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The Republican Revolution in Reno

Written by Subject: Politics: Republican Campaigns
I was there and I saw what you did.  I saw it with my own two eyes.  So, you can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been.  It's all been a pack of lies! - Phil Collins, In the Air Tonight

On a beautiful weekend in April, 2008, 1400 people who care – really care – about the future descended on Reno, NV for one day of excruciating pain.  It's true that political animals are concentrated in a party convention, but everyone who is participating in the Nevada Republican State Convention is doing so with their own treasure and time because they think something important will come of their effort.

The one day of pain is even now extending.  Although the convention stands in recess, the work continues, and, on some undetermined day in the near future, those 1400 people will have to reconvene and finish the business they started.  As the convention business is more than just Presidential politics, I have no doubt that business will be finished soon; the Nevada Republican Party cannot get on with its efforts within the state until the convention is adjourned.

The salacious details of this weekend's festivities in Reno make a good story, but without honesty and attention they will be lost in the dustbin of history.  The truth is, the story is too complex and eye-wateringly boring to be told correctly – others who were there have provided good versions to which I could add little.  Rather, please allow me to add some clarifying commentary on the import of what has already transpired in the Nevada Republican Convention.

Myth: Ron Paul supporters took control of the convention.

Reality: Nothing of the sort happened.  This statement and others - “forced a rules change”, “overwhelmed the convention” - are being unfortunately used as shorthand nomenclature.  The reality is that the convention was and, I believe, will continue to proceed smoothly with all minor and major interests protected by the convention rules and Robert's Rules of Order.

For purposes of this discussion, we can identify five major interests at this convention: the Republican National Committee (RNC), the Nevada Republican Party (NRP), the rank-and-file, the hardcore McCain supporters and campaign, and, of course, the hardcore Ron Paul supporters and campaign.  It cannot be stressed enough that the five groups are not working at cross-purposes.  Without betraying the complexity of the interactions, the five groups are, in fact, working diligently at a common purpose with somewhat different ideas about the best way to move the ball down the field.

The vast majority of the convention delegates fall into the rank-and-file interest group.  That group is, and always will be, firmly in control of the convention.  It should surprise no one that rank-and-file Nevada Republicans would be more ideologically aligned with libertarian Ron Paul than liberal John McCain.

Nevadans are independent.  Nevadans are entrepreneurs – ranchers, miners, casino operators, homebuilders.  Nevadans are respectful, ambitious, and hard working.  Even rural Nevada Democrats are more libertarian than liberal.

It was John McCain's job to convince the rank-and-file that they should abandon their ideology to unify behind him.  It was John McCain's job to convince the rank-and-file that they should skip over their second-place choice from the precinct straw poll and support a Presidential candidate who has purposefully ignored their state this season and actively campaigned against their best interests in the past.  To do that job, John McCain sent a Massachusetts governor. 

To be fair, that governor is wildly more popular than John McCain in Nevada (52% in the precinct straw poll).  But, the reasoning by the McCain campaign that the presence of a Massachusetts politician could seal the deal in Nevada was massively flawed.  Make no mistake: the rank-and-file will vote for their party's nominee in November.  But for McCain to get active support in terms of treasure and time from this group, John McCain will have to appear, in person, and atone for the sins he has committed against the people of the state of Nevada.

I predict that John McCain will appear in person when the convention reconvenes.  Whether he can rehab support is yet to be seen.

The major success of the Ron Paul group was an unshuttering of eyes.  With little difficulty, this group showed the rank-and-file that they were being railroaded by the RNC and NRP into doing something they would have done anyway.  One must understand that the rank-and-file would most likely have performed their tasks exactly as the RNC, NRP, and McCain camps wanted were it not for the blatant heavy-handed tactics employed by the NRP under instruction by the RNC.  The rank-and-file rebelled when they realized they were being shoved in a direction they most likely wanted to go in the first place.

In that rebellion, they found safe harbor with the highly organized and energetic group of Ron Paul supporters.  In the moments before Ron Paul walked into the convention hall, the debate had turned to examine the ostensible purpose of being delegates to the convention, that is, they were there to do a job that they were happy to do but being deprived of the opportunity to really do it.

