Morton Blackwell sounds off on RNC rules change controversy



Remember the video of Robin Hayes’s temper tantrum at the RNC?  There was an older gentleman in the video who was invited as a guest speaker to explain his concerns with the rules changes.  (Rantin’ Robin gave him quite a sarcastic, disrespectful reception.) THAT was Morton Blackwell, arguably one of the “godfathers” of the modern conservative movement in America.  Many conservative activists know Blackwell best as the head of the Springfield, VA-based Leadership Institute, which has been training grassroots activists for decades.

Blackwell led the good — but ultimately unsuccessful — fight against the rules changes.  In the aftermath of it all, the elder statesman from Virginia has sent out an email to RNC delegates throwing in his two cents on Tampa and making a case for what should be the next steps:

Dear Fellow RNC Delegate,
> Now that the national convention is over, many delegates and
> others have asked me to sum up my views on the controversy at the
> convention regarding The Rules of the Republican Party and where
> we should go from here.
> What happened regarding the party rules in Tampa was a totally
> unnecessary – but largely successful attempt – to concentrate and
> centralize more power at the top of the party and restrict or
> shut off opportunities for power in the party to flow from the
> bottom up.
> The effort was led by Ben Ginsberg, a member of the Convention
> Rules Committee from Washington, D.C., who represented himself as
> the spokesman for Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign.
> Earlier this year, Mr. Ginsberg worked for the Presidential
> Campaign of Michele Bachmann.  In Tampa, he led the effort to
> make major changes in the party rules strongly opposed by
> Congresswoman Bachmann.
> Mr. Ginsberg is simply a man unencumbered by principles.
> For four years, the Republican National Committee’s Standing
> Committee on Rules carefully reviewed The Rules of the Republican
> Party and adopted changes to propose for adoption by the national
> convention.
> Then the Republican National Committee voted unanimously to
> approve the new rules proposed by its Standing Committee on Rules
> and sent them on to the Convention Rules Committee.
> Enter Ben Ginsberg.
> At the Convention Rules Committee meeting, he proceeded to
> introduce and support many amendments to the newly-revised rules
> which had been approved the previous day by the RNC.
> The changes he proposed shared a common theme:  to concentrate
> and centralize more power at the top of the party, and to shut
> off opportunities for power in the party to flow from the bottom
> up.
> Since these rules changes would go into effect for the 2016
> presidential election cycle, none of Mr. Ginsberg’s power grabs
> would in any way help us elect Mitt Romney and defeat President
> Barack Obama in November.
> And I’m sure you agree defeating Obama should be our top priority
> this Election Year.
> But Ben Ginsberg’s efforts predictably enraged conservative
> Republicans who treasure the protections long incorporated in our
> national party rules.
> The record will show that during the Conventions Rules Committee
> meeting, as a member of that Committee from Virginia, I
> repeatedly warned Mr. Ginsberg that his power grabs would hurt
> the Romney campaign by outraging grassroots conservative and
> libertarian activists whom we want to support our candidates this
> year.
> Unfortunately, Mr. Ginsberg continued on his path.

