In a year when it should have made a strong showing, the Republican Party fielded embarrassing candidates, suffered a humiliating defeat in the presidential election and lost seats in the House and Senate. After a debacle like this, someone ought to be held accountable.
In any sensible political party this would be seen as a failure in leadership and heads would roll at the top. This is especially true when the party’s top leaders went out of their way to alienate minority groups within the party and trample all over party rules at the national convention, unseating legitimately elected delegates, disenfranchising the Republican voters of several states and passing new rules which reduce the autonomy of state parties.
Despite all of the evidence that the party is rotten at the very top and the cries of rank and file party members for change and reform, sitting Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been claiming that he has already received pledges from as many as 130 of the 168 national committee members to support him for a second term. Supporters of the status quo have been circulating intimidating emails trying to get all of the members to toe the line and support Priebus, but a small minority of committee members have been listening to grassroots party members who are crying out for Priebus to pay the price for his corruption and incompetence.
Out of that group, one leader has emerged who is willing to take Priebus and the party establishment on, Mark Willis. Willis is a first term committeeman from Maine, a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus and has a diverse background in military intelligence and tech industry. Willis also led a walkout protest by the Maine delegation at the Republican National Convention this summer and gained a lot of credibility among the grassroots as a result.
The campaign for party chairman isn’t like a regular political campaign. It’s very quick, wrapping up in about two weekes, and is all about winning over a small number of committee members and state party chairs, half of whom are picked by party insiders in their state and half of whom are elected by party members. Just getting nominated is the first hurdle, requiring 2 out of 3 votes from 3 different states. But once you get nominated all bets are off and allegiances and vote pledges can change very quickly all the way to a series of votes at the committee meeting on the 25th where deals are made in backrooms, hallways and restrooms until a new Chairman is selected.
I got a chance to talk to Mark Willis a few days ago and find out exactly why he wants to leap into this pit of vipers and what his plans are if he comes out winning on a longshot with a mandate to reform a party whose leaders seem willing to fiddle while the Grand Old Party burns up around them.
What brought you to the point where you wanted to take on this challenge, one which is at a level of involvement in party politics which very few people are even aware of?
Being elected to the national committee was the first step, but doing this was not my intention at the time. I just wanted to do what I could in the next four years to move the football of liberty down the field as far as I could. Then with the convention in Tampa and the way the rules were passed and the credentials report was pushed through, in both cases gavel up, gavel down, I ended up leading the walk-out and by walking out we did the right thing. We fought until we could fight no longer. We took it outside, took it to the street, took it to the press and told the story.
From that point on we had basically put sunshine on the problem. Justice Brandeis said that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant” so casting some sunshine on the problems in the RNC and the way Mr. Priebus presided over it showed me that there are bigger problems than we had suspected.
Going into this RNC election a lot of us were talking among ourselves and wondering who would challgenge Priebus, because someone’s got to do it. People were talking to me jokingly saying “Hey mark, if no one else is going to do it maybe you should do it.” And I said “Yeah right,” because there was no way I could win. He says he already has the numbers, at least he says he does, and emails from states kept coming through saying they were voting for Priebus.