Gizzi on Politics: June 11-15

‘Troublesome’ Young Men — and Women — at GOP Helm

Columbia, S.C. — In her fascinating new book, “Troublesome Young Men”, historian Lynne Olson writes of Britain’s maverick Conservative members of Parliament who risked political extinction by defying Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany. The young insurgents were at first dismissed as cranks by a British public wanting to avoid war at all costs. Slowly, writes Olson, the public “realized that there were intrepid politicians willing to risk political suicide.” The “troublesome young men” were vindicated in 1939 when Hitler broke his promise to Chamberlain and invaded Czechoslovakia. The insurgents, including future Prime Ministers Anthony Eden and Harold MacMillan, became the wartime government under Winston Churchill and the rest, as they say, is history.

During the meeting of Republican state chairmen held in Columbia, S.C., at the same time as the May 15 presidential debate, it was clear to me that, in the U.S. and the GOP, the “troublesome young men (and women)” are the recently elected heads of party organizations in a number of states. Indeed, since the devastating mid-term election of ’06, no fewer than 18 state Republican parties have elected new chairmen. The common denominators among them are: 1) strong backgrounds in conservative causes and campaigns; 2) a growing distance from and independence of the Bush White House, notably Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove; and 3) a very strong desire to recapture the process of choosing delegates to presidential nominating conventions, which, many chairmen feel, has been hijacked by state legislatures in the current rush to “front-load” presidential primaries.

This is in striking contrast to the Republican National Committee during the first Bush Administration, when I found conservative swashbucklers increasingly being replaced as state chairmen by more middle-of-the-road Republicans. Stalwart conservative Chuck Sigerson, who left the Nebraska chairmanship and was succeeded by a lower-key chairman close to the party’s big donors, told me in ’01: “More establishment figures have assimilated into power in the various state parties and, as they are, the ‘flamethrowers’ go” (see “RNC Has Shifted a Bit to the Left,” Human Events, April 2, 2001).

The Players

“People like [Colorado State Chairman] Dick Wadhams, [Arizona State Chairman] Randy Pullen, and I all came up in politics working for conservatives and are as ingrained in conservative philosophy as in party politics,” said Michigan State Chairman Saul Anuzis, a self-styled “Kemp-Gingrich Republican.”

A number of the 18 new state GOP chairman elected since the ’06 elections, such as Wadhams and Pullen, are well-known to Human Events readers. Others include: Rhode Island Chairman Giovanni Cicione, 36-year-old attorney and past official of the libertarian Cato Institute; Vermont Chairman Rob Roper, who was active in his state’s school choice movement; and former State Sen. and newly minted State Chairman Sue Lowden of Nevada, runner up in the Miss America Pageant of 1973 and veteran of the Bob Hope USO Tour in Vietnam.

None of the state chairmen would say for the record what they felt about the White House-imposed “power-sharing” that has Florida Sen. Mel Martinez as general chairman of the Republican National Committee and Kentucky RNC member Mike Duncan as full-time operating head of the committee. Nonetheless, it became obvious to me after spending some time with the state leaders that this is an uncomfortable arrangement that many of them can’t wait to upend when a new nominee for President is picked in Minneapolis next summer. At a time when the issue of illegal immigration is increasingly upsetting their grass-roots activists, a number of state chairmen also find it a burden to have at their helm Martinez, a leading player in the current immigration debate and guest-worker/amnesty proponent. Many of them privately refer to the Floridian as “Amnesty Mel.”

During a luncheon I had at the Columbia Marriott Hotel with three state chairmen, a spirited discussion broke out over whether a state party could decouple from a presidential primary enacted by its legislature and then choose national convention delegates through its own method — a convention or a caucus. One of the chairmen left the table, called his legal counsel and then returned to say that, yes, national party rules permitted just such a decoupling. The same chairman hinted strongly that he might just pursue this avenue as opposed to the “early bird” primary mandated by the legislature and paid for with tax dollars.

At this point, it is doubtful that the current trend of front-loading primaries can be headed off, but it is likely that the “young lions” who are becoming state party leaders will try to recapture the process for 2012. One subject that was widely discussed in Columbia and has growing support is the “favorite son” proposal: that is, changing the party rule in 1972 that requires a candidate for President to have a majority of delegates from five states before being placed in nomination at the national convention to simply one state. Such a rules change would restore the “favorite son” candidates that states put up before 1972 to hold their delegation members and give them time to maneuver before agreeing to support a major candidate.

Who’s for Whom in South Carolina?

Less than two weeks after the second debate among Republican presidential hopefuls in Columbia, the outlook for the Republican primary in the Palmetto State — for which no solid date has yet been set — remains unclear.

According to a just-completed Matt Towery poll conducted for the “Southern Political Report,” Rudy Giuliani leads among likely South Carolina Republican primary voters with 18% of the vote, followed by John McCain and still-unannounced candidate Newt Gingrich with 17% each. Fred Thompson, who is expected soon to get into the race, has 13%, Mitt Romney 8%, and Mike Huckabee 6%.

This very unclear picture still exists as many of the state’s Republican powerbrokers have begun to line up with different candidates. Sen. Lindsey Graham, State Atty. Gen. Henry McMaster, and House Speaker Bobby Harrell — along with half the state house members — have weighed in for McCain, who lost a tumultuous primary to George W. Bush in 2000. Sen. Jim DeMint is strongly for Romney, and according to the Columbia State newspaper, the former Massachusetts governor has “organization and endorsements that are second only to McCain’s [and] more campaign cash than any Republican.”

However, as the State quickly added, Romney “has yet to translate that into much of a presence in the S.C. polls.” In Towery’s poll, he barely leads Huckabee. However, the former Arkansas governor — who scored major points in the debate by saying Congress is spending more than “John Edwards in a beauty shop” — has become a force in South Carolina. Days before the debate, he campaigned with Iris Campbell, widow of the late, revered Gov. (1986-94) Carroll Campbell and with their son Mike. National reporters and even the BBC were covering Huckabee in South Carolina. Following his strong performance in the debate, the Republican “man from Hope” had nearly as many reporters around him in the press “spin room” as Giuliani or McCain.

Giuliani continues to draw big crowds in South Carolina and pick up major supporters. State Treasurer Tom Ravenel, considered one of the GOP’s brightest future stars, heads up the New Yorker’s primary campaign. Ravenel’s father, former U.S. Rep. (1986-94) Arthur Ravenel, recently introduced Giuliani at a crowded rally as a combination of “Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley and Stonewall Jackson.” Also in the Giuliani camp as top state fund-raiser is former State Republican Chairman Barry Wynn.