Are Political Parties Important and Necessary for American Democracy?

John Aldrich begins Why Parties? with a bold statement from E. E. Schattschneider which states that “political parties created democracy, and…democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties” (Aldrich 3).  He goes on to add that “it is necessary to have a party system, an ongoing competition between two or more durable parties” (Aldrich 12).   Throughout his first chapter, he illustrates several key concepts of democratic elections.  One important feature of democracy includes free and fair competition between actors seeking elected office.  Strong parties, Aldrich argues aids ambitious politicians and having two or more of them serve the public interest of preventing one faction controlling the government unchecked. (Aldrich 15-16).  But are these viewpoints actually reflected in the American political system?

As the author mentions, George Washington’s addresses the issue of parties in his farewell presidential address.  “I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations.  Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally…The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.  The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty” (Washington).  It is a concern that troubled Madison as well when he wrote Federalist No. 10 nine years earlier.

Aldrich points out in his third chapter that although there was considerable instability in voting coalitions in the First Congress, the body operated without the assistance of a party system.  Along these same lines, in V.O. Key’s study of the South in the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the region was dominated by a single party, the Democratic Party.  “Two-party competition would have meant the destruction of southern solidarity in national politics-in presidential elections and in the halls of Congress” (Key 8-9).  In some southern states, such as Virginia, a political machine, in this case, the Byrd Organization, more or less dominated politics and thus elections were not a competitive affair nor, one could argue, democratic.  This idea conjures up the idea of party bosses gathering in smoke-filled rooms in order to determine who ran the state.  Elections were merely a formality, window-dressing presenting the façade of democracy.   However, other southern states were a different matter.  As Key illustrates in his chapter regarding Alabama, although the Democratic Party nominee for any office easily bested his opponent or opponents in the general election, Republican or otherwise, the race for the Democratic primary was often a lively affair.  He shows in Table 3 that 7 candidates sought the nomination for Alabama’s 8th Congressional District in 1946.  The state was divided not on the basis of party, but regionalism, with candidates typically receiving a high percentage of the vote in either their home counties, neighboring counties, and counties with which they or their campaign has some association (Key 38-43).  To quote Aldrich, “until recently being a Republican in the South provided a reputation, but one that made winning all but impossible” (Aldrich 49).

Returning to the beginning of Aldrich, he writes, “the political party as a collective enterprise…provides the only means for holding elected officials accountable” (Aldrich 3).  But is this statement necessarily true?  Consider the case of Representative Eric Cantor (VA-7).  Over time his district voters were growing dissatisfied with him. Normally re-elected with at least 63% of the vote in his previous elections, his vote percentage dropped to the high 50s in the 2010 and 2012 contests.  Nevertheless, the district was a safe Republican (Sabato) and, given his influence as the House Majority Leader, the party leadership had no incentive to replace him.  With Downs’ median voter theorem, parties will seek to converge toward the ideology of the largest segment of segment of the population (Downs) but Cook rated the 7th as Solid Republican (Ballotpedia) so it would be difficult for a Democratic candidate to position him or herself so far right on the ideological spectrum to mount a serious challenge, especially against a powerful incumbent like Cantor.  Therefore, citizens had little chance to hold him accountable in a general election given the makeup of the district due, in part, to gerrymandering by the Republican-controlled legislature.  In 2014, an unknown college professor named David Brat shocked the nation when he successfully defeated Cantor for the Republican nomination by challenging him as a more strident conservative.  With this Brat/Cantor illustration, it isn’t really the two-party system holding elected officials accountable, but rather an opportune candidate seizing the right moment within a single party.  Updating this example with recent data, in 2016 the courts ruled that Virginia’s 3rd district was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, therefore the surrounding districts, including the 7th, were redrawn making it more competitive.  Thus, what was a safe Republican district several years ago ended up switching to the Democratic Party by a narrow margin in the 2018 elections (New York Times).