> There are some folks who, if you give them a fur coat, think
> they’re King Kong.
> As anyone with relevant experience should have foreseen, when the
> Rules Committee report was presented for consideration to the
> National Convention, a thunderous “NO!” vote arose from the
> convention floor.
> Most of the news media and those of us in the convention hall
> agree that the vote on adopting the Rules was obviously close.
> Some believe the “NO” vote was louder, but Speaker Boehner ruled
> that the “ayes” had it.
> I was the youngest elected Goldwater delegate at the 1964
> national convention.  I have attended every national convention
> since, and I’ve represented Virginia on the RNC since 1988.
> Nothing like this has ever happened before in living memory at a
> Republican National Convention.
> When they were presumptive Presidential nominees – and when they
> were Presidents of the United States – neither George H.W. Bush
> nor George W. Bush ever attempted to undermine the means by which
> power within the Republican Party structure can rise from the
> bottom up.
> The operatives whom the Romney campaign put in charge of Rules
> matters seem to want the power to rule the national Republican
> Party, as Nelson Rockefeller used to run the New York State
> Republican Party.
> These operatives should be repudiated – and it’s not too late to
> do so.
> Later in this email, I’ll discuss some of the awful changes Mr.
> Ginsberg supported.
> But first, it’s necessary to stress how important I believe it is
> to elect Mitt Romney and defeat Barack Obama in November.
> My wife and I have supported Republican candidates every year in
> our 40-year marriage.  This year, my wife and I have contributed
> at least five times as much money to Romney Victory, Inc. as we
> have ever given to any other campaign.
> Four years ago, I predicted in a posting which still can be seen
> on the website RedState, how bad a President Barack Obama would
> be.
> He has been even worse than I predicted.
> Barack Obama is a leftist ideologue who has filled his
> Administration with other leftist ideologues, and their policies
> are bankrupting our country and destroying many of our liberties.
> Mitt Romney strongly supports conservative principles – and he
> would undo the damage Obama has done.
> He would end the slide into national bankruptcy, restore
> threatened liberties, and put our country on the path toward
> economic growth and more job opportunities.
> It’s little short of tragic that some of his operatives blundered
> by setting up an entirely unnecessary, major controversy with
> grassroots Republicans at our national convention.
> Undoubtedly, the worst power grab initiated by Mr. Ginsberg was
> his ramming through a change in the Rules of the Republican
> Party, a new Rule 12, which permits the Republican National
> Committee to change national rules between conventions.
> The Democrats have had such a rule for years, and those in power
> in their party spend the periods between their national
> conventions fighting in their national committee over rules
> changes to benefit this or that faction, or this or that
> potential presidential nominee.
> We Republicans have avoided that by prohibiting changes in the
> rules between our national conventions.
> The office of the RNC Chairman is – and has to be – very
> powerful.  A National Committee of 168 members, which meets for a
> few hours two or three times a year, can’t micro-manage the RNC.
> The RNC Chairman has the immense power of the purse and a large
> staff to influence the decisions of the RNC, so an RNC Chairman
> can get the votes of a super-majority of the RNC for just about
> anything he or she desires.
> But until now, the fact that the RNC Chairman must abide by
> stable party rules has served as the main protection for input by
> grassroots conservatives and libertarians.
> For practical purposes, the new Rule 12 adds to the power of the
> RNC Chairman (or to the White House when there’s a Republican
> President) the ability to change party rules at will.
> Over a number of election cycles, our party has struggled to
> avoid the front-loading of our delegate selection process, moving
> us closer and closer to a single national primary as states race
> to the head of the line to hold their primaries.
> Yet prudence dictates that there should be a reasonably long
> nomination process in order to properly vet all of our
> candidates.
> After special studies and much consultation, many serious party
> leaders finally came up with a workable solution.  Party rules
> were changed in this cycle to prohibit winner-take-all primaries
> in March of presidential election years.  March primaries had to
> in some way allocate delegate votes proportionally to the popular
> vote.
> The new system worked, and Mitt Romney is a better presidential
> candidate because of that experience.
> Mr. Ginsberg gutted the hard-won reform by ramming through a
> change in the rules to permit winner-take-all primaries in March.
> When I asked him why he did this, he replied to me, “It wasn’t
> our idea.  We did it as a favor for some friends.”
> That’s a far cry from a process in which the best interests of
> our party are carefully discussed and considered.
> I have innumerable times over the years recruited new
> participants into the Republican Party by stressing the fairness,
> openness, and stability of our Republican rules compared to those
> of the Democratic Party.

> The way to treat newcomers to our party is fairly, politely, and
> even cordially.