During Ron Paul's speech, the rank-and-file realized that they had already heard this speech several times from Governor Jim Gibbons, Congressman Dean Heller, and the Massachusetts governor sent by the McCain campaign.  The difference was, where the other speeches had concluded with “trust us” Ron Paul's emphasis throughout was, “I trust you!”  This, at precisely the time that the rank-and-file was losing its trust in the NRP.

At the conclusion of Ron Paul's speech, the vote was called on the specific rule that would empower the delegates to really do the job they came to do.  The votes were counted and the results were obvious: the rank-and-file had reclaimed control of their convention.

Myth: The rules change forced the convention to go long.

Reality: The rules change exposed the woeful disorganization of the McCain camp, a mistake I am positive they will not repeat when the convention reconvenes.

Although the NRP should have known that the rules change was possible (if not probable) it was not their job, even as convention organizers, to prepare for it.  While the Ron Paul camp was extremely well-prepared, the McCain camp either could not or would not marshal the resources to elect delegates loyal to their man.  Instead, they relied on the NRP to obstruct the will of the rank-and-file.  Where the rank-and-file was prepared to move mountains if need be to perform their duties, the NRP and McCain camp chose to contact higher headquarters for direction and drag their feet.

The Paul camp spent lunch organizing.  They were prepared to do all the heavy lifting required to pare 31 delegates to the national convention out of 200 nominees.

The NRP spent lunch in damage control mode.  The came back from lunch prepared to change the rules yet again in a bid to regain their ability to handpick delegates to the national convention.

The McCain camp spent lunch bitching and complaining to any member of the rank-and-file that would lend an ear.  They came back from lunch prepared to lose and lose big.

When the NRP's bid to change the rules again failed, they rejected the offer of help from the Paul camp and began delaying tactics to run out the clock.  The rank-and-file bested the delaying tactics at every opportunity.  Discussion on the platform committee's report was cut short and the report accepted with only token opposition.  There was no discussion on the bylaws committee report.  The breakout by congressional district to elect three delegates to the national convention from each proceeded rather quickly.  Other business was not conducted precisely because it was moving too rapidly.

In one congressional district breakout, the delegates were asked to choose three delegates to the national convention out of 115 hopefuls.  The Ron Paul vote was concentrated on three of the nominees while the McCain vote was spread over the other 112.  That outcome was repeated in CD-3 with smaller numbers.  In CD-1, US Senator John Ensign was elected a delegate with a Paul delegate and a McCain delegate.  Although official totals were not reported, it seems sure that Paul delegates have won 7 of the 9 slots voted on so far.  There is no reason to believe that trend would not have continued for the other 22 slots if the convention had not gone into indefinite recess.

The extent of the organization exhibited by the McCain camp consisted of women running up and down the aisles imploring McCain supporters to leave the convention hall in a bid to deprive the convention of the quorum it needed to continue.  In this, also, McCain's supporters were split as others urged them to stay to prevent only the Paul camp from being represented in the eventuality that the quorum call was successful.  If nothing else, Saturday's events illustrated just how much work is ahead of the McCain campaign to avoid a loss of monumental proportions in November's general election.

In the end, the delaying tactics were successful.  Time expired on the convention hall lease and A/V contracts.  On advice of the RNC, the NRP sent the convention into indefinite recess (whether legally or not) and shutting off the lights to deprive the convention of the quorum it needed to continue.  Going immediately into spin mode, the NRP issued a statement  not quite blaming the rank-and-file for wanting to do their job, when the truth is the NRP literally ran out on their own convention.

The party decided to do what was best for themselves rather than the party.  But, the rank-and-file saw exactly what happened and they will turn a critical eye to this group in the future.  As Americans, especially Nevadans, tend to do, they will pull themselves up, roust the bad elements, and move forward optimistically albeit with the resolve to never allow these types to gain leadership positions in their party again.  This process will be repeated in every state convention to come.

For its part, I have no doubt the RNC will obstruct and obfuscate at every step in the process.