If you’re an establishment Republican, your party is totally screwed.
But if you’re a Ron Paul Republican, a supporter of what they call the liberty agenda, your party is starting to recover from decades of timidity, compromise and half-steps.
And if you’re a Democrat? Well, you’re probably sitting back and watching with a big bowl of popcorn.
The Clark County GOP this week narrowly passed a resolution, condemning the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, for allegedly breaking an RNC rule by getting behind the Mitt Romney campaign before the former Massachusetts governor has collected the 1,144 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. The document called on Priebus to resign for his premature Romney backing.
The next day, Michael McDonald, newly elected chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, put out a statement saying the rule in question didn’t apply, and committing the state party to work with Priebus “to beat Barack Obama and elect Mitt Romney to the White House.” There was no mention of Paul, except to say that Paul indicated earlier this month he had no objections to the party setting up Victory organizations that will ostensibly organize for Romney.
Meanwhile, mainstream Republicans began talking openly about forming a shadow organization in Nevada to channel national party money into voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, on the theory that an organization run by Paul supporters might not be trusted to enthusiastically gather votes for a far less conservative candidate.
“This is not unusual in this state. We’ve had a lot of orangutans in the party over the years,” says Sig Rogich, an establishment Republican ad man. “No one’s going to contribute money to a bunch of orangutans.”
Instead, Rogich said, the Romney campaign will run its own network, which could be turned over to establishment types who may have a hard time winning over conservatives, such as Gov. Brian Sandoval.
In at least one respect, Rogich is absolutely right: The Clark County Republican Party, in particular, has always been more conservative than almost all the state’s elected Republicans. In the 1960s, Rogich recalls, the local party was taken over by supporters of the conservative John Birch Society. Then, in 1998, people loyal to libertarian firebrand Aaron Russo took the reins of the Clark County party, denying Kenny Guinn their endorsement for governor even after he’d won the primary and was facing Democrat Jan Jones in the general election.
Although the Paul takeover has received more than its share of press, it’s simply the latest incarnation of conservatives organizing to inject more of their thinking into the party, its platform and its standard-bearers.
And in that, mainstream Republicans face a big problem: dousing the enthusiasm of the energized Paul supporters. One Republican source said it’s entirely possible that if establishment types and the Romney campaign go around the Nevada Republican Party, then conservatives will withhold their votes in November.
Any shadow organization would be seen as an affront to the organized Paul supporters who spent years getting involved at the grass-roots level, learning the rules and showing up in force to win party positions. They followed the rules, and now they’re being told the rules don’t matter, this source said. But the mainstream Republican view is that philosophy doesn’t matter as much as victory. “There are sensible Republicans who understand at the end of the day, it’s about winning,” Rogich says.
If you’re an establishment Republican, that makes sense. If you’re a Paul-supporting conservative, that’s the same philosophy that produced such losing nominees as Bob Dole and John McCain.
And if you’re a Democrat, you’re probably thinking: Thank God the Ralph Nader people aren’t this organized.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.