> That’s what we do in Virginia. And that’s how to build and
> sustain a majority party.
> Among the many still-not-publicized rules changes rammed through
> the Convention Rules Committee by Mr. Ginsberg was one to raise
> from five to eight the number of states a presidential candidate
> would have to win in the nomination contests in order to have his
> or her name formally placed in nomination before the convention.
> Raising the bar was a gratuitous slap at prospective new
> participants in our nomination process.
> Despite his success in recruiting new volunteers, Congressman Ron
> Paul won a majority of the delegate votes in nowhere near five
> states this year.
> To discuss all the power grabs the rules suffered this year would
> be tedious in a letter, so let me mention only some of them,
> including the one which resulted in a “compromise.”
> Mr. Ginsberg got the Convention Rules Committee to pass a rule
> change which would allow presidential candidates to remove
> national convention delegates who were legally elected under the
> party rules and laws of the respective states.  This caused such
> a furor that a Minority Report to the Rules Committee Report
> seemed certain.
> That would have forced a debate on the convention floor and a
> vote of the entire convention body.
> A valid Minority Report required the support of 28 members – or
> 25% – of the Convention Rules Committee.  Well over 35 signatures
> were certain, despite all available arm-twisting of Mr. Ginsberg
> and those who supported him on everything else.
> State parties, including Virginia’s, fiercely defended their
> right to elect their own delegates.  The “compromise” was for Mr.
> Ginsberg to agree to take out the provision which would have
> given candidates the power to disavow and remove legally elected
> delegates.
> In place of that obnoxious provision was inserted a guarantee
> that delegate votes would go to candidates who won those delegate
> votes in binding presidential primaries, a matter which would
> have been routinely enforced under the existing rules.
> Conservatives continued to mount efforts to file two Minority
> Reports, but in the end, enough Rules Committee members were
> persuaded not to sign them or to remove their signatures.
> Neither had the required 28 signatures and one wound up with 27
> valid signatures.
> Therefore no Minority Reports reached the convention floor.
> I should mention that Mr. Ginsberg moved one rules change which
> would have required the signatures of 40% of future Convention
> Rules Committees for a Minority Report to be considered on the
> convention floor.
> That would have rendered future Minority Reports virtually
> impossible because the signatures would have to be obtained and
> the Minority Report filed within one hour of the adjournment of
> the Convention Rules Committee.
> The opposition to this attempted power grab was so intense that
> Mr. Ginsberg withdrew his motion.
> There circulated in the media coverage of the Tampa convention a
> report that a late and wayward bus deliberately prevented the
> Virginia Delegates from arriving at the convention hall in time
> for me to take part in the final (usually pro-forma) meeting of
> the Convention Rules Committee held as the convention began.

> It is true that our Virginia bus got our delegation to the
> convention hall after the Convention Rules Committee meeting
> adjourned.  But I never for a minute believed our bus had been
> deliberately delayed.
> One should not attribute to conspiracy what can adequately be
> explained by incompetence.  You will recall that staggeringly bad
> transportation arrangements inconvenienced most of the states’
> delegations that day.
> All in all, in most ways our 2012 convention was a roaring
> success.
> We presented great speeches by Mitt Romney and his brilliant
> choice for running mate, Paul Ryan.  Other great speeches by Anne
> Romney, Marco Rubio, and a galaxy of others put our party’s best
> feet forward.  The 2012 Republican Platform clearly expressed our
> conservative and liberty-loving principles.
> My strong advice is for all of us to work tirelessly and give
> generously to our national campaign.  Everything is on the line
> this year.
> And there’s another reason for solid conservatives to contribute
> more time and money now.

> I believe we shall win this election, and then there’s the
> important matter of staffing a new Administration.

> I worked full-time in the Presidential Personnel Office of
> President-elect Ronald Reagan and then for three years on his
> White House staff.

> Personnel is policy.

> An incoming administration tends to hire people who contributed
> significantly to winning the election.

> If we expect a new President to hire a lot of principled
> conservatives and libertarians, we should maximize the number of
> principled conservatives and libertarians who have credentialed
> themselves by taking part in the Mitt Romney campaign.

> And then, in 2016 we can work to repeal the current Rule 12 – and
> reverse the other mistakes incorporated in the new rules last
> week.
>                      Cordially,
>                      Morton Blackwell
>                      National Committeeman, Virginia