Rules Committee Controversy Kicks off GOP Convention: Who Gets to Choose Delegates in the Future?

There is an old adage in law that says “tough cases make bad law.” That phenomena is on display at the GOP’s 2012 Convention in Tampa, where the Rules Committee has agreed to a rule change that would effectively eliminate the right of the people, our Texas Republican Party workers and activists, to select our delegates to future conventions. Instead, the presidential candidate, in this year’s case Mitt Romney, would have the power to “veto” (they call it “disavow”) duly elected delegates. Especially for Texas and other states where the people still have the right to choose the delegates who will represent them at their party’s convention, via an open and competitive election process, this is an offensive idea.

Rules about delegate selection vary greatly from state to state, and Texas is among those states that vest the control of the party in the rank-and-file. The rules in Texas do not require Party approval of the chosen delegates nor do they permit party leaders to overrule the delegate choices made by party activists in the open elective process.

The new rules adopted by the 2012 Rules Committee permit the Party’s nominee for President to “disavow” duly elected delegates, and thereby overrule the people’s choice. This new process would require the Party to reconvene an election in order to let the party faithful choose another delegate more to the nominee’s liking.

Quick points:

  • This top-down control of the party approach belongs on the left side of the aisle. We Republicans are grassroots people now more than ever. Clearly we want to choose our delegates using the process that has served us well.
  • This new rule allows more control of the party by wealthy or influential donors, who could easily condition donations on receiving a delegate slot.
  • This policy is better than the one the top-down elites started out asking for, which was that party leaders would just choose our delegates for us, or else provide a list of “approved” potential delegates we could choose from among. Doesn’t that sound a little too similar to the old Soviet “free” elections where the people could “vote” on the list of candidates the government had already chosen?
  • The rule that passed the Rules Committee was a compromise, rejecting the above approach but failing to hold fast to the present approach of letting the people choose. The status under the new rule that just passed is that the people choose delegates but the nominee can “disavow” them.
  • Minority Report alert! Enough Rules Committee members disagreed with this rule change that they issued a Minority Report, and that will be the subject of much attention and debate over the next days. Both Texas representatives to the Rules Committee voted for the minority report.

The hard case making bad law is this. The supporters of one Republican Presidential candidate, individuals who are untethered to the democratic process or basic notions of civics, have continued efforts to try to find some procedural mechanism or other tactic to circumvent the will of the voters and foist their candidate on America, rather than support Mitt Romney who actually won the overwhelming majority of votes in the primaries around our nation. While I cannot prove that the conduct of these supporters led to the rule change, it is hard to imagine that is not the case. That’s a bad case, but it does not justify this new bad “law.”

Other proposed rule changes are also controversial, but this one takes the cake. There is just no basis for it other than the party elites wanting to run the party and to avoid the unpleasant circumstance of dealing with unruly and uncooperative delegates. Much as the conduct of those supporters mentioned above is distasteful to many Republicans, capitulating to a rule that the nominee can veto the delegates chosen by the people is more distasteful.

A “floor fight” is certainly in the works if the Rules Committee does not back down on this change. The two Texas representatives to the Rules Committee emailed the whole committee this morning (Monday August 27th) to make that point clear. The Texas delegation sees this rule as one worth fighting over.

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