Last week I published an opinion editorial that called for the two factions within the State Central Committee to work together towards a compromise that would select a primary as the 2016 method of nomination for President, and a convention for the 2017 Gubernatorial method. I received quite a lot of feedback from the public. (I may need to upgrade my data plan as a result.) There were two themes to the feedback: first, I support/don’t support your plan, and second, asking the question, “What’s really in it for me?”
As to the first theme, supporting or not supporting my plan, I was very surprised. Though I was pleased by the overwhelming support of my plan (and before I forget, thank you to every one of you that wrote to me, and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to each of you), it should be noted that I did not put forward a plan. With each e-mail, text, phone call, and Snapchat I received voicing support, I grew concerned with the fact that I had not actually put forward a plan to be supported. My first editorial represented a concept or vision, but not a detailed plan. It is very good policy for a Republican to never follow the lead of Nancy Pelosi, or put another way, I would never ask you to pass a bill just so we can find out what’s in it. None of my colleagues on SCC should sign on to a plan without knowing the details of the plan. So in this editorial, it is my pleasure to present to you the details of my compromise plan, with the added bonus that I will answer the question, “What’s really in it for you?” despite the fact that everyone reading this has some different priority than every other reader.
The overview of the plan is this: 2016 Presidential primary coupled with a 2017 Gubernatorial convention. The different groups that must know “what’s in it for me?” are the people whose first political priority is: 1) winning November elections, 2) nominating conventions, 3) nominating primaries, 4) stewardship of RPV resources, 5) specific candidate interests, and 6) the public at large. Now, let’s get to it.
Priority of goals: This plan has three goals. 1) Find 2,100,000 Virginia votes for the Republican candidate for President in November 2016. 2) Find 1,300,000 Virginia votes for the Republican candidate for Governor in November 2017. 3) Put RPV in a strong financial position, in the right order of time, without risk.
Understanding the process as it stands: This discussion is really about how RPV chooses to bind our 49 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016. The presumptive manner (simply following what we did last time) is that Virginia will hold a primary election on March 1, 2016. The primary results will bind 46 of the 49 delegates. The delegates are bound by apportionment in this way. Each of the 11 Congressional districts receives 3 delegates, for a total of 33. The candidate who wins the district receives all 3 delegates from that district. To win a district, a candidate simply must have the highest raw vote total from that district. (The 3 district delegates are chosen by vote at the Congressional district convention.)
The RPV state quadrennial convention, where we elect the State Chairman, also casts ballots for 13 people to serve as delegates to the RNC. This is a vote on a candidate to serve as delegate, not for a presidential candidate. Those 13 at-large delegates are also bound based on the results of the primary held March 1, in this manner: 1) Compute percentages to 3 decimal places, that is, 50.000%. 2) The delegates are allocated to the presidential contenders as follows: a) If a candidate receives 50.001% or more of the vote, that candidate is allocated all 13 at-large delegates. B) If no candidate receives 50.001% or more of the vote, the 13 at-large delegates are allocated proportionally among those candidates receiving 15.000% or more of the vote. Rounding rules: Beginning with the candidate receiving the largest number of votes, round the fraction to the next whole number of delegates. Continue this process with the next highest vote getter and repeat until all the delegates are allocated.
We then have 3 unbound delegates: the RPV chair, our national committeeman, and our national committeewoman. That makes 49 delegates in total.
The Details of My Plan
2016 Presidential Primary
The Presidential Primary must be run by the party with the long-term goal of capturing 2.1 million November votes, rather than the success of the primary itself. The way to do that is to get as many campaigns to participate, and to vigorously compete for as many votes as possible. The more voter contacts made by Republican campaigns, the more the field has been prepared for the eventual nominee come summer 2016.
One Sentence Primary Plan: The primary apportions all 46 delegates based on a percentage of the statewide vote received, with 7.500% of the vote needed to qualify to receive delegates, and no winner-takes-all.
Guiding rules: The Rules of the Republican Party adopted in Tampa in 2012 provide the framework for the process. Rule 16(c)(2) says that any Presidential primary occurring before March 15 must bind delegates in a proportional manner. Since Virginia’s General Assembly set our primary date for March 1, we must have a proportional allocation.
My plan apportions delegates consistently with Rule 15(b) that calls for the broadest participation possible (more on this later). My preferred allocation method is a statewide allocation that is done on a pro rata basis by percentage of the statewide vote. My method sets a floor at which a nominee may receive delegates at 7.500%. Rule 16(c)(3)(i) puts the maximum floor at 20%, but the higher the floor, the more the process transforms towards winner-takes-all, favoring only the absolute top-tier of candidates. My 7.5% figure promotes significant competition amongst all candidates. The top-tier candidates have an incentive to find every vote possible for March 1, knowing that delegates will be spread thinner across the field, unless they are able to get so many votes that more candidates fall under the 7.5% line and are ineligible for delegates. Second-tier candidates, at this writing, frequently poll between 6% and 8%, which means a strong showing puts them within reach of earning delegates. This lower floor, coupled with Virginia’s early voting date, makes Virginia very attractive to candidates that want to gain momentum. Picking up delegates in Virginia allows these candidates to stay in the race longer, and, even if they ultimately fail to win the nomination, they can swing delegates to other candidates, making them relevant throughout the nomination process. Virginia will effectively have two races playing out simultaneously: a race to win the Commonwealth, and a race to 7.5%. These “two races” allow for multiple winners.
