31 March 2010
"Grassroots" Republicanism in New York State
In announcing the nomination of Chris Gibson as the Republican candidate for New York's 20th Congressional District -- the seat formerly held by Senator Gillibrand and currently by Scott Murphy -- Neil Kelleher told the media that the ex-soldier, fresh from a Haiti relief mission, secured the GOP line in a "grassroots" manner. That is, he visited with the county committee members who actually choose the party's candidate. Congressional candidates are not chosen through primaries unless no candidate gets a majority of these committee persons. That's how the debacle of Dede Scozzafava happened; she secured a majority of bosses despite eventual proof that she was not favored by the rank and file. That's why dissidents who rejected Scozzafava as a "liberal" had to take their campaign to the Conservative line; once a majority decides, the rank and file have no right to contest the nominee. From a perspective favorable to third-parties we might applaud this rule, since it seems likely to result in more disgruntled candidates bolting and declaring independent candidacies. But it does seem unfair to the rank and file to be denied a decisive voice in choosing their candidate. There's no saying which of three prospects, including Gibson, they would have chosen. My only direct evidence of grass-roots opinion came when I saw an anti-Obama demonstration on Wolf Road last month. The protesters held signs for Patrick Ziegler, who was probably the closest this district had to a Tea Party candidate. While his website identifies Ziegler as "Independent. Conservative," he has knuckled under and endorsed Gibson. He may have no real objections to the nominee, who appears set to campaign on a conventional Republican platform of tax cuts, reduced regulation, etc., but Ziegler's deference to the GOP bosses comes too quickly, too instinctively, for a professedly independent conservative. Independence among conservatives is a meaningless slogan unless they're willing to declare their independence from the Republican party. I'm not saying that Ziegler should have bolted, or that Gibson is unworthy of his support -- I'm definitely not the one to judge in such a matter -- but it seems to me that a real independent would have thought about it a little more than he has. Treat his endorsement accordingly.