April 5, 2009
As widely expected, the Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia voted on Saturday to remove Jeff Frederick as chairman. The vote was very close, however: 57-18, just barely enough to meet the three-fourths requirement. The article in the News Leader indicated that the meeting was very long (five-plus hours) and very heated, with frequent loud arguments. One of Frederick's supporters called the vote a "mob lynching," and another said that "social conservatives would abandon the GOP." Well! Frederick apparently did not win any supporters by sending a lengthy e-mail message to party leaders in advance of the vote, calling it a "power grab by party elites." This was presumably a reference to the fact that all five Virginia Republican congressman, gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, and other leading figures in the party had called on Frederick to resign for the good of the party, but he steadfastly refused to do so; see March 6 and March 17.
The Washington Post story on yesterday's vote focused on the ramifications of this intra-party conflict on the fortunes of the Republican Party nationwide. GOP leaders are keenly aware of the precious opportunity that Bob McDonnell offers for the party, which might win back the governorship this fall for the first time in eight years. That is one of the few bright spots on the national landscape, which is why John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee have campaigned in Virginia in support of McDonnell. He will need more such campaign help in order to withstand the backlash from the "grassroots" that is sure to come.
One can only imagine all the arm-twisting that must have been going on behind the scenes. Indeed, according to Chris Green there is a rumor that Lynn Mitchell (a.k.a. "SWAC Girl") cut a deal to save her position as Sixth District representative on the State Central Committee, voting against Frederick despite having been one of his most vocal supporters. I am aware of the charges against her (see March 13), but have no first-hand knowledge. In any case, it doesn't serve any purpose to speculate on other party members' motives, and from a realist perspective, politically expedient choices can often serve a higher purpose.
I was a bit surprised that the vote was as close as it was, given the overwhelming repudiation of Frederick by Virginia elected officials. They have evidently apprised the situation for what it is, deciding that the party would continue to veer off course toward defeat, as long as Frederick was in charge. On the other hand, the furious reaction of his supporters, some of whom say they will quit the GOP and vote Democratic, raises questions about whether a meaningful degree of party unity is likely in the wake of Frederick's ouster. The removal probably could have been handled better, but few objective people would doubt that it had to happen. Now is the time for the party to set aside old grudges and come together...
Or is it? In a normal party with honest differences of opinion amenable to compromise, that would certainly be the case, but that is not the situation in the Republican Party today. The problem is not that the party "disrespects" its "Base," but rather that the "Base" itself embodies deep pathological defects, with a "paranoid culture of exclusion" (see Dec. 4) and a bad habit of threatening to defect. Richard Viguerie is a classic example. Ironically, the GOP "Base" and Democrats see eye to eye in hoping that Frederick would retain his post; see March 19. It is also very telling that the local anti-tax movement has rallied behind Democrat Tracy Pyles, of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors (see March 13), rumored to be considering a challenge to Delegate Chris Saxman this fall. Any party that relies upon such unreliable people as the foundation of its electoral hopes is doomed. I hope that most of those folks get a grip on reality and learn how to get along with others, but in the long run, I'm afraid, we may be better off without some of them.
In sum, while prospects for the Republican Party have brightened as a result of the vote in Richmond, we are not out of the woods yet. It will take a sustained effort at conciliation over many months to fully heal the party's wounds.
Another blog post after midnight...