Dropping Conventions

I have long been a proponent of using conventions over primaries as the method of nomination for our Republican in candidates. There are two major reasons for this: One, I feel that a convention, by setting a higher threshold for participation than someone looking to intentionally disrupt the nomination process would be willing to cross, prevents those who want the party to have a weak nominee from forcing such and ensures that the activist base is given its due. Two, conventions tend to be cheaper for candidates and saves taxpayers the expense of a primary. 

That, and I just love a good old fashioned floor fight. 

However, I’ve been revisiting my position of late. One important point is that, because proxies are not allowed in any of the party run processes, active duty members of the military are essentially disenfranchised, particularly in the instance of conventions that are held in Richmond for statewide office. Over at Too Conservative, VA Blogger gives two intriguing arguments for using primaries:

The first argument has the merit of being true, but that’s really irrelevant, for a reason I like to call the Gilmore Syndrome of Idiotic Reasoning (GSIR). It goes like this: Let’s say there’s a candidate, we’ll call him Gim Jilmore. Gim isn’t good at raising money, and doesn’t have any money, so Gim wants a convention so he can have an easier time winning the nomination. But Gim fails to take into account the fact that he’ll still need money for the general election, and the state party fails to take into account that someone who can’t raise money and doesn’t have money wouldn’t make a good candidate.

Certainly a sound point given the context of that particular scenario. However, remember that both candidates were relatively weak in terms of their fundraising ability. Such is the nature of politics. Same with VA Blogger’s second point:

The second argument is harder to convince the Old Guard the error of their ways. Back in the run-up to the Gilmore/Marshall convention, Morton Blackwell said that conventions were necessary as a way to guarantee a conservative candidate is chosen. I did a post about it (which has since been lost in the purge) pointing out that the two “conservative” candidates we were choosing from were pro-choice and protectionist, respectively.

I think the best way to convince the Old Guard that conventions are terrible is to point to other states that, like Virginia, have open primaries. Included in that list are: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas. Look at some of the Senators those states have produced: Jeff Sessions, Saxby Chambliss, Trent Lott, Jim Talent, Jim DeMint, Lamar Alexander, John Cornyn. I’m a real big fan of Sessions, Talent, Alexander, and Cornyn, but no one can argue that any of those aren’t suitably conservative, despite being in states that, like Virginia, have open primaries.

Now look at states with closed primaries, like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Oregon, which gave us Arlen Specter, Mel Martinez, and Gordon Smith. I don’t buy a correlation between open primaries and less conservative candidates.

I can certainly see the argument here, but remember that this is politics. Politics in a federalist system. Each state has its own quirks and intrigue in the nominating process. Also, each race is different–such as with Bob Corker coming up the middle in a bloodbath between two even more conservative candidates. It’s difficult to make the argument for primaries based on an apples-oranges comparison. More compelling is VA Blogger’s summary. 

As for the reasons why conventions are bad and primaries are good, those have been gone over again and again, but as a quick primer: primaries build up state-wide organization, build-up name ID, don’t force candidates to the far right, and are more inclusive for the party, which allows it to expand rather than contract.

All valid points, and I think we certainly saw the benefit of that in the 2005 LG race when Bill Bolling got a rather vigorous workout from the Connaughton team. However, circumstances should always dictate the decision. Frankly, the US Senate nomination was a beauty contest–our candidate was likely going to lose no matter what. Yes, Davis probably had more of a chance and was shut out by the choice of a convention. However, these are gambles you always take. One could make the argument that the 2005 Primary harmed Bob McDonnell because Baril thought he had a shot in an open contest, thus draining the McDonnell team of resources. 

Still, this is an argument that continues to need to be discussed, particularly in light of the ever growing influence of Northern Virginia.

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