Although Aldrich might decry it as undemocratic, I would argue that this sort of state and regionalism that Alabama experienced in the early 1900s was what the writers of the Constitution expected would happen in American politics…at least before the advent of national political parties.  After all, in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution the writers seek to safeguard against states simply voting for their favored sons for both president and vice president by stating, “The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves.” (U.S. Constitution).  We see this Alabama situation play out in the presidential election of 1824 with four candidates from the Democratic-Republican Party each winning his respective home state. As no candidate received a majority of the Electoral College vote, the decision fell to the House of Representatives.  Rewinding to the previous election, known as the Era of Good Feelings, the collapse of the Federalist Party led James Monroe to an easy reelection with no serious opposition.  As Aldrich writes, “the birth of party politics in a form recognizable even today can be fairly be dated to 1828” (Aldrich 102).  Setting aside the issue that only a small fraction of the population was eligible to vote, despite the lack of a stable two-party system prior to 1828, I have not found much literature to suggest that the United States was not considered democratic from its founding to 1828 nor much support for the claim that political parties created democracy given that the United States government predates the party system.  As another example, in the city of Staunton, Virginia, the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, both city council and school board elections are nonpartisan affairs.  Even without the lack of party labels and cues, competitive elections are common in Staunton, and as far as I’ve found no one has declared that democracy is dead in the Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley.

Even though most elections feature candidates nominated by one or more major political parties, to argue, as Schattschenider does, that “political parties created democracy, and…democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties” (Aldrich 3), does not appear have much supporting evidence in the history of the American political system.  After all, political parties didn’t begin to take shape until many years after the founding of the present government.  In addition, two-party competition was and is still absent in some regions and localities.  Nevertheless, spirited competition can still persist in its absence.  Democracies do not necessarily require a multitude of political parties or any parties at all, and, in the case of gerrymandering, strong parties can mute elections’ ability to reflect the peoples’ will through the redrawing district lines to make them safe or uncompetitive.

If parties are not necessary for democracy, are they still important?  Here scholars disagree as well.  Using data from ANES surveys, Aldrich displays a chart on page 265 which shows that as of late parties have become less important as apathy toward the parties has increased stating, “parties had become increasingly irrelevant but became at least as relevant to voters by 2008 as in the 1950s” (Aldrich 264).  He goes on to add that “voting thus became candidate centered and parties as mechanisms for understanding candidates, campaigns, and elections became less relevant” (Aldrich 268).   However, other scholars debate the theory of party decline.  Exploring data from NES surveys and DW-Nominate scores, Hetherington reaches a different conclusion stating, “Although parties in the 1990s are not as central to Americans as they were in the 1950s, they are far more important today than in the 1970s and 1980s.” (Hetherington 619).  Then, we have Krehbiel who looks at the partisan composition of Congress in committees and suggests, quoting David Broder, that “’the party’s over’ in the United States and perhaps winding down in Great Britain” (Kreibel 260).

Lastly, when considering their importance, how should one go about defining partisanship?  Is it simply the number of voters who register to vote under the banner of a particular party?  But what if these citizens don’t actually show up to vote?  If they have no level of civic engagement, should they still be counted as partisans?  And what about states which do not have registration by political party?  Should partisanship be measured, as Hetherington does, through respondent thermometer scores of the respective parties or through straight ticket voting?  However, then we run into the matter of whether feeling scores accurately reflect partisanship or could they simply be a lesser of two evils mentality?  What about environments, such as Key’s observations about the solid South, where a viable candidate from a party outside of the Democratic wasn’t viable?  Or how about the fact that some states offer their voters a straight ticket voting option at the very beginning of their ballots while others do not?  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a single universal answer to the question of how one ought to define partisanship and the answer one selects likely plays a heavy role in determining how important partisanship is in American politics.

