It’s that time again when elected precinct and state committeemen convene to elect a new Republican Party Chairman here in Arizona. As required by law, new party officials are chosen every other year to lead the party into the next round of elections.
This year, I won’t be voting or participating in these elections. That’s because I am no longer a precinct committeeman. I walked away from party service last year after witnessing some of the worst political behavior I’ve seen in over 25 years that took place during a county GOP meeting. (Read my post here.) I don’t have the time or toleration to waste another Saturday participating in what should actually be reserved for real opposition – fighting the left.
Instead, I’m watching the process as party activists explain why they believe their candidate is best for the job.
Governing and leading the Republican Party is something I would know about because I’ve actually worked for the Republican Party Chairman. And that was during a very active time including a state senator recall election, special congressional election, Arizona redistricting commission fiasco, presidential primary debate preparation in Mesa, state convention that didn’t go that well and of course, all that on top of a Primary and General Election season during a presidential election. A lot happened and what most party activists don’t realize is that these challenges could have been easier to handle and the outcomes could have been more successful if only the conflict had been minimized.
One other factor to mention -and it’s becoming increasingly important as times change. Political parties are striving to remain relevant. This was made abundantly clear during this last presidential election as a former Democrat who switched parties to become a Republican attacked the establishment with an independent message and won the GOP nomination. Layer that on top of the hard reality for Republicans and Democrats alike, that 33.97% of registered voters do NOT identify with either the Democrat or Republican party. In Arizona, where Republicans hold majorities in the legislature and statewide office, the future of political parties is unpredictable when the number of independent voters is about to take the lead.
This brings me to thoughts and advice when selecting a Republican Party chairman.
If I were to vote for this individual I would make my choice based on four criteria: vision, fundraising, cooperation and messaging.
Fundamental to good leadership is whether or not the leader is visionary. Governing, administering, fundraising, etc. will never be enough if the individual can’t cast a vision that inspires and motivates followers. The next party chairman will have to put forth a vision that is bigger than themselves, bigger than the party and inspires believers and even non-believers to buy into the future. Given the struggle for relevancy in this day and age, this will be the biggest challenge for the next chairman and it will enable and affect all the other roles. The next chairman will need to show the party faithful what the future looks like and not just tell them.
Fundraising capacity is critical. It’s very hard to move a movement forward without having the resources to pay for it. Telling the story and selling the vision costs money, lots of money. As they used to say in the space program, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” Elections are big business. While candidates have to raise their own money, the GOP must amass a massive war chest in preparation for the get out the vote effort in the General Election. And this fundraising capacity is inextricably tied to the criteria of cooperation.
Chairmen who enter their role having run on a platform of conspiracy theories will find it extremely difficult to raise money. Burned bridges tend to stay burned.
In party politics, cooperation is an asset not a liability. Team players are far more successful than solo artists who rise through the ranks by dividing and conquering. This means that chairmen must stay completely out of primary contests and hold their fire until the General Election. Impartiality, objectivity, even-handedness are imperative for party unity. And this capacity to cooperate is crucial to working with Republican officeholders. A party chairman might not like or agree with our senior Senator but he or she must put their personal differences and disagreements aside for the sake of party success.
Finally, as someone who works in the arena of communication, I cannot stress strongly enough the power of messaging. Perception is reality, especially in the world of politics. If you’re not defining who you are, your opponent certainly will and they will do so ruthlessly. (I learned this lesson personally during my time at the AZGOP.) Chairmen who sow drama and controversy, reap the same. Wasting precious time and energy putting out fires, robs resources from winning elections. Chairmen who are constantly in damage control mode don’t win elections.
Having worked as an activist in the culture war for many years, growing the movement is the most important thing one can do to move an agenda and score victories. The next chairman will need to be highly proficient in the art and science of political mathematics.
Effective movement-building and party-growing messaging must be based on addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.
Demographics in Arizona are changing. Much of the old guard is fading away into history. If Republicans want to remain relevant, they must acknowledge these demographic shifts and affirm the the values and principles that attracted people into the party: smaller limited government, lower taxes, under control spending, economic freedom and growth, safe communities, federalism, life and family-affirming values, religious freedom, educational choice and freedom, and strong national security. These are the values that appeal to millennials, Latinos and women.
I won’t be voting in the upcoming GOP party elections but I will be watching. Like many other Republicans who are tired of all the gratuitous drama, I’ll be reconsidering my party involvement based on how my fellow Republicans behave and who they choose for this important position.
So if you’re asking for my editorial advice on these party elections it would be choose wisely, fellow Republicans. Choose wisely.