Throughout much of the past week, many of us in the GOP have been scanning the results on the pages of the Maryland Board of Elections wondering what happened? We see the figures and then reflect on our efforts throughout the state and begin to adopt Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief:
- Denial: “The election was stolen. We won, but ….”
- Anger: “It was all the fault of ….”
- Bargaining: “If only we had…”
- Depression: “We will just never win in this state/county/city…”
The last stage is acceptance and that stage is what I want to stress here. There are several components of what we have to accept that may or may not be palatable to many of my Republican friends. But I contend that until we come to terms with these aspects of our campaigning and politics, we will have a lot of nights like November 8, 2022. Here are five things that I think we should accept and use towards building a stronger, healthier party.
1. Mail-in Ballots: Throughout much of the past two years, we have all questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. We contend that there is fraud and at times, we even tried to host nightly ‘watch parties’ in the parking lots in front of drop-off bins. These acts were largely symbolic and unreplicable. In nearly every competitive race, candidates who had the edge on election night were wiped out because of mail-in ballots.
For years, we, as Republicans, would joke that we needed to win above the margin of the alleged fraud. We contended and joked that in places like my own hometown of Baltimore City, fake ballots and dead voters were the name of the game. But we often conceded that this margin of fraud was relatively surmountable. But with mail-in ballots, we have become overwhelmed and find ourselves at the base of a giant blue wall that over the course of ‘canvassing’ sessions by the Board of Elections became far too steep to climb.
The problem lies in our approach. We continue to play a game of persuasion (“let’s get moderate Dems and Unaffiliateds to wake up and vote Republican!”) while the other side plays a game of mobilization (“let’s convert every low-propensity Democrat into an actual vote!”). We cannot continue to ignore the roll of mail-in ballots. We cannot rely on an outdated model of persuasion over actual mobilization. Maryland is too blue to ever give us a chance to make our case about the possibility of fraudulent mail-in ballots or the constitutionality of this form of voting. If there is something illegal going on, contact law enforcement and file suit—don’t just post on Facebook. But aside from those clear instances of voter fraud, we need to come to terms with mail-in ballots. And in doing so, we need to change the way that we see voting and campaigning.
2. Candidate Training and Support: As someone who sits on a Republican Central Committee, the joke is that Joe Six-Pack pays the $50 to file as a candidate. He then comes to their first county central committee meeting demanding two things: money and volunteers. Most central committees are broke and volunteers are even more rare. Sometimes, we have Bill the septuagenarian retiree who sits quietly in a corner and is willing to put up signs, but Bill is just one person and often, Bill can’t commit more than 10 percent of what he says he can do. So, after a few weeks, Joe Six-Pack is left frustrated and angered: “Why isn’t anyone helping me out?”
The answer is that central committees and the state party are weak sources of support for candidates. Winning candidates have often built their own party outside of the actual party apparatus. Trump built a strong base with little to no support from Reince Priebus’ and Ronna McDaniel’s RNC. Larry Hogan formed Change Maryland two years prior to his gubernatorial run. Most candidates should stop seeing themselves as lone cowboys in search of El Dorado—a golden city of volunteers and campaign financing. They should instead build their base of volunteers from friends, family, and similarly-minded supporters prior to filing. It might be wishful thinking but so too is thinking that party central committees will come to a candidate’s aid.
3. Take Our Party’s Message to More Communities: For years, there has been a lot of talk about ‘growing’ our party. In 2020, Baltimore City had nine African American Republican candidates compete for local elections. It was the highest number of Black Republican candidates than any other major U.S. city in 2020. That was a big victory. This year, the number of Black Republican candidates ballooned to over 40 across the state. The same is true with Latino and Asian candidates. We also saw candidates take the Republican message to non-traditional media markets: Korean newspapers, Spanish radio stations, Hindu temples, Ghanian churches, and Chinese online and print media.
In one interview with the Baltimore Sun, a Latino Democrat operative noted “of the two governor campaigns, he’s seen more grassroots efforts from Republican Dan Cox.” That’s a big deal for Republicans and it is a great starting point by which we will grow our party with Latinos, African immigrants, and Asian Americans. The challenge is to engage with these communities and link our principles to their concerns. It is not easy, but in light of the losses that we are seeing with suburban white populations, it will likely be the only way that we can really build up our party.
4. The Balkanization of GOP Clubs and the Rise of the Good Idea Fairies: If I had a nickel for every time that someone in Republican circles suggested something to me, I would be in the running to become the next owner of Twitter. For months, we have seen our increasingly small Republican community break apart in a multitude of groups and a lot of internecine conflict. There are group chats, group texts, prayer groups, and actual groups to which some people join, some are kicked off, and some are exclusive to a handful of people. And in many of these groups is the ever-increasing number of Good Idea Fairies. These fairies are the folks who sit on the sidelines or on Facebook and comment and criticize (often the latter), but never do anything more. They don’t open their pocketbooks. They don’t knock on doors or sign wave. They just advise. The problem is that when there are all chiefs and no Indians, we hear more about ‘what needs to get done’ and never have the volunteers to get things done. If our party is going to be successful, the Good Idea Fairies and the balkanized club leaders need to move away from their computers and start to actually help Republican candidates.
5. Voter registration should not be seen as a side task, but as THE most important task of every Republican group. Our party numbers are declining. We all know it. We all try to lay the blame on someone or some event, e.g., January 6, Trump, Cox, etc. But the decline has been happening over much of the past two decades and too often, we are left fighting for the breadcrumbs of ‘redder’ districts and fail to realize that our bigger problem is voter registration. In Florida, we saw decisive wins up and down the ballot and should learn a key lesson: Republican central committees in every Florida county organized registration drives, adding over 553,000 voters to statewide GOP rolls since 2018, after adjusting for people who died, moved, switched parties, or stopped voting. We need to do the same. The challenge is that it is too easy to focus on the easy-to-reach wins: well-attended forums and rallies, and large Facebook groups. Real wins require real numbers and those real numbers come from actually registering Republican voters. We need a solid strategy for voter registration and need to agree that this strategy is the top priority for any Republican club or central committee.
There is much work to do and I am very much motivated to be a part of these efforts. Our party has a strong message of hope, fiscal responsibility, and community empowerment, but we need to come to terms of what it means to be a minority party in a blue state. We need to put in the work and not resign ourselves to voting with our feet (i.e., moving to a redder county or a redder state). We need to fight back–smartly and boldly. But until we do so, we will see more nights like November 8.