Returning to the question posed in the title of this paper, are political parties important and necessary for American democracy, I would argue, for the reasons mentioned, that they are not a necessity.  Then are they important?  They are, but their exact value is difficult to measure.  Whether you love or hate them, parties provide a host of cues for voters who do not wish to expend the effort necessary to learn the details about each of the candidates running for office.  And, at the end of the day, candidates who seek to win or maintain office without the support of one of the two major parties usually fail.  But, as Aldrich claims in his 2nd chapter of Why Parties? political parties exist, not for the public interest, but primarily to serve the desires of ambitious politicians who seek to gain and maintain power for themselves.  It is interesting to speculate what would happen in American politics if parties were to disappear overnight.  If history provides an accurate guide, democracy would not be destroyed, and the causes of factions would still remain, of course, but, like the First Congress, it would be difficult to maintain two solid camps with an “us vs. them mentality”.  Who can say?  We might just see a more civil political environment as compared to our present state of hyperpolarization.

 

Resources

Aldrich, John H. 2011. Why Parties?: a Second Look. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: HarperCollins.

Hetherington, Marc J. 2001. “Resurgent Mass Partisanship: The Role of Elite Polarization.” American Political Science Review95(03): 619–31.

Key, V. O. [1949] 1984. Southern Politics in State and Nation. New ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Krehbiel, Keith. 1993. “Where’s the Party?” British Journal of Political Science23(2): 235–66.

“Sabato’s Crystal Ball.” Larry J Sabato’s Crystal Ball RSS. http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/2014-house/ (November 5, 2018).

U.S. Constitution. Art. II, Sec.1

“Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Elections, 2014.” Ballotpediahttps://ballotpedia.org/Virginia’s_7th_Congressional_District_elections,_2014 (November 6, 2018).

“Virginia’s 7th House District Election Results: Dave Brat vs. Abigail Spanberger.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/virginia-house-district-7 (November 7, 2018).

Washington, George. Avalon Project – Washington’s Farewell Address 1796. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp (November 5, 2018).

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LXIII)

In a break from our traditional schedule, this morning, October 29th, Andy Schmookler and I appeared on 550 AM, WSVA to discuss local, state, and national politics.  Not surprisingly, the major focus of the talk centered around the 2018 elections, which will be taking place next week.  We offered some predictions of outcomes as well as big issues and people which could end up swaying the results.

Our next show will be on November 7th at 9:15, the day after Election Day.

If you missed the show live, you can catch it here.

No Republican November

This week, I plan to submit my absentee ballot for the November elections in Virginia.  As I am away from home due to graduate school, along with the fact that I’ll be working the polls in West Virginia for a class assignment, unfortunately, I’ll be unable to vote in person.

2018 marks my twentieth time voting in the general election (unless you include the 2009 election.  In that year I was working in Newport News and apparently my ballot got lost in the mail).  Except for two years, in all of those elections, I have voted for at least one Republican candidate.  This year will mark the third time I will not be voting for a single Republican.

Why is that?  Well, let’s go down through the races.  At the top of the ticket, we have Corey Stewart.  I first met Mr. Stewart in 2011 when he was planning a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate against George Allen.  Since that time, he has run for a multitude of statewide offices: Lt. Governor in 2013, Governor in 2017, and now U.S. Senate again in 2018.  In that time I have found Mr. Stewart to be dishonest and self-serving, willing to say or do just about anything in order to achieve political power.  Despite his rhetoric,  he is not a conservative, but rather a populist who is more than happy to expand the power of government and mold it to serve his interests.  With the exception of Representative Bob Goodlatte, who fortunately is retiring after 26  long years in office, I rarely block any campaign staffers on Facebook…with the notable exception of Corey Stewart.  After asking not to be tagged, two of his particularly rude and hostile staffers kept pestering me thus resulting in this action.

