Ron Paul's GOP Battle Reveals Some Truths About Political Parties
by Ryan McMaken
Recently by Ryan McMaken: The Failure of u2018Law and Order Conservatism'
When things didn't go the way the pro-Romney leadership wanted them to go, they simply created a new GOP to replace the old one. That's what happened in Nevada when Ron Paul supporters managed to gain control of the state's Republican Party apparatus at the state convention. In response, the pro-Romney and establishment Republican forces broke off and formed Team Nevada which is essentially a shadow Republican party. In addition, by pledging support to Romney, Team Nevada is receiving funding from the Republican National Committee. If all goes as planned on the Romney side, Team Nevada will provide Nevada's delegates to the Republican National Convention. The duly-elected Ron Paul delegates, who were elected through state and local conventions in Nevada, will be barred from the convention floor.
The many ways in which the old guard of the Republican party has repeatedly sought to disenfranchise Ron Paul voters and delegates are too numerous to count. Some cases have been noted by Doug Wead and by others with anti-Paul strategies ranging from smearing Paul supporters with carefully edited videos to having Paul supporters arrested for no reason.
People unfamiliar with how parties have functioned historically, may be shocked by such things, but these actions are really just more of the same from the GOP and from American political parties in general.
This year's efforts to simply destroy anyone the party leadership dislikes are hardly the first instances of occasions on which an American political party has taken steps to nullify or ignore primary and caucus results that it did not like. For example, in 2010, Dan Maes, a businessman who ran for governor in Colorado against former Congressman Scott McInnis, was abandoned by the GOP after receiving the nomination. McInnis was heavily favored as the moderate, establishment candidate while Maes was regarded as an upstart from the populist and conservative wing of the party. Near the end of the primary campaign, however, McInnis was accused of taking money from an employer for written work he allegedly stole from someone else.
McInnis's support collapsed and Maes was able to win the nomination as the Republican candidate for governor. The GOP leadership didn't care for Maes for a variety of reasons (some of them very good) and instructed him to pull out of the race so a candidate more to the party leadership's liking could be appointed outside the established nomination process. When Maes refused, the party leadership threw its support behind former-congressman Tom Tancredo who ran on a third-party ticket. Maes was denied all financial support from the Colorado GOP and the RNC.
The analogy here is less than perfect, of course. Maes was a political novice with a shady background, while Ron Paul is a twelve-term Congressman with a well-funded and highly-organized national organization. Paul's base of support is broad and deep while Maes's base was narrow and temporary. Maes's campaign ran on issues quite different from those that drive Paul's campaign, although both did draw support from the populist and anti-establishment wings of the Republican Party against moderate center-left candidates supported by the GOP establishment.
This example coupled with this year's all-out effort on the part of the GOP to prevent even the most mild dissent should make it abundantly clear to all by now that the GOP does not exist to grant a fair process to grassroots-supported candidates, or to adhere to any type of ideological consistency, or to even follow its own rules.
In spite of the substantial differences between the candidates in these two cases, the Nevada and Colorado experiences help illustrate a few truths about how political parties function to enhance and maintain the power of the established leadership.
It should be stated that most everything we say here can be also applied to the Democratic Party, as the two major parties behave in fundamentally similar ways. But it has been in the Republican Party where populist uprisings have been most common in recent years and led to some of the most strident efforts on the part of party leaders to crush anti-establishment dissent.
1. Political Parties exist to elect candidates.
The major parties in the United States do not adhere to any specific ideological program. The written party platforms are all but completely irrelevant in the day-to-day actions of the party and its members. We can also note the lack of ideological inconsistency by looking at the parties over time. Prior to Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was usually the party of small, constitutional government, and it did a much better job of filling that role than the Republican Party ever has. By the 1930's, the party completely changed its orientation, however. The GOP, on the other hand, has always been the party of major corporate conglomerates like railroads and major banking interests. At its founding, it was the party of easy money and federal meddling in the economic system. It wasn't until the New Deal that the Republican Party, by virtue of being the opposition party during the long reign of FDR, found itself solidified as the party associated with free markets, and its record on that issue has been spotty at best.
If we look deeper into these ideological evolutions over time, we find that it is political expediency that drives the ideological claims of political parties, and certainly not loyalty to any sort of intellectual or ideological tradition.
