Beating the Party Machine at Its Own Game
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably an activist who is fighting the good fight to advance the principles of liberty. More specifically, you are working to help candidates who adhere to those principles get elected. Succeeding at the ballot box certainly means finding good candidates and giving them our time and treasure, but more is usually required. In our two-party system, electoral success also entails getting inside the political party organization, and developing an understanding and mastery of how it works.
As a disclaimer, I should acknowledge that I’m a libertarian Republican, and am a big proponent of what some have called the Ron Paul Republican strategy. Simply put, this strategy involves inserting our activists inside the Republican Party in order to create as friendly a political landscape as possible for our Republican liberty candidates and their campaigns. While I believe this strategy represents one of the liberty movement’s best chances for electoral success, the points I make here can also be applied to the Democratic Party. There are a few brave souls who are willing to bring the message of peace, prosperity, and liberty into the Democratic Party, and they should be encouraged. For decades the political establishment has used the two-party system to advance what is essentially a one-party, freedom-killing agenda. To the extent we can beat them at their own game, and advance liberty in both major parties, that should be embraced. For those of you who have made the Libertarian party your political home, this message is not really applicable. Your efforts to provide an alternate choice and help make the two major parties more accountable are laudable, and serve to advance liberty in a different way.
He who shows up, wins
Decisions at every level of the political party organization – precinct, county, Congressional district, state, and national, are made largely by committees. Some of these committees are appointed, and others are elected by party delegates at conventions. These committees handle a wide variety of responsibilities, including endorsements, platform and rules changes, campaign expenditures, candidate recruitment, and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. Depending on how active your party is in your area, there may be party leadership positions that are vacant and just need volunteers. After I ran for at-large Raleigh city council in 2007, I joined my county’s executive committee and also served as the Republican chairman for my local precinct. From these positions I had access to specific voter information in my precinct and throughout the county. I also helped recruit candidates. I didn’t have to compete for these positions. By merely showing up and expressing an interest, I was able to gain influence within my county party. It isn’t always this easy, but sometimes it is. If you’re interested in getting involved in your local party, contact your county chairman or precinct organization chair, and tell them you would like to get involved in your local precinct. You might just end up as a precinct officer, armed with information and training that you can put to good purposes.
It is also important to show up at your party’s conventions. Every year, most Republican Party organizations have a convention cycle that starts with precinct and county conventions, and moves into Congressional district and state party conventions. Depending on the year, party officers and other executive committee positions are elected. At other times, nominating delegates to the national convention and presidential electors to the Electoral College are elected. In some states that don’t have a strict primary system, conventions can be more like caucuses, where candidates from the state legislature to the US Senate vie for party nominations. In Utah last year, we saw the organizing power of tea party reformers and Ron Paul Republicans when incumbent US Senator Bob Bennett lost the Republican nomination to tea party darling Mike Lee. Mike Lee now serves along Rand Paul in the US Senate.
Dress for success
Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Being successful in party politics doesn’t mean you have to check your principles at the door, but it does mean dressing for the part. Cut that hair, and look presentable. Like it or not, people will take you and what you have to say much more seriously if you’re dressed for success.
Disagree without being disagreeable
When my fellow Ron Paul Revolutionaries and I went to our first Republican state convention in 2008, we were like barbarians at the castle gates. We were looking for a fight. To be fair, we had suffered plenty of setbacks and unfair dealings at the hands of the party establishment, but our responses to those outrages were profoundly unhelpful, and did little to advance liberty. We had a poor understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order and general parliamentary procedure. We wasted the time of other delegates, many of whom we learned later were otherwise sympathetic to us. The lesson here is to know which battles to join and which to ignore, and when you must fight, be civil and keep your wits about you. Often, your good conduct will gain you allies and political capital, even when you lose.
Grab the low-hanging fruit
Invest your time, money and talents in those efforts that will yield the biggest results. It may make more sense to launch a selective primary challenge against a vulnerable Republican incumbent in a safe district, than it is to go through the trouble of toppling a Democrat in the general election. Some party conventions will be less well-attended than others. Should liberty Republicans be able to make the difference at a particular county or district convention, then rally the troops and get them there. Adhere steadfastly to principle, but don’t let it prevent you from make situational alliances that advance liberty and other common goals. Find those platform and plan of organization changes on which a broad spectrum of reformists within the party agree, and push those amendments.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Follow these steps and success will come, albeit slowly. It took a long time for our present state of affairs to get this bad, and it will take some time to turn things around. Keep moving forward and press your advantages, and the establishment will gradually yield. Remember, the establishment doesn’t count on winning every time –- they rely on you quitting.
Here’s to proving them wrong!
David Williams graduated cum laude from Rhodes College with a degree in economics, and is currently a 2nd year law student. He is a registered investment advisor and broker, and ran for an at-large seat on the Raleigh city council in 2007. Currently, he is the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of North Carolina, and serves on the executive committee of the North Carolina Republican Party.
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