That matter leads me to another point.  Corey Stewart states that he wants to go to Washington to help enact President Donald Trump’s agenda.  Regrettably, the Republican Party has more or less become Donald Trump’s party and activists and politicians alike think it is important to do whatever he desires.  But what about principles? What about checks and balances?  Since when did we think it a good idea to elect men and woman to Congress who pledge to be rubber stamps for the executive branch even when he violates the values of limited government and faithfulness to the Constitution? This kind of behavior would make sense if we lived in an authoritarian dictatorship, but we supposedly live in a democratic republic, right?  Or at least we used to.  As I wrote on Delegate Wilt’s (R-26) Facebook page, “I’d like to see real, honest conservatives in Congress, those who will support the Constitution, a limited federal government, cutting spending and the national debt, supporting the President when he shares our values, but standing up to him and opposing him when he does not.  Unfortunately, at the moment, that line of thinking is extremely rare.”

Moving down the ballot, we come to the race for the 6th district, to replace Representative Bob Goodlatte.  As regular readers of this website know, I have written favorably about Delegate Ben Cline, the Republican nominee, for many years.  One big issue for me was the selection of one of his staffers.  Having several previous negative interactions with this fellow, I thought it best to alert Delegate Cline about some related potentially unethical activity.  After all, as they say, personnel is policy and as I liked Delegate Cline I didn’t want to see him get mixed up with anyone who might have “the ends justify the means” mentality.  Given my concerns, Delegate Cline told me that I would have no interaction with this person during the campaign.  However, several days after the Republican convention, this staffer in question wrote me several Facebook messages to taunt me for warning Cline.  I felt that this response was unconscionable.

Given some of the controversies surrounding the 6th district Republican convention, questions lingered in my mind if the Cline campaign had some hand in these shady, legally questionable dealings, such as the website SwampyScottSayre.com.  Try as I could, I could neither confirm or refute the campaign’s involvement.

In addition, we have the issue of Corey Stewart and Donald Trump.  While some Republican candidates have done their best to avoid Stewart, Cline has not.  That news is particularly disappointing.  As the News Leader reports:

“One who has embraced Stewart, appearing with him at campaign events, is Del. Ben Cline, who’s running the 6th Congressional District.

Several Republicans candidates have opted against campaigning with Stewart, telling the Post that they prefer to ‘run our own campaign.'”

If ISideWith.com is correct, my issue agreement with Delegate Cline mirrors that of Representative Goodlatte and we disagree on some fundamental points regarding foreign policy and national security.  Although I know he had a Republican audience, when Delegate Cline announced support of building Trump’s wall at the 6th district Republican convention, I felt my spirits sink.

I read emails from the Cline campaign hoping that they speak of principles of limited government and a faithfulness to the Constitution.  I abhor the use of fear to stir up the worst in the minds of voters.  For example, one from August 14th states, “I’m running for Congress to listen to and represent the people of the 6th District, not people like Nancy Pelosi and her liberal friends.  They’re stepping up to help liberal candidates across the country, including my opponent, which is why I need my friends here in Virginia and the 6th district to match these efforts…Let’s keep the 6th District red in November!”  Another dated September 27th reads, “Sending me to Washington will mean one less seat towards a Democrat majority – together we can stop Nancy Pelosi from becoming Speaker of the House again.”  Personally, I don’t really care which party controls the Speakership if that party’s only purpose is to surrender its authority to the executive branch or obstruct if their party doesn’t control the presidency.  Either way, both of them will continue to expand the national debt.  In addition, we must reject the rhetoric of the red team vs the blue team.  These days both sides are more interested in winning and maintaining power for themselves than the conservative, libertarian, and liberal activists than get them there in the first place!

Lastly, we have Frank McMillan who is running for Harrisonburg City Council.  Although technically running as an independent, I’ve heard him speak at Republican gatherings and he declared that he was a Republican.  In addition, according to VPAP, his largest donor is the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Republican Women’s Club.  If he is a Republican, he ought to run as a Republican and not misuse the independent label as the party did in the previous 2014 election cycle.   Rather than try to fix the Republican brand in Harrisonburg, which has become so heavily tainted than it is nearly impossible to win in the city with the label, they instead run their candidates as independents.  I don’t think it is an honest tactic and preys upon the ignorance of some voters.

