This week’s Courier Herald column:
Condolences to David Shafer.
The Georgia Republican Party held its biennial convention
for the election of state officers last weekend in Savannah. Shafer, the former candidate for Lieutenant
Governor and President Pro Tempore of the Georgia Senate prior to that, takes
the helm of the party’s grassroots structure in advance of the 2020 elections.
Shafer faces immediate challenges in the new role, rooted in
both perception and reality. Among them
are unifying a base that gives the appearance of being fractured, increasing
the fundraising ability of the organization, and ultimately, establishing a
relevant role for the GOP in the era of independent expenditure groups and super
Much of Saturday’s extended session revolved around multiple
attempts to change the rules to allow a floor vote in order to bring forth a
resolution to rebuke the Speaker of the House over his civilian duties as a
criminal defense attorney. None of the parliamentary
maneuvers garnered a majority of the delegates present, but hours were spent on
the process before the election of officers was allowed to proceed. It was the media’s greatest focus on the
The move was not without precedent. It wasn’t that long ago that a minority of
delegates wanted to use the same platform to rebuke the then sitting Governor
of the same party. Nathan Deal still
managed to leave office among the most popular Governors in recent history,
despite the blip of convention noise.
To understand the dynamic involved, some understanding of
who was in Savannah should be understood.
The process to be a delegate usually involves giving up three or four
Saturdays in the spring, and those that make it usually endure hours of arcane
citations of Robert’s Rules of Order when they could be doing…literally
Those willing to forego the opportunity costs of kid’s
sporting events or time spent outside during the first glimpses spring weather
are among the most dedicated, and most partisan. They are fortified from those who were “Taxed
Enough Already” a decade ago and those demanding to “Drain the Swamp” now.
For issues of party unity, this is a feature and not a
bug. Those sparring for an intra-party
fight last week will be the loudest voices fighting Democratic advances in the
weeks and months ahead.
Motivating this group will be easy. Feeding them a steady diet of red meat while
tailoring a message that appeals to parts of the state that have been trending
purple or blue will be among Shafer’s bigger challenges. Party activists often take an all-or-nothing
approach with litmus tests. Independent
leaning voters who would never set foot in a convention setting dwell on nuance
and shades of purple-gray.
Financial issues will likely continue to dog the GOP, but
that doesn’t mean Republican candidates won’t be well financed. It’s more of a question of “who” and “how”.
The structure of the GOP has become one that favors
grassroots over donors. In the age of
super PACs, it’s getting harder to get large donors to make contributions to
organizations whose activists have regular episodes spending as much time
rebuking Republican officials as electing them.
Squaring some of these circles will ultimately determine the
relevance of the party organization. Shafer’s
experience in the Senate, where as President Pro Temp his job description could
be likened to herding cats, will be helpful.
It’s not easy to appease a base that wants to “drain the swamp” while
enacting legislation that made Georgia the “number one state to do business”.
In his new role, the paradox will shift to keeping rural
Republicans highly motivated while keeping or bringing back suburban Atlanta
voters in the fold. He will need to do
so while attracting new donors while placating an increasingly anti-corporate
On the plus side, he’ll have two dozen Democrats running for
President arguing over how high taxes should be raised, how much to expand
government, whether Israel is really an ally, and how long a doctor has to kill
an infant born alive if the mother intended to have an abortion, to aid in his
unification and fundraising efforts.
Congratulations to David Shafer on his election to Georgia
Republican Party Chairman.