Our good friends at the AJC have publicized an effort by the Georgia Republican Assembly to pass a new rule at the upcoming Georgia Republican Party state convention. The rule, if implemented, would allow the Georgia GOP to block a candidate from qualifying to run for office as a Republican.
Peach Pundit has covered some of the GRA’s recent activity in Georgia. Since that post, GRA members have won a number of county- and district-level positions in the Georgia GOP. Most notable was former gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor’s victory in the race for Chair of the 1st Congressional District. They have endorsed a slate of candidates for statewide Georgia GOP office, and are likely to have significant influence on the state party at all levels after the convention cycle next month.
So why does the GRA want conventions to be able to select or disqualify candidates from running for office as a Republican? Currently, candidates who want to run for office as a Republican simply have to sign a pledge to support the Republican Party and pay a fee equal to 3% of a year’s salary for the office they’re running for. The pledge itself isn’t particularly enforceable, so the real decision on who the Republican candidate for a given office should be is made by voters themselves in an open primary.
There have been criticisms of this open primary system over the years. Some activists think that moderates cause candidates who aren’t “true Republicans” to win primaries, or even that Democrats cross over to nominate the Republican they think they’re most likely to beat. Some states have more restrictions on who can vote in party primaries, such as requiring voters to be registered with a certain party in advance.
But changing from an open primary to a convention nominating process, or allowing conventions to disbar nominees from running as Republicans, would drastically change the primary electorate. Last year, about 1.2 million people cast Republican in the primary election. Conversely, only about 1,500 voting delegates attend the state GOP convention, putting candidate decisions in the hands of an electorate one tenth of a percent of the size of the Republican primary base.
And due to our convention structure, the voting pool on a potential approval or disapproval for a given candidate may be much smaller than that. State GOP conventions are only held 3 out of every 4 years; there is no state convention held in gubernatorial election years, when all of our statewide elected offices face primary races. And we often run short of time to accomplish existing convention business, such as voting on resolutions, even in the years we do have conventions. So those duties would fall to the state committee, composed of 150 or so people elected biennially in congressional district conventions, or even to the state executive committee, composed of a couple dozen district and state GOP officers.
Why reduce the pool of people deciding on Republican candidates from over a million to 1,500, or 150, or 20? The obvious answer is that would have drastically changed the outcomes of recent primaries. The list of GRA-endorsed candidates in the 2022 statewide elections is quite different from the candidates who actually won their primaries. Most notably, the GRA did not officially make a gubernatorial endorsement, despite having a popular incumbent Republican governor who has implemented many conservative policies and eventually won reelection fairly easily. Instead, their delegates were evenly split between David Perdue and Kandiss Taylor, who combined for barely 25% of the primary vote.
The Georgia GOP has increasingly diverged from the base of Georgia Republican voters in recent years, with some party officers openly campaigning for Republican candidates in contested primaries, in direct contravention of party rules. These candidates have more often than not gone on to resounding primary defeats. Moving the decision-making on Republican candidates from primary elections to party conventions and committees would help ensure that candidates meet the GRA’s very specific view of how to be a Republican. But if those candidates can’t even convince a majority of GOP primary voters to support them, there is little chance for any of them to win statewide offices in an increasingly diverse and purple state.
Governor Kemp, to the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention, won’t be attending this year’s state GOP convention. He’s established his own campaign infrastructure to work around the party that worked against his primary reelection last year. If the state GOP wants to further its descent into irrelevance with elected officials and the GOP base, implementing its own veto power on who is or isn’t a “true Republican” is a pretty good way to do it.