My ISideWith.com results. As I disagree with them both at nearly the same rate, to quote Hillary Clinton, “what difference does it make?”

Now just because I’m not voting Republican, that doesn’t mean that I am voting Democratic either.  If I were forced to chose between the two, I would prefer Tim Kaine to Corey Stewart.  At least Senator Kaine has never personally lied to me.  Although I disagree with a lot of what Kaine does, at least he doesn’t bow to Donald Trump, but I am not voting for him as I don’t cast my vote in that way.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Jennifer Lewis to speak about her candidacy either positively or negatively and I always recommend not voting for a person out of ignorance.

No matter how we vote, I predict that Democrat Tim Kaine will defeat Republican Corey Stewart by a healthy margin and Republican Ben Cline will likewise triumph over Jennifer Lewis.  I hope both Senator Kaine and soon to be Representative Cline will represent the state and the 6th district with honor.

Whether you vote absentee as I am doing, or vote on November 6th, I encourage you to learn about the candidates and vote for the ones who best represent your principles.

Why a Life-Long Republican Left the Party

Image from sodahead.com

A Guest Post by David Benjamin Dull

To start, I feel it is important to explain how I was raised, and where my roots are. My father is a die-hard, Trump supporting, racist, social conservative and his parents were social conservatives as well while my mother is a bit of a hippie, but a conservative hippie.  I was raised to vote Republican and did so starting with George Bush in 2000 when I was 18.  I was never “involved”, never did any research and didn’t pay attention to the issues even though I smoked cannabis, was pro-choice and had close friends who were/are homosexual.

All of that changed, however, in the fall of 2008 when I accidentally ran across a motivational YouTube video for libertarian godfather Ron Paul who was running for the Republican presidential nomination.  Without a shred of hesitation, I am proud to say the words of this modern-day prophet made me openly weep.  For the first time in my life, my worldview was challenged in a way that was informative and more importantly, not condescending, which was needed to get thru to me.

Did I run right outside with my pitchfork and torch, ready to burn down the capitol?  No.  I spent a long time combing the internet for input.  I researched Austrian economics, free-market solutions, non-interventionist foreign policy, individual sovereignty and ending prohibition. I began talking less and listening more.  Eventually, fully confident that my new worldview was solid, I ventured out into the political realm by attending my first Tea Party Tax Day rally in DC in 2010, which featured to my surprise, Ron Paul himself.  And yet, I still didn’t know how to get involved.

I left Baltimore and bought a home in Virginia Beach, and knowing no one political in the area, remained the guy who protests on social media… …until my mother sent me a friend suggestion for a local anarcho-capitalist.  Finally, I had someone in my town I could share my disdain for waste, fraud, and abuse with!  And what’s more, when a mutual friend commented about the Ron Paul 2012 campaign and I jumped right on that asking how I could get involved.  I was directed to attend a dinner in Newport News across the river.  The night of that dinner, I met a dozen libertarians who have become like family.  Never in my life have I ever felt so connected to and loved by a group of individuals, not of my blood.  Together, we took on the establishment, hard!

Luckily for us, there were only two candidates on the ballot in 2012; Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, which enabled a Tea Party/libertarian alliance to not only send 49% of Virginia’s delegates to the Republican national convention, but more importantly, the grassroots alliance overwhelmingly took over the Republican Party of Virginia state central committee and a host of district chairman seats and local unit chairman seats.  We did it!  We won!  Or did we?  With the primary firmly behind us, the “presumptive nominee” was hailed as the savior to the “Obama” problem with the Tea Party falling in line like good little Republicans.  We Ron Paul supporters were soon left out in the cold.  We were scorned for not eagerly volunteering for the nominee.  We were constantly told by establishment trolls that “libertarians belong in the Libertarian Party” and our posts on Republican social media outlets were deleted.  We were called isolationists, dreamers, liberals, and idiots.

