After party-leadership battle, Republicans unsure whether fundraising, harmony will improve
It was a Saturday gathering that started with a sizzling race for chairmanship of the Arizona Republican Party, climaxed with a bare majority for the winner, then ended with the smiles and sounds of unity.
But now comes the hard part: the charting of the future of a party apparatus that boasts of electoral victories, but falls short in fundraising.
And with Tom Morrissey — late entrant in the race for the chairmanship, former U.S. marshal, Tea Party activist — now in charge of the state party, questions abound as to whether Republicans can overcome the growing can’t-be-too-far-right mood that mocks moderates and scares off big-money contributors.
A Tea Party chairman might encourage the continuation of diverting campaign money around the party structure and cause moderate Republicans to be boxed out of the party campaign machine in favor of more rigid Tea Party candidates.
Perhaps as an augur, chairman candidate Ron Carmichael, who had considerable support from the moderate wing of the party, quickly dispensed with his campaign rhetoric and spoke of unity after his loss to Morrissey at the Jan. 22 convention of the party’s state committeemen.
Morrissey’s language from the convention podium was less conciliatory.
He touted grass-roots entrenchment, his “constitutional conservative” credentials and a willingness to battle the party elites when they make compromises on key issues or bow to the agenda of deep-pocketed donors.
“We’re going to respect the traditional methods (of fundraising), but we’re not going to respect the strings that come with large donations,” Morrissey said to the crowd, which responded with enthusiastic cheers. “We need a voice. I’m you. I’m standing here as you.”
Many of the active Republicans who spoke with the Arizona Capitol Times said they didn’t know Morrissey very well. Those who spoke in support of him at the convention repeated the message that he is a “true conservative” or a “constitutional conservative.”
When Rob Haney, the Maricopa County Republican Party chairman who recruited Morrissey to run for state party chair, took the microphone to endorse Morrissey from the floor of the convention, he shed light on the type of Republican Morrissey is, equating him to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Senate President Russell Pearce and outgoing party chairman Randy Pullen.
For Haney, Morrissey’s win means Arizona’s elected officials will be required to respect the hard-line opposition to such issues as immigration, campaign finance reform and climate change, opposition supported by many grass-roots activists. Haney mentioned senators Jon Kyl and John McCain and U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake as those in the congressional delegation who have spent their time in Washington “dissing the base” with their cooperation with Democrats on those issues.
Tom Morrissey speaking to the crowd at the Arizona state Republican convention. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Some party insiders say Morrissey’s win highlights the divisions that have troubled Arizona’s Grand Old Party for years.
Carmichael, who ran against Morrissey, had the support of Kyl, former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg and Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams. Although he was the perceived establishment candidate, Carmichael said his big-name endorsements actually hurt him.
“The support I received from elected officials was a disadvantage for me,” Carmichael said, before suggesting that the desire to buck old party favorites might be an overreaction to disagreements with them. “Being aligned with those elected officials doesn’t mean we have to be guided by them.”
Since the Jan. 22 convention, Carmichael said he has been waiting for a call from Morrissey to discuss how to most constructively move the party forward. As of Jan. 27, Carmichael said he hadn’t yet heard from Morrissey.
State Rep. Russ Jones, a Republican from Yuma who supported Carmichael, said he was surprised at Morrissey’s win, but said he can understand how it happened.
Jones said that when Bruce Ash, the original “grass-roots candidate” in the chairman’s race, dropped out of the contest less than a week before the election, it opened the door for a lesser-known grass-roots-activist-connected candidate like Morrissey.
“It’s a reflection of the times,” Jones said of Morrissey and the support he received from Tea Party activists. “The GOP has been the beneficiary of the Tea Party’s popularity. … It’s not that they’ve allowed us, but they’ve knit a loose organization and supported us and helped get a lot of folks elected. We have to respect that and be inclusive to that.”
For some observers, however, the election of Morrissey signaled not an inclusion of rigid Tea Party stances, but an exclusion of moderates.
In his comment, Bolick said the party is “hell-bent on being unappealing and unprofessional. Mark 2012 as the beginning of the decline as the party grows ever more insular and alienates independents like me that it needs to win.” Bolick went on to call Haney, the Maricopa County GOP chairman, “an angry and divisive man.”
