GOP: Less Infighting, More Outreach Please

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

My interest in politics has been cultivated throughout most of my life.  When I was growing up, my family was very politically aware, but not politically active.  My first political experience was being “Gerald Ford” in my second grade Presidential debate.  I was crushed by the popular vote by my peers but was comforted by the fact that “Jimmy Carter” told me he liked my speech so he voted for me.  Four years later I got to be my sixth grade class’ Ronald Reagan.  I liked that outcome a bit better.

My first bout with organized politics was as a Young Republican at the University of Georgia.  My interest in politics was still strong but my interest in one of the co-eds in the group was, in retrospect, most likely responsible for my attendance.

That involvement ended when I attended their convention that year in Savannah.  It was then that I got my taste of “real” partisan politics.  The kind that is intra-partisan.  It is, at times, the ugliest kind of politics.

Our hosts for the weekend were heavily involved in the inside baseball of the Young Republican organization (a group whose members are from 18 to 40).  We were housed by a local Republican candidate who kept having arguments with his live in girlfriend about her not being able to stay over while the convention was in town because “it wouldn’t look right”.  We were coached about who we were to vote against because those people were evil, only to be told hours later that these evil people were our new best friends.

In the end, it appeared to be a two day exercise in post-high school theatrics and bullying that seemed to myself and a couple of other outsiders on the trip to be only a game designed for the sake of playing a game.  I didn’t feel we accomplished anything that weekend to promote the Republican Party or the conservative cause.  Instead, it was an exercise in contradiction and hypocrisy.

It was two Presidential election cycles later before I tried again at party politics.  My dad was recruited to challenge our incumbent county Tax Commissioner and I got involved in my county’s Republican party.  Soon after I was appointed to the Party’s executive committee.  I received an officer’s position the following election cycle and later became the party’s first vice-chairman.

I came into the party during what appeared to be a seminal battle over control of the party between the “establishment” and “outsiders”.  Except it’s really hard to say which group was which.  The control of the party had passed back and forth between the groups in the preceding election cycles.

Those battles continued during my time there, and continue today.  I was a part of many of them.  I was convinced my side was right.  The other side sure was convinced they were too.  In the end, much of the energy that should have been devoted to expanding the party’s base, strengthening the grassroots network and identifying our core voters, and mobilizing our efforts to influence government according to conservative principles were lost to our own ongoing civil war.

I left organized party politics early in the last decade and have rarely looked back.

Elections for the leaders of the Georgia Republican Party are underway, via a series of conventions leading up to the state convention in May.  Last Saturday, counties across Georgia met to elect their local leaders and their delegates to state and district conventions.  Some incumbents lost to “outsiders”.  Other incumbents circled the wagons to limit influence of groups organized to bring change.  Such is the cycle every two years.  Each side, in the name of the party, is convinced they are right.

In the aftermath, there were many claiming victory.  Incumbents were deriding challengers for being anti-Republican in daring to challenge the status quo.  Tea party and libertarian-leaning Republicans were crowing over defeating the “establishment” in the areas where they won.  The taunts are as unseemly as I remember my first experience in Savannah, with the immaturity in wanting control more than executing a mission clear and palpable.

The Tea Party, after winning significant control and influence since its founding, needs to quickly understand that they too are part of the Republican establishment.  Railing against the establishment undercuts the appreciation of their accomplishments in an effort to abdicate responsibility for their failures.  Tea Party Republicans now co-own the strengths and weaknesses of this party.

Likewise, incumbent officers who taunt newcomers as not being sufficiently Republican undercut their own mission of using their leadership to grow the party.  The party is not about protecting personal fiefdoms and internal positions of power.  It’s about building a broad coalition to deliver the message of conservatism while strengthening the numbers of elected Republicans to enact and defend those principals.

I have returned to active GOP membership in my new home county.  I am honored to be elected as a delegate to the 11th District GOP convention and the State GOP convention.  I take this responsibility seriously.

I take it seriously enough to tell the “establishment” and the “challengers” to knock it off, now.  You are turning me and many other outsiders off to this process.

I am not voting to help you pad a resume.  I am not voting against your opponent because you have labeled them a liberal, RINO, evil incarnate, or any other petty pejorative.

