“Thank you for your time this morning. You’ve been the worst audience I’ve ever spoken to.”
-- Andrew Halcro addressing the Alaska Republican Convention 4/28/12
There is that age-old axiom that goes a little something like this; be careful of what you wish for because you might just get it. The Ron Paul devotees, who were successful in their second attempt to seize control of the Alaska Republican Party (ARP) this past weekend, should pay close attention.
After experiencing first-hand (not nearly as bad as Sens. Murkowski and Barasso) the extreme rudeness and general cluelessness of the new wave of Republican partiers, it makes me rest just a little bit easy knowing they won’t be going very far.
Capitalizing on the toxic mix of disenfranchised Ron Paul presidential campaign supporters and Tea Party activists both looking to raise hell, turned the tide Saturday when they elected a new ARP Chairman ushering in an era of uncertainty.
“It’s reminiscent of when the Moral Majority took over in the eighties,” a longtime Republican leader told me on the condition of anonymity.
It is hard to believe it had been four years since the last time the Ron Paul faithful tried to gain control of the ARP. During the state convention back in 2008, their attempt to oust Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich was denied by their lack of understanding party rules and their inability to piece together a coalition beyond legalizing marijuana and repealing the Patriot Act.
This year they were more organized, they were more vocal, and they were more rude.
With Ruedrich deciding not to seek another term, the power vacuum was filled by so called anti-establishment Republicans, who have long felt their ideas; beliefs and contributions have gone unappreciated. “This was a case of being seduced on an emotional level, not a practical level,” I was told by a veteran Republican.
In the end, 66-year-old Russ Millette, an avid Ron Paul supporter whom very few Republicans know, was elected the new ARP party chairman. Millette apparently knows very little about the party, and more importantly, the candidates or the donors. This doesn’t bode well for the strength of the party.
For the last decade under Ruedrich, the ARP has thrived. Making gains in both in voter registration and statewide organization, Ruedrich was able to maintain the uneasy alliance between business and social conservatives. He was incredibly efficient in recruiting strong candidates, planning strategy and keeping the coffers full. Even those who have harshly criticized him, including myself, do it with clear recognition the guy knows how to win.
Ruedrich is everything Millette is not, qualified and connected.
The passion of the Paul
Ron Paul has become more of a cult than a candidate since he first burst on the scene back in 2008. His followers are passionate about Paul’s isolationist position regarding everything from free trade to foreign policy and his libertarian views on social issues. But even given his impressive ability to reach younger demographics along with staunch older conservatives, it hasn’t delivered him a single primary victory.
The challenge ahead for the ARP under Millette’s leadership is he is going to need leaders who have victories under their belts and know how to win the tough races, because 2014 is going to be a barn burner. In two years both the governor's seat and a U.S. Senate seat are up for grabs. Ruedrich was more than battle tested before he became party chair.
Paul supporters certainly have the capacity to spur a philosophical revolt, but they don’t have the capacity to build and finance the ARP and its candidates.
According to ARP rules, Millette won’t ascend to the chairmanship until January 2013. During the next eight months, Millette will be given a seat on the party finance committee and will be responsible for helping raise money for the party…not Ron Paul. This is going to prove interesting, as Millette has reportedly said that raising money for Paul was going to be his primary mission.
Ahead of Saturday’s election, in an attempt to avoid any ideas a new chairman might have for the for the cash the ARP had on hand, party officials transferred $100,000 into an account controlled by the Capitol City Republicans Women’s Club. This means the party starts with bare cupboards as Millette takes his seat on the finance committee and a general election just six months away.
But even with the election of Millette, the new wave of passionate Paul fever and the chaotic weekend of Republican speakers being treated rudely, these folks have done little more than make the ARP completely irrelevant.
You ain’t so big now, are ya?
For a political party to remain relevant they must have resources, especially money. With the all the appearance that the state GOP just imploded and now rests in the hands of untested rebels, donors have other places to park their cash instead of with the ARP.
With the Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court, donors are no longer restricted to contributing solely through the traditional party structure. Individuals, organizations even companies can now donate directly to Super PACs, or other third party groups designed to funnel money to candidates or advertise on their behalf as allowed by law. So while candidates will still get their donations in the form of cash donations and supportive third party ads, the old school party structure is what will be starved.
A perfect example of the vast power of third party efforts is Alaska's U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s 2010 general election write in victory over GOP nominee Joe Miller. Murkowski had no party support and yet with the aide of third party groups and bi-partisan volunteers, pulled off the greatest political comeback in modern history.
The bottom line is with the new campaign finance laws; political parties as a fundraising source have given up the higher ground to third party groups.
These groups are more focused, have lower overhead and can offer significant support without any ideological litmus tests that often burden party endorsements.
As a result of the Alaska GOP’s meltdown this past weekend, some are anticipating the flight of donations past the ARP to new groups designed to support Alaskan candidates directly.
This weekend’s chaotic party transition has some lawmakers worrying about relying on party funding due to the upheaval. When there is a lack of certainty in politics, there is lack of certainty in fundraising.
While Paul supporters may have won the battle, it remains to be seen if they will actually win their long running anti-establishment war. The core of the ARP, the Central Committee, is still in tact to help keep things balanced.
However, with Ruedrich’s strategy, organizing and fundraising abilities now retired, the GOP is left with a new chairman who is severely lacking in political survival skills and institutional memory.
It's not a stretch to say that the current situation might take longtime Alaskan Republicans back to when the ARP chair was a rotating figurehead while the party struggled to support their candidates financially.
But while it may seem like a throwback to the eighties because of the uncertainty and drama, the vastly different campaign finance landscape of 2012 will allow Republican candidates to remain relevant while at the same time the traditional state party structure will become irrelevant.
Win the battle. Lose the war.
After a very ugly and public fight, the alliance of Ron Paul and Tea Party rebels will inherit a ship that is floating on fumes, and the only guy with the juice to fill the tank for the pivotal 2014 election just sailed off into the sunset.
The Alaska State GOP will be left with a captain at the helm who has no leadership skills, no institutional knowledge of key player, donors or advisors and the only thing they'll have ... is a mouthpiece to support candidates.
This would seem like a good opportunity to get back at the man for both Paul supporters and Tea Party supporters who felt they got screwed by the establishment GOP. Commandeer the Republican Party and use the party megaphone to get even for the injustice of failing to support "true conservatives."
Not beyond comprehension, but a key part of that strategy will be missing.
Today campaign funding is more fluid than ever. There are far too many opportunities for individuals and organizations to donate to party causes or candidates without donating to the party, especially one that is at war with itself.
If the new ARP regime can't show some early success raising money for the 2014 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate battles, that will be a sign that donors are still nervous about the leadership of the state party. Or closer to the truth, donors will be exercising more targeted ways to help support Alaska Republican candidates, instead of donating to the party which is highly inefficient.
Either way, Millette & Co. have had their wish granted.
Beginning January 2013, they're captaining the Alaska Republican Party. Let's see if a guy with no history, no name recognition and no proven ability in Alaska, can lead his troops to do anything more than insult guest speakers.
Mindlessly tapping on the gas gauge while yelling isn't going to fill the tank. Unfortunately, these overly rambunctious Paul-Tea folks haven't realized that fact, and don't appear to be in any hurry to learn.
Tap, tap, tap. Move damn you ... move.
Andrew Halcro is the publisher of AndrewHalcro.com, a blog devoted to Alaska issues and politics, where this commentary first appeared. He is president of Halcro Strategies and Avis/Alaska Rent-A-Car, his family business. Halcro served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, and he ran for governor in 2006 as an Independent.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.