Kurt Davis, a political consultant with FirstStrategic and former Arizona GOP executive director, said the split between the establishment Republicans and the grass roots is nothing new.
“You can’t be a majority party without multiple factions,” Davis said. “If you have only one faction, you’ve become the minority party.”
He continued: “We call it the Tea Party today, but there’s always been a neo-populist strain within the Arizona Republican Party.” He said the “neo-populists” are those who are motivated by an issue du jour. Now, it’s economics. In the past, it was family values or some other issue.
Although Bolick told the Arizona Capitol Times he was not willing to comment publicly on his Facebook postings or on Morrissey, one comment gave insight into what he would have preferred.
“I wish someone with broad appeal and ability to unify could have won,” Bolick’s comment read.
Davis expressed a somewhat more hopeful, if cautious, outlook for the party’s new chairman.
“The question is whether (Morrissey) can develop the leadership needed to broaden the base of the party, raise money and be a support mechanism for elected officials,” he said. “It’s a tall order.”
Shiree Verdone, a GOP state committee member from Phoenix who was heavily involved in Carmichael’s campaign, said she had hoped her candidate would win and bring solid fundraising back into the party structure, after the intra-party fights that arose around the way Pullen allocated campaign money.
When Pullen was first elected to lead the state GOP in 2007, many of the party’s traditional donors said they would no longer give their money to the party because he was divisive, and they didn’t believe he would spend the money properly.
Many of Pullen’s critics point to party expenditures in 2008 as justifying that belief. That year, the Arizona Republican Party spent more than $100,000 on television ads attacking the Democratic opponents of Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, while spending only a fraction of that on legislative contests.
One of those ads was barred from television by Phoenix station because it alleged Arpaio’s opponent masturbated while on duty as a police officer and implicated him in a rape.
Verdone said “527” committees and independent expenditure committees were set up expressly to route money around Pullen. She expects that same sort of structure to continue, noting that among other party activists, a worry has percolated that Morrissey doesn’t want any big donors.
“He said he wants $5 and $10 donations,” Verdone said. “I don’t think that’s the way to win elections.”
She said that if incumbent politicians find the party too hostile or unhelpful, they will use alternate funding and campaign organizations.
Republican activist and political consultant Shane Wikfors said that previously he has seen the sort of diversion Verdone described, and that its origin goes back to the way the party’s hierarchy has developed over the years.
“There are essentially two classes in the Republican Party,” Wikfors said.
“There’s the middle-to-lower end: the ground workers. And there’s the upper class. They write the checks. And when they write the checks, they say, ‘This is where the money should go. This is how it should be used.’ Then the party leadership has to decide how to use the money. And they always risk losing the donor, or having the donors circumvent the party if they’re not happy.”
Those check-writing donors are used to having influence in the party, Wikfors said, and when someone wins the party chair election by promising to buck the desires of those big donors and the candidates they like, there may be some pricey consequences.
“The big donors move the party and the agenda forward,” Wikfors said. “So the big question is whether these donors get behind Morrissey, or starve the party to get what they want. In the early ’90s they did that until they got the chairman they wanted in there.”
Wikfors said the party’s big, consistent donors withheld their support during the 1990s because they saw social conservatives, who focused on issues like abortion, take over leadership. Deep-pocketed donors wanted GOP leadership instead to focus on more traditional party agenda items, such as promotion of limited government and growing the party base, Wikfors said.
Adams, the House speaker, supported Carmichael for chairman, but said any hostile talk about bucking the establishment should be taken lightly.
“Any time there’s an election result, people are going to claim that it sent a message one way or another,” Adams said. “Most of the time, that’s a distortion of what happened or what message was sent. The state of the Republican Party is good.”
Adams conceded, however, that he expects to see the Republican House Victory Committee, which he established in 2009 as an alternate campaign and funding vehicle for Republican legislative candidates, continue into the next election cycle.
— Jim Small, editor of the Yellow Sheet Report, contributed to this story.
- Web extra: Tom Morrisey, Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party (piersmorgan.blogs.cnn.com)
- Is The Tea Party Back? (buzzfeed.com)
- Romney and Santorum Battle in Arizona and Michigan (nytimes.com)
- Arpaio: I briefed Santorum on birth certificate investigation (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)