When we rallied behind Susan Stimpson for Lt. Governor, who had an impeccable record of cutting taxes and fees while also cutting the budget of Stanford County while remaining temperate on social issues, the Tea Party and other grassroots social conservatives flocked to boisterous hot-heads like Corey Stewart who is in the middle of losing his third statewide race, and EW Jackson who just lost his third statewide race. When the votes were tallied for the first ballot of the seven-way Lt. Governor race, Susan came in second after Jackson, but when the names were put up on the Jumbotron, her name was at the bottom. When she failed to carry the third ballot, I voted for “moderate” (establishment) Pete Snyder because I wasn’t about to let Jackson pull down the ticket with his outrageous statements when Snyder would help libertarian-leaning Ken Cuccinelli win the governorship… which is exactly what happened despite Republicans complaining about the Libertarian nominee, who exit polls show actually took more votes from (D) McAuliffe than Cuccinelli… but I digress.  This was in effect, the beginning of the end of the grassroots revolt of 2012.  The establishment slowly took back the state central and local units.  The Tea Party continued to rally around hot-heads like Corey Stewart year after year.  Many of my libertarian friends, disgusted with the political process and the online nastiness from bigoted conservatives and paid establishment trolls, simply threw in the towel.  Subsequently, the Ron Paul class of 2012 was all but gone by 2014.

To be fair, having left Virginia to seek my fortune in the oil fields of North Dakota in the summer of 2013 and not returning until December of 2015, I was in no position to blame anyone for leaving, and I didn’t.  I did, however, unfurl my libertarian-Republican banner and plant it in the red sand of the Republican Party on last time for Rand Paul in the 2016 presidential primary, but was met with mild enthusiasm.  I saw even less enthusiasm for Trump, but his bigoted and insulting rhetoric somehow positively reached the voters even though it turned off most of the politically active.  The abysmal primary results coupled with the death rattle of the Tea Party in Virginia was the signal to me that “changing it from the inside” was a completely unattainable goal in Virginia Beach and highly unlikely in Virginia.  So I left the party of my father and my grandfather after being undyingly faithful for eight years, somewhat hesitant for another four and actively engaged for the last four.  Truth be told; it’s the best breakup of my life!

David Benjamin Dull is a libertarian activist who has volunteered for a dozen campaigns.  Although admittedly brash and stubborn, he is working to better himself and is currently engaged in growing the Libertarian Party of Anne Arundel County by reaching out to disenfranchised liberals and conservatives as well as independents who lost faith in voting.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode LXI)

Departing from our usual date of Wednesday, on Thursday, August 9th, Andy Schmookler and I returned to WSVA, 550 AM for our 61st radio hour.

In this episode, we spoke about Dominion Power and their vast influence on Virginia politics, the insider trading charges against Representative Chris Collins (NY-27), a surprise discussion of climate change, and some predictions regarding the 2018 November elections.

As a side note, last night I attended my high school reunion.  I was somewhat surprised to hear that some of my former classmates listen to our show.

Anyway, if you missed it live, you can find our episode here.  

 

The Dysfunctional Republican 6th District

On August 3rd, at First Friday, a monthly political gathering in Harrisonburg, the featured speaker was Jennifer Brown, the 6th District Republican Chairman.  I found her inclusion surprising, as she and the leader of First Friday, Donna Moser, are part of two different, presently hostile, factions within the 6th District Republican Committee.