I’m looking for the leaders who will build the best party to articulate and implement a vision and plan to elect those who will limit the size and scope of government intrusion into our lives.  Only those who seek to grow the base need apply.


  1. DeKalb Wonkette says:

    This article is helpful, Charlie since I am a newbie and was somewhat taken aback at what I observed last Saturday. Didn’t we all have bigger fish to fry? I wondered.

    Joining an organized political party is not really embedded in my DNA but I see that “normal” people – as described by Kathleen Parker (link below) – HAVE to step up if we are to stop the madness coming from the left.

  2. ryanhawk says:

    The process of selecting county GOP officers accomplishes little and wastes much. The basic idea of almost every county organization in Georgia seems to be to hold a monthly meeting to entertain a relatively small crowd of like minded people. And, as Charlie said, to make sure those other SOBs aren’t wearing the “leadership” name tag and screwing everything up. I’ve tried reforming the GOP through participation in a county organization and the only thing I got was a big headache.

    So if you can’t effectively reform the GOP by actively participating in a local organization , can you productively disrupt it by withholding support or setting up a competing institution? The Tea Party has proven how difficult this can be. All I see happening there is a new set of folks wearing different leadership name tags and accomplishing little.

    Moral of the story for me is that change is hard to come accomplish — duh — and I may as well mind my own business and let some other fool take a turn at pushing the rock the next inch or two up the hill. Welcome back Charlie!

  3. Three Jack says:

    Nice work Charlie! It was like reading my own story with GOP politics up to the part about getting back involved on the local party level. I hope you have success in your efforts to convince people that it is fine to have normal policy disagreements, but disruptive if those disagreements prevent the party from growing (younger). I am encouraged to see people like you and Bridget in the game, the party needs new faces more now than ever.

  4. drjay says:

    our last gop event as members or delegates or whatever was the 2011 state convo in macon…can’t say i’ve missed it…

    • ryanhawk says:

      You mean the convention where the Everharts attempted to starve the Pridemores into submission? I was shepherding a bus full of first time delegates/alternates in Macon (including one diabetic, and one recovering from recent heart bypass) and most of them got a belly full of GOP bureaucracy that day and haven’t been back.

  5. Scott65 says:

    I think the problem is more the GOP knowing what it stands for. I dont think it does, thus the infighting. Let us not forget that many of todays Republicans were yesterdays “Dixiecrats”. The name changed but the song remained the same. If Republicans dont articulate a message that resonates soon…they will go back to minority. The demographic changes happening in GA are just waiting for the opposing party to take advantage…and it wont be all that long before they figure out how. I dont think the TP has been good for the Republican brand at all…and the vast majority of Americans think likewise. Only 8% of Americans label themselves as TP members.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “If Republicans dont articulate a message that resonates soon…they will go back to minority. The demographic changes happening in GA are just waiting for the opposing party to take advantage…and it wont be all that long before they figure out how.”

      One has to wonder why Georgia Democrats are taking advantage already with demographics that are already strikingly similar to a state like Democrat-dominated Maryland.

      Maryland: 45.6% non-white population; Georgia: 44.5% non-white population.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        “One has to wonder why Georgia Democrats are taking advantage already with demographics that are already strikingly similar to a state like Democrat-dominated Maryland.”

        Sorry, I meant “One has to wonder why Georgia Democrats are NOT taking advantage already…”

        • Lea Thrace says:

          There isnt an organizational machine for Ga Dems to fall back on. If there were, the GOP would be hurting NOW. As it is, GA is destined to remain “one-party” for quite some time.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            You just hit on what is likely the biggest problem for Georgia Democrats, which is a total lack of organization at the statewide level, which is due to a total failure to raise funds from donors (large and small) like their GOP counterparts.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            Despite their obvious flaws, by comparison, many Georgia GOP candidates are literally like walking ATMs. Despite the increasingly favorable demographics, Georgia Democrats won’t be competitive at the statewide level until they start taking fundraising as seriously as Georgia Republicans and the national Democratic Party does.

