree that the HCRP should not be wedded to any one consultant, very little that happened to Republicans in Harris County over the last 6 years can be blamed on the use of a single consultant. In fact, during the mayoral election of 2015 and the general election of 2016, conservative/Republican turnout actually reached its zenith in Houston and Harris County (in 2015, we came within 6,000 votes of electing the more conservative candidate for mayor, and in 2016 virtually every countywide Republican candidate surpassed the historic 565,000 vote threshold of for winning countywide elections). Unfortunately, the interplay of demographic changes accelerating since 2006, Democratic turnout increasing since 2008, and the separate Trump and Beto phenomena, swamped the local party by 2016 and 2018.
With these observations in mind, I want to share some recommendations with the new leadership team:
- Build upon the organizational and fundraising advances made since 2014, don’t throw them away and start over. And don’t return to the party’s dysfunctional organization and fundraising, and “pay for play” culture, that preceded it. To rebuild the party, identify and persuade neighbors to support Republican candidates, mobilize them to vote Republican candidates in a county this large and diverse, and protect the security of their votes, we need functional organization, management and fundraising. Make changes that you believe will improve this system, review what happened to incorporate lessons learned into your changes, but don’t spend your precious time conducting an inquisition of the past and don’t abandon the foundation that has been transferred to you.
- Harris County is not the same as it was in 2004. We cannot rely just on more turnout from our historically Republican precincts west of 610 and north of I-10, and on our churches, to elect our candidates (our new Chair should be aware of this situation, as he has worked for years to grow the party on the east side of the county). We need to engage voters in every precinct to build lasting relationships and a party infrastructure in order to persuade new people to vote Republican, and then to mobilize them to vote for Republican candidates.
- We need to help our candidates and elected officials develop policy ideas that address local issues in a manner consistent with our principles, in order to show persuadable voters that we have realistic ideas for addressing the issues they care about and that government is competent to address. And then, we need to provide communication support to help their messages get through all of the 24/7 media and social media noise to reach and persuade the voters.
- Finally, we need to realize that there is only so much that can be accomplished between now and when absentee and early voting start this fall. While doing what can be done for the fall campaign, start organizing and planning for the day after the election and the coming 2022 election cycle.
Again, these are my personal recommendations—but they are based on years of observation of, and participation in, the party.
As for Republican Party of Texas’ new Chair and team, I have only a couple of thoughts:
- Make changing the platform, and related party rules, a priority for 2022. The current platform exceeds 330 planks and 30 pages. It is an incoherent and conflicting monstrosity; it arguably is no longer a platform, but rather an amalgam of pet ideas and priorities (many of which are simply ridiculous). It definitely is not a platform of principles that unite a political party. Look at the Republican Party’s 1860 platform for guidance: written for a relatively new party at the cusp of a civil war, it said all it needed to say in a Preamble followed by 16 paragraphs (heck, there are only ten Commandments, for goodness sake, which Christ distilled to two). The 1860 platform united former members of disparate political factions and parties behind a set of ideas that carried the party through war and most of the rest of the 19th Century. We need that type of clarity going forward.
- Our candidates and elected officials need that clarity, too. Recent rule changes now make declarations of fidelity to the platform crucial for candidates, and penalize elected officials for not following it, when no competent human being could consistently follow such a document. Instead of promoting action, such a platform can only promote paralysis in office, because no ambitious elected official would dare do anything that could be interpreted as violating one of the 330+ planks. If we are to earn and retain political control of the state, we need bold and principled men and women, not men and women who will be scared of their platform’s shadow. Not only should the platform be reformed, the rules that create such a shadow should be scrapped.
I know that these simple recommendations will not be popular with those well-intentioned activists who have vested so much in the current platform and rules, and it will be hard to implement. But, over the course of several conventions, we now have a mockery of a platform exacerbated by draconian rules. We need to acknowledge this situation and change it.
Finally, to all my fellow Republicans, we need to come to grips with what type of conservatives we will be moving forward. Remember, that an American Conservative, paradoxically, is committed to conserving one of the most radical political experiments in human history: preserving and protecting a self-governing society of free men and women. To continue to conserve this radical experiment, we must decide what type of conservatives we will be: primarily a movement that says “stop” to everything with which we disagree; or primarily, a movement that tries to guide an ever changing future while preserving the essential ideals that form the foundation of a free society. I for one want to be a conservative guide to the future—saying “stop” only when necessary to properly guide others to preserve the experiment.
The world of our parents is over, and my fellow Baby Boomers who lived our adult lives in Reagan’s America are passing the country to two generations who see many of our traditions as immaterial, wrong, or even evil, which, in turn, colors their view of the entire experiment we hold so dear. I know how disconcerting all of this is, and we may believe they are wrong, but the future is theirs. We need to guide them to preserve the essential ideals needed to preserve the experiment for them and their children, while recognizing their right, as Reagan once said, “to make the world over again.” This won’t be easy for us or for them, but if we want this experiment to survive, we need to listen more than we talk, and persuade rather than preach.
Again, I wish our new leadership well. It’s time to let the dust of the past settle, and move forward.