By Jon Morrow – The single biggest hurdle for the Republican party to overcome is outreach into the local community.
Many Republican County Central Committees (CCCs) in Ohio have been stagnant for decades. Primarily, this is due to the notion that the party should not get actively involved in issues relevant to Republicans in their community. County Party leaders are normally happy with a few wins rather than dominating the political landscape – so they do not participate in any type of activism.
The public is no longer passionate about the Republican party because it perceives the party solely as an organization that raises money for candidates and does not advocate for issues. Haven’t we had enough of the constant calls during election time and the mountain of junk mail? Isn’t it about time that we expect the party to be responsive?
For decades Republican leadership has been fine with the CCC inactivity and have allowed candidates to shape the perception of the party. They simply did not care about the grassroots ground game. If there is going to be a rally in an off year election about an issue at the local level, the Republican Party was nowhere to be found. Many times the local party cannot even be found or bothered in an election year on important issues.
The answer for such inaction is always under the premise that “the CCC’s only mission is to get Republican candidates elected to office and it is not an advocacy organization.”
The attitude of “merely electing Republican candidates to office” is ironic because the very creation of the Republican Party was built upon a single issue, the elimination of slavery. While the party was formed in Wisconsin by abolitionists of the Democrat and Whig parties, who felt the Democrat party had abandoned them by not standing against slavery, the first Statewide Republican convention happened in Jackson, MI, in 1854, at the behest of the Tillotson family of Northern Ohio. The Tillotson’s were active in the underground railroad and had properties in Ottawa, Erie, and Cuyahoga Counties used to smuggle slaves to Canada. Dr. Loyal Tillotson, an accomplished surgeon and popular physician and owner of several vineyards in Northern Ohio is credited with organizing and providing the financing for the first Republican Convention in Michigan. His daughter became a physician and moved to Canada and her grandson, John Phillips, later interned at Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland and went on to found the Cleveland Clinic.
The Michigan Republican convention, as you might have guessed, declared that their new party opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates that opposed slavery. Yes, that’s right, there actually used to be a litmus test to be a candidate of the Republican Party.
The modern concept of not having a platform of issues, and using such platform as a litmus test for funding and support of candidates, flies in the face of the history of the Republican Party and that of human nature.
This concept of non-involvement in issues for the Republican party originated shortly after WWII, in Ohio politics, when advocacy within the party nearly tore the party itself apart.
Many of the socialist policies instituted during the Great Depression were very popular with the American public at the time, because many were starving or homeless. Many County Central Committees, nonetheless, consistently bashed these socialist efforts, even though they were popular with the public. As a result the Republican party imploded over the New Deal due to its messaging, and as a result Congress, the Senate, and the office of the President were held by Democrats for a continuous 20 years.
Dissension built within the Party for FDR’s policies was somewhat true for the Democrat party as well. There was internal outrage over many of the policies and programs that Franklin D. Roosevelt had put into place. Many conservative Democrat voices were silenced as the Democrat party was reshaped into a much more socialist institution. Republicans and Democrats alike were fighting for repeal of FDR’s programs and policies. FDR’s New Deal irrevocably reshaped America into a more socialist union and helped Conservative Democrats become Republicans or Independents.
The Democrat party, desperate to reclaim its conservatives, ran John F. Kennedy. The thought was that there would be a mass migration away from the Republican party. They were right, but tragically JFK’s tenure as president was cut short. Was it the socialists seeing that their gains in controlling the politics of America were going to be wiped out that prompted JFK’s assassination? We will probably never know for sure.
Republican leadership wanted to win during the 20 years of Democrat rule under FDR and Truman but their efforts were harangued by the messaging of the local county parties and WWII. The County Party’s grassroots efforts had an in-your-face contempt for very popular Democrat programs formed under FDR. Republican leadership was unable to shape local CCC messaging. In an effort to tame messaging at the CCC level, leadership pushed CCC’s from an advocacy role to an educational role. Leaders thought this would bring Americans together during wartime. The thought was, many in the public did not realize the future implications on our freedoms if the New Deal programs were allowed to stand the test of time. If the public could be only be educated, it was thought, these programs might become less popular over time.
Many of the politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, liked the control and power that many of the programs that FDR started afforded them. Whether it was a grand cabal, back room conspiracy, or not, or whether it was just human nature, it came down from the top that the Republican Party would no longer be an advocacy organization. This was to eliminate the strife in messaging between elected officials and registered Republicans, it would become a fundraising organization with some opportunities for education.
The legacy has been that we embrace top down decisions even when those decision don’t make sense. Even Ronald Reagan had to fight the establishment of the Republican party to get elected and more recently, Donald Trump. Democrats have their problems too as Bernie Sanders pointed out in his run against Hillary Clinton.
Democrats unlike republicans, transformed advocacy in to outreach and limited discussion of issues by adopting County platforms. Due to infighting on social issues, Democrat CCCs, just as Republican CCCs, tend to adopt the National Platform or the State Platform and have no litmus test of support for their platform for candidates seeking funds from the party.
If there is any type of litmus test, surely that is more evident in the Democrat Party than the Republican Party.
Why is it that the Republican and Democrat parties are no longer really relevant to the issues embraced by the people they represent? Because both organizations are top down organizations that substantively support no issues.
The party no longer represents the grassroots because the grassroots organization, the County Central Committee, in most cases, just doesn’t represent anything. Most County parties do not have their own platform and just adopt the state or the national platform. Candidates now define the party, not issues, or ideas.
To be technically correct there is a litmus test in the Republican Party, it is however not for the inclusion of Republican candidates, but for the exclusion of Republican candidates as President Donald Trump found out.
As the County Central Committee parties became lazy because they had nothing to advocate for, and educating the public quickly became boring, they stopped being passionate about the party and stopped raising funds.
Today, most of the County Central Committees in the United States are essentially, more or less either controlled by a few wealthy donors in each county, or the CCC tends to hardly raise any money and only makes an effort in very few local contests.
This does not mean that Republicans cannot be successful. At the state level the ORP has dominated the political landscape and holds every State Office and has super-majorities in the House and Senate. Is this because they are so good at what they do, or is this because of the Democrats poor management and poor messaging of their party? Many political experts I talk to believe that if the Democrats lose their socialist messaging and media antagonism that they can once again become competitive at the State Level.
To change this dynamic, County Central Committees have to start engaging the public and have outreach programs of advocacy that are relevant to the Republicans within the County that they serve. They should adopt a limited platform so they don’t bite off more than they can chew and they should be spirited but mindful of their messaging. In order for this to happen though, Republican leadership has to lay to rest its 1940’s strategies and embrace grassroots advocacy.
Author: Jon Morrow