        • Napoleon says:

          Because demographics aren’t everything. Generally, the white population of Maryland leans left too. That’s not the case in Georgia where there is a much more conservative bent in the white VAP. As of end of the year 2012, 55.8% of registered voters in Maryland were registered Democrats while only 25.8% were registered Republicans.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            Good points, but with roughly about 60% of the population of Metro Atlanta voting for the Democrats in the ’10 and ’12 elections, the demographics are clearly there for Georgia Democrats to be much more competitive at the statewide level.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            Also, despite winning over 53% of the vote in Georgia, Romney won 191,707 fewer votes in Georgia than he won in North Carolina where he won the state by nearly three fewer percentage points (50.39% to Obama’s 48.35%). Georgia also has a statewide population that is 70% higher than Maryland.

  6. Doug Grammer says:


    In many regards, you are right in your assessment, but when you look at fine details, there is more left to be said. “Only those wanting to grow the party need apply.” Just about everyone seeking a position in the GA GOP is going to state that they care about grassroots and they want to grow the party. The question is how do you tell the difference between someone who truly cares about the party, the elections that follow, and the government that comes after that and someone who wants to pad their resume or settle old scores? I look for a track record.

    Glossing over county party elections and stating that it doesn’t matter who was elected is wrong, IMO. If the county conventions elect the right people, they may start activities that directly or indirectly help in November elections that could impact a statewide race. I don’t mean that counties with populations over 80K, call all the shots. I mean that the combined efforts of counties under 80K can mean just as much. In one case, you may have people who consider their county party a fiefdom. They may even be a tad unethical and bend the rules when they think they can get away with it. Those people need to go and it’s a good thing when they do.

    In some cases, it’s the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, with no aspersions on anyone really named Hatfield or McCoy. It could be establishment, defined as the 20 to 30 people, including elected officials, who regularly attend county party meetings and the anti-establishment: defeated candidates, tea party, Ron Paul supporters and or anyone else who only shows up at convention time. You hit the nail on the head that when the anti-establishment wins control of the county, they are now the establishment. This see-saw SEEMS pointless if neither group is doing a better job of growing the party, but what if one side is actually better? The establishment could be all about control, not making new people feel welcome, and protecting the incumbents. Or the establishment could be fair and impartial in primaries, trying to grow the party, raise funds, and supporting efforts to win elections in November. The anti-establishment could be malcontents, out to vote everyone out of office just because they are incumbents regardless of what type of job they have done, or die hard libertarians and/or democrats. Or the anti-establishment could be tried of the old guard running off people who want to change things for the better.

    In my county, for the most part, we have been blessed with a majority of reasonable people. New people are welcome and regulars are open to new ideas. That doesn’t mean that the people who got us to where we are get left behind in favor of making new people feel welcome. We can usually tell when people have personal agendas. In 2011, there were people who supported one candidate and apparently nothing else. As far as I know, we haven’t seen them since. We’ve had a few people come and go with personal agendas, and some just strange people in general. We’ve had good people get tired and have things happen to keep them from coming back, such as another civic organization meeting on the same day or moving. Sometime they come back, like you have. It is impossible to change a group from the outside. You have to keep showing up to make a difference.

    Electing the right people in GOP leadership makes a difference. They can raise money, plan fundraisers, and involve new people, set up phone banks, recruit new candidates, train workers and candidates, host debates, appear on TV shows, election night returns, and know how to get a HQ donated as opposed to paying for one. They may even have to swallow pride and share a stage with someone they don’t back 100% with a smile on their face. 100% my way or the highway doesn’t work. It makes the party smaller and we elect less people. Electing people who agree with us (the platform) is the function of the party. Not everyone will agree with the platform 100%, and that’s why we have primaries.

    The wrong person, in addition to padding their resume, might want help themselves to some county funds to wine and dine friends, or pay for trips that may or may not have anything to do with politics. Saying “it doesn’t matter who the local Chairman is” is close to saying it doesn’t matter who the local nominee is. Saying “it doesn’t matter who the District Chairman is” is close to saying it doesn’t matter who the congressional nominee is. Saying “it doesn’t matter who the State Chairman is” is close to saying it doesn’t matter who the U.S. Senate or Gubernatorial nominee is. I have no illusions that the party office is as important as the nominee, but we need people in place to provide adequate support.

    Growing the party is important, but it’s not all there is. We need leaders with experience in training, fundraising, planning, working with new volunteers, understanding the needs of the candidates, and most importantly, getting people elected.

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