Getting to 2.1 million votes: This primary plan works toward the ultimate goal of 2.1 million votes. By shifting the proportion away from Congressional districts, it forces candidates to run a whole-state race. They will not be able to cherry pick delegates by locking in on one district, while underperforming everywhere else. They will have to put together a statewide infrastructure plan early in the campaign, which means whoever wins the nomination has the statewide ground game in place to win November electoral votes. This strategy also promotes early investments in high population density areas, the very areas Republicans have been losing by wide margins in statewide races. Because of the statewide move, performing well in Alexandria and Richmond will win more delegates to the candidate in March; and establishing a presence in those places late in 2015, and staying there through November 2016, will produce significantly better Republican margins in November. But this strategy will also draw more attention to rural Republican strongholds, because top-tier and second-tier candidates will need to turn out the high-likelihood Republican voters. This puts Republicans in a position to both recruit longstanding loyalists and enter new communities.
Election of delegates: There is a difference between voting for a presidential candidate and voting for the delegates to go to Cleveland to cast RNC votes. RPV can still choose to send 3 delegates from each Congressional district, voted on at district conventions, and still elect 13 delegates at the RPV Quadrennial Convention. My proposal concerns how we bind the delegates, not how we select the delegates, and I would like to keep the current plan in place because it is such an honor to be selected as an RNC delegate.
Summary: The advantages of this proposal are that it promotes a whole-state strategy; develops a campaign infrastructure early; promotes the most total Republican voter contacts across the state; incentivizes the strongest candidates to invest heavily in Virginia because 46 delegates can be obtained on March 1; incentivizes the second-tier of candidates to work in Virginia because of the low 7.5% threshold; and, finally, requires candidates to campaign in high-population cities because of the number of votes available, which will help narrow Democrat margins in November 2016.
What’s in it for me?
In this section I justify why you should want a primary under these rules, no matter what your top priority is in Republican politics.
- If you prioritize November 2016 success: Our early primary will encourage campaigns to invest in Virginia early, and stay here. Having nine or ten campaigns vigorously competing for votes, knowing they can get delegates based on the low 7.5% number, will initiate more voter contacts, find more volunteers, and force the development of a solid Virginia infrastructure early. This will lead to a better ground game for the eventual winner of the nomination to outperform in the fall.
- Pro-convention: One fear of the pro-convention crowd is that, using the old system, any one candidate could win all of the delegates with about 25% of the vote, based on nothing more than winning districts. With the statewide allocation, that fear is now completely unfounded. Further setting the floor at 7.5% for winning delegates means more candidates will earn delegates, and no one candidate will “run away with Virginia.” Additionally, more candidates will win delegates under this method, which will be brokered later, just like at a convention. These primary rules eliminate fears and set a convention-style atmosphere. Plus, for agreeing to this deal, you secure a convention, your preferred method of nomination, for 2017. And it starts to be funded now.
- Pro-primary: You get your primary!
- Pro-RPV: It is my belief that more money will be donated to RPV if we select a primary than a convention. That money can be used to hire more staff, pay down debt, fund the 2017 convention, and generally be put to its best use. A primary frees up our capital from restrictions based on having to fund a Presidential convention right now. In addition, unit chairs will have a lot of work taken off of them. With a primary, unit chairs can now focus on properly planning their mass meetings, rather than balancing the needs of convention planning along with a mass meeting.
- You have a favorite candidate: The GOP is forming a great field, but you probably have one candidate you prefer over the others. Let’s say you prefer a candidate that has campaigned vigorously in the African-American community, and that candidate has found a lot of support from it. With a primary, they go to their precinct and cast a ballot for your candidate. In a convention, they have to file for a unit mass meeting, pay a filing fee, sign a loyalty oath pledging to support the Republican candidate (especially if they previously voted in a Democratic primary), and then show up for the state convention to vote. Which method is the better method to have your candidate’s supporters show up for you to cast their votes? The same is true in Hispanic communities. If your candidate is expanding his or her reach, you should want the nomination method that allows your candidate to most effectively get his or her support to the polls. Please note that this is consistent with Rule 15(b), which states, “The Republican National Committee and the state Republican Party or governing committee of each state shall take positive action to achieve the broadest possible participationby men and women, young people, minority and heritage groups, senior citizens, and all other citizens in the delegate election, selection, allocation, or binding process.” (emphasis added)
- You consider the public: A primary is a very straightforward process: have your supporters show up at their precincts on March 1. If we select a convention, we will have to be very clear with the public that there will not be a Republican primary on March 1, and if they want any say in who the Republican nominee will be, they will have to follow the process of pre-filing, attending the mass meeting, and then attending the convention. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians participate in Republican Presidential primaries, even the low turnout ones like 2012. Those people will have to be informed of our decision.
