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Platform Process is a Test for Texas Republicans

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Every two years the Texas Republican Party has a chance to redefine itself when delegates vote on a new version of its platform at its state convention. The system by which the contents of the platform comes together is a messy organic one which ought to represent a political snapshot of the party, but in recent years it has been hijacked by vocal special interests, producing a platform which is an embarrassment to the party and its members.

The platform originates at the grassroots of the party where delegates in every county submit resolutions which go through a committee at their local senatorial district convention which assembles a draft slate of resolutions which are then voted on by the convention and passed on, along with the 49 similar bundles of resolutions, to another committee at the state level. This committee takes all those resolutions and boils them down to make a party platform which is voted on by the delegates at the state convention who usually don’t even have the time to read them.

This sounds like a great example of bottom-up grassroots politics, but there are a few problems with this sausage-factory process.

In fact, those “grassroots” resolutions mostly don’t really originate with common concerned citizens. Most of them are written by special interest groups which send them out in mass emailings to their constituents who then obediently submit them all over the state. So what they represent is not so much the interests of common Texans, but rather the interests of the most organized and motivated pressure groups with their volume cranked up to 11 by the internet. Quite often the groups which are most vocal are also the ones which are the most radical and farthest from the mainstream, while average party members are not as motivated or as organized in opposition.

Theoretically the committees on the district and state level are supposed to filter and edit the resolutions into something representative of the party, but they operate on the principle of not making any decisions which would offend anyone who can shout loudly enough to get attention. They are literally buried under paper and there is no one in a position to set limits or take a firm hand or just sit down and write a clear and coherent platform which represents the broad beliefs of the party. Instead they get frustrated and intimidated and just include the proposals of the most strident groups, producing a platform which is an amalgamation of the pet peeves of a bunch of fringe special interests.

This hasn’t always been the case. Through the 1970s many fewer resolutions were submitted and there was much less scrutiny of the process. The state-level committee was largely free to write a platform which it felt represented the best principles of the party based on their collective experience and good judgement. It was a less inclusive process, but it was more republican and more representative and produced a better result. Today’s platform is over 30 pages long with over 250 planks, but those old platforms were only a few pages long with 10 or 12 strong, general planks which everyone in the party could agree on.

Pressure has been mounting to change the platform or change the process. Mainstream party members are fed up with having the party represented by the ideas of its most extreme factions. It’s hard for candidates to run on a platform which includes many ideas which they don’t agree with and don’t want to be associated with, and it’s humiliating to be connected with a platform which is the target of jokes by late night comedians, attacks from partisan pundits and outraged editorials in the national and even international press.

A lot of the criticism focuses on the most obviously offensive things which consistently make their way into the platform, like the call to reinstitute the sodomy law which was struck down by the Supreme Court or the demand that creationism be taught in public schools. But there’s something in there to offend everyone, from banning suggestive TV ads for products like viagra, to taking away the parental rights of gay parents, to the most radical positions opposing immigration and free trade, to endorsements for various “New World Order” type conspiracy theories.

There has been an increase in organized opposition to the unappealing character of the platform. The Republican Liberty Caucus has put forward a slate of sensible resolutions on key issues which they hope will get enough support from the growing libertarian wing of the party to get included in place of some of the more offensive positions. Some grassroots Republicans are trying to introduce negative resolutions opposing some of the perennial rotten planks. Other groups are trying to convince the committees to scrap all the resolutions and just produce a short and simple platform based on core principles. The final option is to do what some other states have done when faced with this problem and introduce an alternative platform from the floor of the state convention, timing the move so that most of the delegates aren’t paying attention when it comes up for a vote.

The push for platform reform has never been stronger, but it will take a lot of effort and a lot of organization to overcome the stridency of fanatical single-issue activists. Texas Republicans deserve a platform which they can be proud of and which every Republican can stand by and support. The creation of a better platform is a real test of the maturity of the party. Can diversity be turned into strength, expressed as a platform of basic shared principles, or will the platform again represent the clamoring voices of extremism and factionalism which are tearing the party apart?

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Glenn Contrarian

    Excellent article, Dave. And the below statement is IMO most pertinent to the problems you described:

    Today’s platform is over 30 pages long with over 250 planks, but those old platforms were only a few pages long with 10 or 12 strong, general planks which everyone in the party could agree on.

    I like to think I know a little about the workings of politics, but your article shows the difference between someone who thinks he knows what he’s talking about, and someone who really does.

    Again, excellent article, Dave!

  • Dave adeptly sums up the procedural reasons why the GOP is a laughing stock right now and is well on the way to making itself unelectable.

    It’s the insistence on bundling these extreme or fringe positions in with the more reasonable, mainstream ones and presenting party members with an “all or nothing” dilemma. Moderate Republicans are then forced to hold their noses and vote up the platform just to ensure the core policies get through, hoping meanwhile that the loopy ones will run out of steam and get forgotten or dropped later on.

  • Igor

    Very astute article. Thanks Dave.

  • Baronius

    Dave could have been a great propaganda writer. His wing is never factional or extreme; it’s always the other guy. Pressure groups are trying to exert pressure, but the RLC is putting forward commonsense suggestions.

