Activists often become their own worst enemy. Not understanding how things work or – worse – insisting that things ought to work differently, activists tend to flail about in episodic tirades, wasting energy where it cannot reasonably be expected to advance their cause.
Those of us who learn the lay of the land and engage in party politics nonetheless tend to revert to our protest roots when we meet with significant resistance. For example, we may caucus for a particular candidate, only to write off the entire process if that candidate is not endorsed. Or we may work to advance a particular issue, only to write off anyone who does not give it the same priority we assign it. Protest pumps through an activist’s veins, and the impulse to throw down and make some noise can often overwhelm rational political work.
In a brutal display of such self-defeat, key libertarian Republicans in Maine have resigned from their positions of influence. They gain the momentary elation from sticking it to The Man, earning brownie points to spend at their next meeting of the Libertarian Mutual Admiration Society. Meanwhile, Rome burns.
Ever since the Republican National Convention adopted new rules in Tampa last year which centralized the selection of national delegates, activists within the party who wish to maintain grassroots control have fought for repeal. At the recently concluded August meeting of the RNC, advocates of grassroots party control were handed a setback when an amendment offered by Morton Blackwell to undo the rule changes was tabled. This last straw broke the back of several libertarian Republicans in Maine, who authored an open letter to State GOP Secretary Chuck Mahaleris:
Effective immediately, we the undersigned are unenrolling from the Maine Republican Party. Furthermore, those of us who hold official Party positions, be they at the Republican National, State, County or even Town Committees, hereby resign. Our reasons for doing so are as follows:
At the RNC, we have fought the good fight and kept the faith with regards to the rules. The Resolution that was passed in January 2013 by the Maine Republican State Committee put the RNC on notice that the grassroots were listening (and watching), leading to the rules battles which have taken place consistently since the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The duplicity and lack of political courage which has been on display in this matter has sealed the fate of this Party.
Furthermore, it has become clear to us now that the RNC has no intention of reforming and would rather fly under invalid rules than to right the wrongs of Tampa. We therefore cannot, in good faith, support or defend the actions of the RNC. To violate our consciences and support those actions would make us part of the problem – especially after we clearly provided and handed the RNC the solution which was flatly rejected. The RNC now owns their demise.
The letter goes on to list gripes with Republicans at every level, from Congress down to the Maine state party. The complaints prove largely legitimate. However, the course of action the signatories arrive at does nothing to solve the problem.
Therefore, for the above-stated reasons, we can no longer allow ourselves to be called nor enrolled as Republicans; we can no longer associate ourselves with a political party that goes out of its way to continually restrict our freedoms and liberties as well as reaching deeper and deeper into our wallets.
We instead choose the path that focuses on ways to help our fellow Mainers outside of party politics.
Some of us may be town officers or board members.
Some of us may leave all options on the table with regards to running for higher office as Independents.
Some of us may be small farmers and gardeners who desire to help feed their communities.
Others may simply want to just get part of their life back, catching up and spending more time with friends and neighbors.
Among those resigning from the party stand a national committeeman and six members of the Maine state committee. Earlier in the letter, they describe their decision as “a principled preservation of our individual integrity.”
While that may be their intent, resigning does not accomplish it. Dave Nalle, former national chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, explains why in a public Facebook post:
After years of working to gain those positions of influence and as a key component of a liberty coalition which controls the state party, they have thrown everything away because of losing one battle over the rules with the RNC leadership.
Did they go into this thinking it was going to be easy to change the Republican Party? I respect their efforts and commitment up to this point, but what they have done puts liberty movement control of their state party in jeopardy and hands additional victories to the malefactors who run the national party. It weakens the movement nationwide and sets a terrible example for others
The critical failure which informs this move manifests from activists’ perception of the party as a servant which ought to work on their behalf, rather than a vehicle which must be actively steered in a desired direction. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an activist whine about the party not treating them well, as if that were its purpose, I’d be set for life.
“We really tried,” said Derek, a caller into Up and At ‘Em on Twin Cities News Talk responding to a discussion between myself and co-hosts Jack Tomczak and Benjamin Kruse on the importance of electability.
There was a big contingent that really tried during 2012 to really try to get the establishment GOP to really change their views and change their minds. And for the way that movement was treated during the caucuses, during the convention, you know, I finally switched to Libertarianism because it wasn’t going to change. And it just doesn’t appear to change. These ‘radical’ ideas are just basically people that are getting hit up over the side of their head. Until they realize that the mentality of electability is getting them exactly what’s here now, it’s not going to change.
This common sentiment from libertarian activists completely absolves them of any responsibility for changing the party. Instead, they proceed from the rather absurd notion that Republicans ought to advocate views they do not agree with in order to earn libertarian support. That’s not how politics works.
This isn’t a social club. You don’t walk into a caucus or convention with an agenda to seize control and steer the party in an unprecedented direction and expect to be patted on the back for your brilliance.
Politics is a contact sport, a combat arena where the winner takes all. If you choose to engage, you will inevitably be “hit up over the side of the head.” If you can’t handle that, then your commitment to the cause ought to be questioned.
Libertarian Republicans need to dispense with the notion that their “individual integrity” is defined by the party’s compliance to a libertarian agenda. Holding the reigns of power in a party office does not mean you “support” every little thing anyone in the party says or does. If resignation remains the default response to any deficiency within the party, it only enhances the victory of those who remain.
No one has ever “learned their lesson” from an activist resigning in protest. The concept ignores political reality and smacks of a narcissistic valuation of one’s political worth. “Oh, you resigned?! Well then, let me completely realign my entire worldview in order to get you back,” said no party officer or elected official ever.
It would have been far more effective for Maine’s libertarian Republicans to author a letter wherein they committed to recruiting like-minded citizens into the party structure. Those in power only respect others with power. Libertarians must build high-value coalitions whose support is worth earning. Laying down the reigns of influence is the opposite of that. Abandoning the party to walk the Earth in search of an undefined higher purpose changes nothing.
For liberty to succeed, which it can, libertarian Republicans must remain committed to the war regardless of the outcome of a particular battle. Until such commitment is widespread, we exist only as a nuisance of little sustained political significance.