When Jennifer Brown began her speech, she said she needed to address some elephants in the room (or as she called them, donkeys).  One is the pending lawsuit and defense.  Almost since Ms. Brown took over as chair, the two sides have been feuding over a recent decision by the committee to hire a law firm to defend itself against alleged FEC violations made against the committee and the previous chairman, Scott Sayre.  I’ve read that Brown supporters launched the suit against Sayre and other members of the committee in an effort to discredit and defeat Sayre which they did successfully at their May convention.  As a result, the majority of the committee voted to retain a law firm in Indiana for their legal defense at a cost of $30,000.  Ms. Brown opposed this decision by the 6th District committee and has appealed to the Virginia Republican State Central Committee.

Jennifer Brown also spoke of the need for unity, for the group to work together to elect Republican candidates and welcome Democrats who recently walked away from their party so that they would become Republicans rather than turning into independents.  Curiously though, although she welcomed votes and aid from former Democrats, as far as I could tell she didn’t stress advancing any ideological agenda other than a blanket support for Republicans.  She paused to yield some time to Frank McMillan, an independent candidate running for Harrisonburg City Council this year.  As a side note, I noticed that there were three independent city council candidates (McMillan, George Hirschmann from 2016, and me from 2014) at the gathering.  McMillan stated that he was a Republican (and will likely have the backing of the local Republican Party as Hirschmann did in 2016) but stressed he was running as an independent.  I presume that the reason for this maneuver is that the Republican Party label is so toxic in the city of Harrisonburg that using it will almost certainly result in defeat.  After all, since 2009 only one Republican candidate has won the city when facing a Democratic opponent.

After Jennifer Brown gave her speech, she opened the floor for questions.  One local activist, a fellow named Phil Corbo, asked to share an email he recently received from Roger Jarrell, Jennifer Brown’s fiance and apparently legal liaison for the 6th district committee.  Although Donna Moser opposed the reading of the email at first, Mr. Corbo persisted.  In that email, Mr. Jarrell claimed that the leader of First Friday, Ms. Moser, had slandered Ms. Brown at a recent meeting of the local tea party and demanded it cease immediately or legal action could be taken.  As evidence of this slander, it mentioned Cole Trower and other unnamed parties.  Mr. Corbo declared that although he had been involved in New Jersey politics for decades, he had never seen such dirty politics as what has been going on in the 6th district prior to the recent convention and at the present.

At first, Jennifer Brown offered to apologize if the allegations from Mr. Jarrell were proven untrue, but when several of the attendees declared that Ms. Moser did not slander Ms. Brown at the tea party meeting, her tone became rather defensive.  Donna Moser steered the conversation toward announcements and the subject dissipated.  (Here is a clip of that part of the gathering).

What is most troubling to me is not whether or not individuals are critical of Ms. Brown’s leadership as chairman, (after all it is impossible to be both effective in politics and still please everyone) but rather the fact that she would consider taking legal action against a person who potentially declared her to be inept and/or ineffectual.  Unlike Ms. Brown, I am not an attorney but, to the best of my understanding, questioning the effectiveness of a leader does not rise to the legal definition of slander.

I left First Friday with the impression that the 6th District GOP was seriously dysfunctional.  How can a party operate properly when the chairman opposes and attempts to undermine the will of a majority of the committee?  Or if her fiance attempts to bully other members of the committee?  A recent article on The Bull Elephant highlights some of these problems. In addition, as Bearing Drift reports, the Lynchburg Republican Party passed a vote of no confidence against those committee members who vote for representation from the Indiana legal firm.

After witnessing what happened on Friday it seems to me that either the two sides need to reconcile quickly or, more likely, it will result in a civil war for control; if that takes place, my money is that the majority of the committee will end up deposing Ms. Brown before the end of her term.  If I were a Republican candidate running this year anywhere in the 6th district of Virginia, I would be seriously concerned about this state of affairs.  Despite these developments, I don’t expect November’s blue wave to overwhelm the deeply Republican Shenandoah Valley and claim victory for the 6th Congressional seat, but a divided and squabbling committee might spell certain doom for a number of local candidates in the area this year and possibly lead to inroads from Democrats in the 2019 General Assembly elections.