The 2017 Gubernatorial Convention
A compromise involves both groups getting some of what they want, and this section will briefly lay out details on the convention part of the compromise.
The three most important parts of a successful convention are: 1) money to fund it, 2) capable people planning every detail, and 3) massive participation. I really like conventions, and I want the 2017 Gubernatorial convention to be our best one yet.
Money: Funding a convention, the lockbox, and profitability
Conventions are expensive, but they also have been profitable. Conventions require substantial upfront expenses, but usually recoup those expenses later through candidate filing fees, delegate filing fees, and other sources. A successful convention starts with raising the capital to fund those upfront expenses, and that is why this compromise will guarantee a successful convention in 2017.
Donations and the lockbox: This section addresses two points, how can we assure money will be donated for the convention, and how can we assure that money will be used for convention purposes only? The latter question underscores the lack of trust amongst the factions, and so my answer is grounded in that lack of trust, even though I personally feel like we are moving past that.
Conventions require upfront capital to reserve, and then pay for, convention space. That space should generally be leased about a year in advance. The likely date for the convention will be May 20, 2017, the weekend between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. Thus, RPV should secure the space in May 2016, which is before the new SCC members take their seats. This date does a number of great things to assure the success of the plan. First, the current SCC, which would sign onto this plan, will be able to assure that the deal is honored. Honoring the deal means raising the money to pay for the convention, and then actually paying for it. When SCC makes the distribution to pay for the convention space, the 2017 convention is effectively secured. No subsequent SCC meeting would vote to forfeit the tens of thousands of dollars deposited to secure the convention space. The current membership that signs onto the deal is in the best position to assure the deal is honored.
To assure trust, my plan includes a lockbox that effectively operates as a trust. This special account should be set up with a bank with terms that restrict monetary inflows to those that are earmarked for the convention, and restrict withdrawals to expenses that go to paying for the convention. A banker can set the account up to have multiple signatures required for withdrawals, bank oversight of approval of withdrawals for pre-approved convention expenses, and other ways to assure the account is only used for the 2017 convention. In this way, donors can be confident that they are donating to the convention, and the committees set up to plan the convention will be assured of having the money there when they need it.
Profitability: Conventions have been profitable for RPV. Profits are earned through more revenue coming in, and lower expenses going out. The earlier the convention can be funded (and 2015 is early for a 2017 convention), the more money RPV can accrue to pay for it. In addition, the more money we have to pay upfront, the better bargains we can drive for the appropriate convention space and other details. Driving harder bargains will make the convention less expensive, and therefore more profitable.
Planning: Conventions take a significant amount of planning. Selecting a convention at an earlier date allows for the planning to be done in earnest earlier. RPV will be able to appoint committees to: 1) find convention space, 2) get quotations from spaces, 3) find the best methods for vote tabulation to assure a faster and more transparent election process, 4) start talking to sponsors and vendors, and more. Reaching this compromise enables more than just funding of the convention, it enables the planning of it. A properly funded, well-planned convention can be an enormous boost to the party, the finances of RPV, and most importantly, to the candidates who emerge victorious.
Participation: The 2017 candidates will almost certainly be visible helping our 2016 candidates. They will be identifying voters in 2016, who can be their delegates in 2017. With the candidates knowing the method in 2017 this early, attendance and participation at a 2017 convention should be especially high.
Fairness to candidates: We do not know who is running for any of the three statewide offices in 2017. However, by selecting the 2017 method of nomination now, the candidates will know under what method they will be running. This allows them to start building their staffs, finding their key allies, and all of the other necessities of running for office earlier. We should have a better prepared candidate for November 2017 because they will be able to strategize starting at an earlier date.
Conclusion and a spiritual appeal
After my initial op-ed, I read a lot of responses that effectively said, “We shouldn’t compromise because the other side…” and then listed the offenses. I know that I cannot heal hurt feelings, and that both sides have endured harsh treatment from the other. Instead, I’d like to make a spiritual appeal, that rather than focusing on the misconduct of the past, we look towards building a better future.
It was December 4, 1988, and I was sitting in Hillcrest Presbyterian Church in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. It was the eighties. Reagan was President. People were proud, and proud to be proud. The minister delivered a sermon whose refrain was, “You’re a Presbyterian. You do it better. You do it God’s way.” No matter what situation we encountered, no matter who was on the other side, we were called to be better, to do it God’s way.
Each of us has done something ugly in politics, and each of us has been mistreated by an opponent. I’m sure we all have multiple offenses, and multiple abuses. But this compromise is our chance to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It is our chance to tell the other side that we will work with them to give them something they want, and that we trust them to give us something we want. When we begin to conduct ourselves like Republicans should, to treat each other with respect and cooperation, we will get the same back. And once we start treating each other that way, the public will take notice of what we’ve become. If we hold ourselves to a higher standard, we can expect the public to take notice and join with us.
My compromise plan will work. It will produce better results for Republicans. But if it does nothing else, it will prove to the public, and prove to ourselves, that we can do it better. We can do it the Republican way.
Chip Muir is the 3rd district Rep on Virginia’s Republican State Central Committee and is the Chairman of the Republican Commitee of Richmond