This weekend, the Idaho Republican Party met in the town of Moscow to pick a new chairman. That did not happen. They also hoped to pick a new party platform for candidates in the state. That did not happen either. The convention disbanded on Saturday afternoon after a day of doing little but throwing people out of the state's Republican delegation.
“It was a unique experience,” one county chairman told the Idaho State Journal.
Here's an attempt to explain exactly what happened.
Who was running the Idaho convention?
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador -- who just announced his plans to run for House Majority Leader -- was the convention chair. Labrador has lots of tea party support, which apparently did not come in handy.
He tried to put a positive spin on the mess, saying, “This is as low as the party can go. We have hit bottom. I think the party has no choice but to go up from here.” Not being able to corral politicians before an election to a position that requires corralling politicians may not be the best addition to Labrador's resume, however.
As a professor emeritus at Boise State University told the Spokesman Review, “It’s hard to blame all this on Raul Labrador, but on the other hand, this does not strengthen his credentials for a national leadership position, either."
Why did things fall apart so badly?
It turns out that in Idaho -- like in much of the country -- many Republicans don't like each other very much. The tea party Republicans -- still bruised from the May 20 state primary where they didn't fare well -- at the convention were trying make sure that more establishment candidates didn't erase them completely from Idaho politics. The establishment, on the other hand, assumed the tea party would realize they errors of their ways -- most visibly in the House race won by incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson.
The Idaho GOP executive director told a local television station before the convention started, "We're all going to gather and get back on the same page. We know that the people that came out of the primary are our candidates, and they're the folks we're going to support in the general election and see some success in November."
Republicans basically run Idaho -- they hold all the statewide seats, the entire congressional delegation and 80 percent of the state legislature. The only people Republicans can steal power from in the state are other Republicans. So tea party Republicans on the credentials committee -- which is in charge of making sure delegates and proceedings follow all the rules -- started arguing that certain delegates should be unseated in the name of good governance.
By the time the convention adjourned at 3 p.m. on Saturday, about a fifth of the delegates were unseated, and people were still brandishing parliamentary rules, pointing them at establishment delegates and threatening to unseat them too.
All 15 people representing Bannock County were unseated. Bannock County houses Idaho State University, and usually Democrats have an advantage in local races there. Similar requests to unseat Ada County and Twin Falls County delegates were considered before the proceedings came to a halt. Boise -- the state's capital and largest city -- is in Ada County, which holds one-sixth of the state's voters. Altogether, the state party's credentials committee voted to kick out around 130 delegates. If Tea Party Republicans wanted to push back against the moderating influences in their state, these southern counties were a good place to start.
The establishment delegates in Idaho responded by badmouthing their conservative compatriots to reporters. State Sen. Chuck Winder said, “It was basically the ultra-, ultra-conservative, tea party-libertarian type people basically flexing their muscle in the way the thing was organized. It’s a real shame that a convention comes to that stage, where there really wasn’t any real floor leadership, there wasn’t any fairness in the process, either in the credentials committee or on the floor. It was all predetermined. It’s kind of ‘who’s going to have the power,’ rather than working together.”
One delegate from Ada County told the Associated Press that the state party chairman -- who is often aligned with the state's tea party wing -- had "clearly, clearly stacked these committees to give the tin foil hat caucus majority control of convention." The Twin Falls County GOP chair echoed this complaint. "They have stacked the committee. We are trying to bring some sanity to the party and they are whittling us away." The credentials committee responded in kind. The Associated Press report also noted that the credential committee co-chair told a group of women asking about the delegate changes, "Just hold on, take a breath and go refresh your lipstick."
In short, never underestimate the committee that makes the arcane rules that govern procedure. They could end you.
Did the convention have a theme?
Yes, and it is the cherry on top of this fiasco. The convention was deemed the "Freedom and Unity" convention. One GOP county chair neatly summed up the convention's ability to live up to its name to the State Journal.“We failed to move toward party unity."
Friday evening, guest speaker Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), said, "We have to do better, we have to cut out the frivolous." Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee noted earlier in the day, "There are all kinds of Republicans, even in this room," a statement which politely sums up the weekend's events.
The Idaho Democratic Party -- which also held its convention this weekend in Moscow -- gleefully discussed their successful proceedings with the Times News on Saturday. “We’re going into this convention pretty unified and strong. We don’t have the intra-party dissension that you’re seeing today."
However, state Republicans can take comfort in the fact that they will continue to win many an election in the near future, regardless of their inability to decide what they plan to run on -- as weird as that may seem.
Did the fight accomplish anything?
Over the course of the convention weekend, a committee reached a consensus that repealing the 17th Amendment -- which established the direct election of U.S. Senators -- should no longer be part of its platform. The same committee also voted to require bibles be available in all Idaho public schools. They rejected a party plank that would bar same-sex couples from becoming parents. However, the abbreviated proceedings means that the party is stuck with the platform it started the convention with.
The current chair -- Barry Peterson, friend of libertarians -- will stay in office for now.
Rand Paul also signed two Kentucky rifles. One will be raffled off, the other will be auctioned to benefit the GOP.
Has anything like this happened before?
Yes, and it happened at another convention with a Paul in attendance. In 2008, the Nevada Republican Convention also disbanded early because of infighting. Ron Paul supporters made a rule change that elongated the proceedings by allowing anyone in attendance at the convention to run as a delegate. Perhaps fearing what would happen if they tried to pick delegates in person again, Nevada ended up choosing their 2008 delegates to the Republican National Convention through a private conference call. They claimed that an "enthusiasm gap" made an actual convention an unreasonable expense.