This is not shocking since fundamentally, political parties exist to run candidates. Any decent American Politics 101 class will define political parties as candidate-running machines. Ideology means little, and we have seen this repeatedly in practice. This fact was summed up nicely in Nevada by a GOP partisan complaining about Ron Paul supporters:
"'Our method is we elect Republicans. That’s what the party’s for,' said Dave Buell, chairman of the Washoe County GOP in the state’s northwest corner, the second largest county in the state. u2018Down south, the Ron Paul people down there are pushing ideology rather than electing Republicans.'"
2. Political parties are really just coalitions of interest groups
Far from being organizations devoted to any particular ideological vision, parties are far more correctly described as coalitions of interest groups that have come together to serve their specific interests. Sometimes, these interest groups are fundamentally opposed to each other, as in the case of the environmentalists and organized labor together in the Democratic Party. In the GOP, the presence of small-business and free-market groups together with military contractors and other pro-war groups has led to the incoherent yet enduring myth that small government and free markets are compatible with a huge national-security state. We see here yet again the special-interest tail wagging the ideological dog. The parties don't want to cut off their own bread and butter, so they function as an organization that forces compromises on the least-wealthy interest groups in the name of party unity or defeating the other party. We see this again and again as the forces of small government in the GOP are repeatedly told to get in line behind the more well-heeled interests driving an aggressive foreign policy or protecting endless taxpayer largesse for old people. The result is that votes are delivered for candidates promising to shovel more cash to the most powerful interests. The factions within the parties who bring neither money nor power to the party, such as free-market and pro-peace groups, slavishly vote again and again for the party, naively convincing themselves that the party will do something for them if they can just win one more election.
Those who benefit most from this management of factions and interest groups are the parties themselves, since electoral victories bring with them jobs, power, and many financial rewards. The rich, well-connected interests within the party are regularly rewarded while the other groups within the coalition are told they should just be happy that the other party didn't win.
The members of the party leadership justifies this all in their minds by convincing themselves that they're pragmatists in the service of freedom and justice and all things good. To them, it's just a happy coincidence that all this service to truth and justice happens to bring with it lucrative jobs and positions of power.
3. The party leadership would rather have a safe, establishment candidate from the other party than a "dangerous" upstart from its own.
Having become used to the jobs and the junkets and the privilege and the financial rewards gleaned from protecting the entrenched interests behind each political party, the leadership in each party has no interest whatsoever in overturning their well-stocked apple carts. Insurgent candidates who challenged the entrenched party leadership are repeatedly mocked, opposed and generally blocked from party leadership roles and from receiving nominations. This will be justified with all kinds of excuses ranging from ideological rifts to appeals to be good team players, but the fact is that it's about catering to the interests who control and fund the party. Indeed, most candidates who promise to not upset the party's core interests will encounter little in the way of truly stiff opposition. This is why Goldwater could get the nomination but not Paul. Goldwater promised not to stand in the way of endless taxpayer cash for war.
At the pinnacle of the major parties the interests of those in charge vary little. Devotion to big business, to the warfare state, to easy monetary policy, and to buying off seniors with more and more cash and government favor spans the two parties, and ultimately, were a candidate who threatened these major interests to actually receive a presidential nomination, he would be abandoned by his own party.
Indeed, the Colorado case serves to illustrate what would likely happen if Ron Paul were to somehow manage to actually obtain the party's nomination at the convention. The party leadership would immediately begin searching for a third party candidate it could support. It would deny all RNC money and other traditionally GOP-controlled funds to Paul, and it would begin poisoning the GOP base against its own nominated candidate.
The GOP leadership knows that such a path would guarantee the re-election of Obama, but the GOP establishment would clearly prefer a Democrat victory to a Ron Paul victory. The threat to the GOP's core interests groups would be just too great were Paul actually elected, and it would better, in the eyes of the established party leaderships, to be seen as supporting their special interests rather than side with any victorious anti-establishment grassroots groups from within the party.
This year, the GOP leadership supports just the latest Ivy-League-educated supporter of more debt, more spending and endless war. This new one even helped invent Obamacare.
This is the choice the GOP has decided the party will provide, and anyone who disputes this vision is a radical or a kook who must be disenfranchised. The fruit of this is now being seen as the Romney camp desperately tries to rewrite its own rules and disenfranchise Paul supporters in Oklahoma, Nevada, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
They'll probably succeed, but the benefit of all of this will be that many Americans have now seen our political parties for what they really are.
Ryan McMaken [send him mail] teaches political science in Colorado.