Condolences to David Shafer.
The Georgia Republican Party held its biennial convention for the election of state officers last weekend in Savannah. Shafer, the former candidate for Lieutenant Governor and President Pro Tempore of the Georgia Senate prior to that, takes the helm of the party’s grassroots structure in advance of the 2020 elections.
Shafer faces immediate challenges in the new role, rooted in both perception and reality. Among them are unifying a base that gives the appearance of being fractured, increasing the fundraising ability of the organization, and ultimately, establishing a relevant role for the GOP in the era of independent expenditure groups and super PACs.
Much of Saturday’s extended session revolved around multiple attempts to change the rules to allow a floor vote in order to bring forth a resolution to rebuke the Speaker of the House over his civilian duties as a criminal defense attorney. None of the parliamentary maneuvers garnered a majority of the delegates present, but hours were spent on the process before the election of officers was allowed to proceed. It was the media’s greatest focus on the gathering.
The move was not without precedent. It wasn’t that long ago that a minority of delegates wanted to use the same platform to rebuke the then sitting Governor of the same party. Nathan Deal still managed to leave office among the most popular Governors in recent history, despite the blip of convention noise.
To understand the dynamic involved, some understanding of who was in Savannah should be understood. The process to be a delegate usually involves giving up three or four Saturdays in the spring, and those that make it usually endure hours of arcane citations of Robert’s Rules of Order when they could be doing…literally anything else.
Those willing to forego the opportunity costs of kid’s sporting events or time spent outside during the first glimpses spring weather are among the most dedicated, and most partisan. They are fortified from those who were “Taxed Enough Already” a decade ago and those demanding to “Drain the Swamp” now.
For issues of party unity, this is a feature and not a bug. Those sparring for an intra-party fight last week will be the loudest voices fighting Democratic advances in the weeks and months ahead.
Motivating this group will be easy. Feeding them a steady diet of red meat while tailoring a message that appeals to parts of the state that have been trending purple or blue will be among Shafer’s bigger challenges. Party activists often take an all-or-nothing approach with litmus tests. Independent leaning voters who would never set foot in a convention setting dwell on nuance and shades of purple-gray.
Financial issues will likely continue to dog the GOP, but that doesn’t mean Republican candidates won’t be well financed. It’s more of a question of “who” and “how.” The structure of the GOP has become one that favors grassroots over donors. In the age of super PACs, it’s getting harder to get large donors to make contributions to organizations whose activists have regular episodes spending as much time rebuking Republican officials as electing them.
Squaring some of these circles will ultimately determine the relevance of the party organization. Shafer’s experience in the Senate, where as President Pro Temp his job description could be likened to herding cats, will be helpful. It’s not easy to appease a base that wants to “drain the swamp” while enacting legislation that made Georgia the “number one state to do business.”
In his new role, the paradox will shift to keeping rural Republicans highly motivated while keeping or bringing back suburban Atlanta voters in the fold. He will need to do so while attracting new donors while placating an increasingly anti-corporate base.
On the plus side, he’ll have two dozen Democrats running for President arguing over how high taxes should be raised, how much to expand government, whether Israel is really an ally, and how long a doctor has to kill an infant born alive if the mother intended to have an abortion, to aid in his unification and fundraising efforts.
Congratulations to David Shafer on his election to Georgia Republican Party Chairman.
Condolences to David Shafer.