    I recognize the merit in what Dave says about a broad platform. It’s just the way he says it would make Trotsky blush. It shocks me that the first three commenters are so excited about the message that they don’t notice the manipulative style.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    One doesn’t have to agree with the other person’s politics to admire what the other person said or the way he said it. Dubya – the worst president we’ve had since Woodrow Wilson – said and did some things that were not only right, but admirable. But though I strongly disagree with Libertarian political theory, I think much more highly of Dave than I ever did of Dubya, or of quite a few liberals I’ve known over the years.

  • Baronius, I’m under no illusion that Dave has his finger on the underlying pulse of the GOP. We’ve seen article after article of his insisting that the garbage coming out of the mouths of the likes of Santorum, Boehner, Limbaugh, Palin, Bachmann et al doesn’t represent what the majority of Republicans think.

    Yet we keep hearing that garbage – and it’s all we hear. Even the ostensibly moderate Mitt Romney has been sucked in.

    Dave thinks the modern Republican Party is something quite different from what its broadcast messages tell us that it is. He just doesn’t get that his Liberty faction is not prevalent right now; that it’s a tiny, drowned-out voice of moderation in an increasingly extremist and authoritarian party.

    That said, Dave does represent just about the most sensible elements of the current GOP. If he were running for president, and if (for the sake of argument) I was forced to vote for a Republican candidate – out of a choice between him and all the other saps still in the race – I’d vote for Dave in a heartbeat.

  • Dubya … said and did some things that were not only right, but admirable.

    Dubya rose an enormous amount in my estimation after the interview he gave Bill O’Reilly about a year after leaving office.

    He was quite happy to answer any of O’Reilly’s questions about his time in the White House. But when O’Reilly tried over and over again to get him to bad-mouth Obama… he steadfastly refused.

    If nothing else, Dubya has a strong sense of the dignity of the presidency – which is a lot more than can be said of a lot of GOP congressorganisms.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    Now let’s see how many BC conservatives have the objectivity to say good things about ANY Democratic president.

  • STM

    Yeah, I didn’t think he was that bad, either. He had a couple of bad advisers in cabinet though.

  • I dunno, Glenn, but you can bet your life somebody somewhere is looking for a way to spin this story negatively…

  • jamminsue

    Dave, it seems, you have three or four choices,
    First – toss out the loonies, which I think its too late, they are there, and it would be awfully hard to get it done. I know it has been done in the past, when the Republicans got rid of the Birchers, but they are IN.

    Second – Split and start a new centrist party. This would be a good idea, except three parties has never worked for any period of time…

    Third – horrors! join the Democrats and kill the loonies dead.

    Fourth – give up and go home, let someone else do it.

  • Igor

    IMO we’re doomed. Civil societies have always been subject to takeover by bullies and I’ve never seen more numerous and determined bullies than the inhabitants of the modern radical right.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Problem is, thanks to Fox News and the Right’s perpetual echo chamber, they don’t see themselves as bullies – they see themselves as the last defenders of the American Dream.

  • Broadly speaking (let me repeat that qualifier for the oversensitive – broadly speaking), conservatism appeals to a certain personality type: those who need certainty in life. There is certainty to be found in the conservative philosophy of “it worked in the past, it works now, so let’s not mess with it”.

    Liberalism, with its one-the-one-hand-this-and-on-the-other-hand-that mode of thinking, is far too wishy-washy for such personality types. They interpret it as weakness, indecision, and a lack of conviction.

    Conservatives know that they’re right. You’ll see that certainty on any conservative blog; we see it right here on BC. Think of the number of times one of them has said something like “You just lost the argument”, or “My facts are irrefutable”, or reacted with “You’re kidding, right?” to a comment from a liberal who has clearly put quite a bit of time and thought into it, or posted an overwhelming deluge of claims, links and citations in an effort to “win” a discussion.

    It’s an easy step from “knowing” that you’re right to imposing what’s “right” for you onto everybody else.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    I think you’d enjoy this article on al-Jazeera on the subject. More and more it’s appearing that there is a true psychological difference between those who are naturally conservative and those who are naturally liberal, and that it’s not all ‘nurture’, but nature’s involved as well.

    My two sons are a great example – one is naturally conservative, hates change, wants everything to be predictable, is very reliable and conscientious with his duties, and pays little attention to those things that don’t pique his interest (like science). The other is naturally liberal, looks at everything, is not afraid of listening and considering alternate viewpoints, loves to pick issues apart to figure them out…but is not so reliable or conscientious with his duties.

    As a result, my older son has a deep knowledge of those issues that he feels concern him, but not much on other issues, and my younger son has a much broader range of knowledge and understanding on so many issues…but does not have deep knowledge on any one issue.

    And this dovetails almost precisely with what the al-Jazeera article points out.

  • Igor

    None of the self-styled ‘conservatives’ I see around me these days are real conservatives; they are radical rightists.

    -conservatives follow fiscal responsibility principles; RRs throw money around like they were drunk.

    -conservatives are reluctant to go to war; RRs are eager.

    -conservatives are are gentlemen; RRs are brutes.

    -conservatives believe in conserving the lovely American environment; RRs believe in scorch-the-earth exploitation.

    -conservatives have principles; RRs are ruthless.

    Conservatives used to be frugal, respectful, intelligent and even scholarly. RRs are reckless, harsh, dull and uneducated, and they are bores to talk with.