The New Hampshire Republican Party has never belonged to the President of the United States, the governor, the Legislature or even the Republican State Committee. The party belongs to its members, not to its leaders. That is, the voters who register as Republicans.
To protect our first-in-the-nation primary, and for the sake of democracy, it should stay that way.
The Republican Party is not a top-down organization in which members take their orders from power brokers who meet in secret to decide what’s good for everyone else. The entire intent of the primary system is to prevent just that kind of top-down decision making. We Republicans believe in devolving power to the people. We should live those beliefs in our own party, not just in our party’s approach to governing.
Last year, rank-and-file Republicans were justifiably alarmed by efforts to remove the neutrality provisions from the party bylaws so GOP officials could tip and steer primary elections in favor of incumbent Republican office-holders. It speaks well of our party that this idea met with an ice-cold reception.
Although this proposal was withdrawn in the face of strong opposition, there is still some grumbling that our party ought to circle the wagons during the upcoming presidential primary and protect President Trump from challengers within the party.
Every Republican should have the same reaction to this suggestion: Since when do Republicans oppose competition? Governor Reagan challenged President Ford. Would anyone deny that it made our party and our incumbent President a better candidate? Pat Buchanan likewise challenged President George Herbert Walker Bush.
Our state party platform declares that we believe in “free people, free markets, and free enterprise” and “unlimited opportunity for all.” The national party platform declares that “innovation drives improvement and forces long-established institutions to adapt or fade away.”
If we are the party that believes in dynamic innovation driven by free and fair competition, then we cannot adopt practices within our own organization that undermine those values. We either believe that organizations survive and grow stronger through innovation and competition, or we don’t.
As Republicans, we don’t just believe this, we know it to be true and that truth is at the heart of what makes America great. We further know that we would do more than become hypocrites if we tried to prevent innovation and competition within our party. We would doom the party.
Ironically, a lot of President Trump’s support came from people who viewed the Republican Party as controlled by insiders who worked to block the rise of anyone who wasn’t in their clique. Trump, a true party outsider, promised to be loyal to the people, not the elites, and he was rewarded with the nomination and then the presidency. At the time I had to fight with longtime party insiders who wanted to disqualify candidate Trump because of his donations to numerous Democrats and his unorthodox debate style.
Then, as we should do now, no one candidate or “insider” was protected. We let the registered Republican voters decide.
Now some Republicans want to do what so many had accused the party of doing in the past — use the party machinery to protect insiders at the local, state and national level from challenges.
To do that would irreparably harm both the Republican Party and the New Hampshire primary.
Beyond that, it would be laughably hypocritical.
No political party can survive if it refuses to adapt, innovate and change. Just ask John Colby, New Hampshire’s only Whig governor, who served a single one-year term, 1846-47. The Whigs wouldn’t adapt, and they disappeared.
Abraham Lincoln once was a Whig, too. The new party he helped form, our party, has dominated New Hampshire politics since the first Republican governor was elected in 1857.
We’ve stayed relevant for 162 years by being a party of the people, a party that is run by its members, not by its leaders.
The New Hampshire primary has survived for a similar reason. It is open to all comers.
Everyone who runs gets a fair shot. That’s the whole point of the primary.
The primary grew out of the people’s frustrations with the old party system — you know, smoke-filled rooms and all that. Having the party leadership intervene in the primary on behalf of incumbent Republicans would represent a huge step back toward the bad old days. And everyone would recognize it as such.
It would tell rank-and-file Republicans that the party belongs to the bosses now, not to the people.
It would tell future presidential candidates to avoid campaigning here because New Hampshire no longer offers a fair process.
If the party starts favoring incumbents over primary challengers, then what is the case for having the first-in-the-nation primary? Who would come here to compete in a rigged system when Iowa and South Carolina offer fair contests?
Having the state party play favorites would give the primary’s detractors their long-awaited excuse to kill it. The attack writes itself. And it goes like this:
“If New Hampshire Republican leaders don’t trust their own voters, then why would anyone else?”
For the survival of the New Hampshire Republican Party and of our beloved first-in-the-nation primary, the party must forever maintain its neutrality in party primaries. Ending that neutrality would end the very institutions we cherish so much.