RPT Chairman Allen West is resigning his post after less than one year presiding over the largest state Republican Party in the nation. The 62 State Republican Executive Committee will have the opportunity to elect a new chairman at their next meeting. So far the leading candidates are Matt Rinaldi and David Covey.
But what should Republicans be looking for in a new RPT chairman? In my personal opinion, there are three areas which are the most important for the next chairman to address. In order to be successful, the next chairman is going to have to improve the party in these areas and have good answers to the following three questions:
1. Can you raise they money?
It may sound a little crass, but raising money is one of the most, if not the most, important duties of a party chairman. All those mailers, yard signs, and TV ads cost money, and lost of it. Having a message is important, but if you don’t have money to get your message out to people, you can’t expect them to vote for you.
Although fundraising is so critical to campaign success, for most people it is also the least glamorous, most boring part of the political process. It’s even harder to raise money for a political party than it is for a candidate. When someone gives money to a politician they gain access- the RPT needs to make the case to donors why it deserves their money. When he campaigned for RPT Chairman, West assured delegates that his national following and ability to draw crowds when he traveled the state headlining fundraisers would translate into fundraising success for the party. In reality, it did not. The RPT is currently is in the weakest financial position in years.
The next RPT chair needs to be able not only to bring back the donors who stopped giving under West, but also find new donors. They need to spend most of their working hours on the phone or meeting with potential donors.
Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) illustrated the ability of Democrats to pull in unprecedented sums of money from all over the country. Republicans have to have a chair who can fundraise if they expect to compete and keep Texas red.
2. How will you work to get the RPT Legislative Priorities passed?
The point of a political party is to cobble together enough constituent groups to get a slate of politicians elected to government office who will then enact policies their voters support. While Texas Republicans have been very good at the getting elected part, they’ve been somewhat lacking when it comes to delivering on the policy side.
Texas has a national reputation for being a bastion of right-wing politics and the leader of the red states (although the focus may be shifting to Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis). However, this is actually a misconception propagated by the national media. The Texas legislature and state government do not govern nearly as conservatively as the majority of red states or even swing states with Republican legislatures. Bizarrely, and frustrating for Republican activists, the legislature fails to enact even fairly mainstream conservative policies session after session.
The RPT Legislative Priorities are a list consisting of a handful of policy action items voted on by the delegates at the state convention. Most sessions only one or none are ever passed. When the Texas legislature this session finally became the 21st state to pass Constitutional Carry, a longtime legislative priority, they did so kicking and screaming the whole way.
Texas Republicans have to get more effective at passing conservative policy at the state level. For the RPT chair, pushing the legislative priorities can be a delicate balance: On the one hand, if you get too cozy with the politicians and it becomes increasingly hard to hold them accountable or push them to do anything. However, you can err too far on the other side, like West, who didn’t make an effort to work with legislators and instead spent the whole session throwing bombs and burning bridges. He didn’t get much accomplished.
The next RPT chair needs to be someone who can strike the balance between being affable and able to maintain working relationships with elected officials and candidates, while at the same time being firm when needed and willing to hold them accountable.
3. What’s our message to voters outside the party base?
Allen West is a purveyor of boomer bait and a master at throwing red meat to the party faithful. However, his kind of incendiary rhetoric and preaching to the choir only serves to tickle the ears of people who are reliable Republican voters anyways. It does nothing to bring in new voters or expand the party. For any political party to succeed, it has to have a message with broad appeal.
The greatest threat to Republican hegemony in Texas is the steady trend of suburbs turning blue. For the last couple decades, the GOP strategy in Texas was for the reliably red big suburban counties to offset the big blue cities. However, as suburban counties become lighter red or even blue, the GOP margin statewide continues to grow tighter.
Undoubtedly much of the suburban exodus from the GOP is due to Donald Trump. His style and rhetoric turns off middle class women and college educated voters. The Republican Party has to win these people back. The Republican Party needs a message for them.
Thousand of people are fleeing big blue states such as California and New York and moving to Texas. Many of them are GOP voters, or could become GOP voters with the right outreach. The Republican Party needs a message for them.
Ethnic minorities tend to be culturally more conservative than the general population, and much more conservative than the Democrat Party. Hispanics are trending more Republican, but they still vote majority Democrat. Black voters overwhelmingly vote Democrat. The Republican Party is obviously doing something wrong here, and we need to figure out what it is. The Republican Party needs a message for them.
I think the message of freedom and the ability to make your own choices has appeal to most Americans. The RPT needs to figure out how to distill this mantra into specific policy and then message it effectively.
Messaging ultimately ties into both fundraising and the legislative priorities. If you don’t have policies, you have nothing to craft a message about. And if you don’t have money, it doesn’t matter how great your message is- no one will ever hear it.
Fundraising, policy, and messaging: these are the three most important ingredients to success for a political party. If the RPT succeeds in these three areas, the Republican Party will be successful in this state for years to come, and Texas will prosper.