Tired of being kicked by a mule, State Sen. Chris West has some proposals on the future of the Republican Party in Maryland

Tired of being kicked by a mule, State Sen. Chris West has some proposals on the future of the Republican Party in Maryland

Chris West. File photo by MarylandReporter.com

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As we begin the new year, I want to reflect on the future of the Maryland Republican Party. My friends who are either Republicans or who think it in the best interest of Maryland to have a viable two-party system will want to read on. My friends from the other side of the aisle who feel it would be best for Maryland to be a one-party state should probably just delete this message.

I feel qualified to offer advice about the future of the Maryland Republican Party as I have been working for or with the Party since 1968, when I was just 18 years old.

In that year, instead of playing Spring sports at my high school, I took the bus downtown each weekday to the then headquarters of the party on Hamilton Street and did whatever volunteer work was available.

During my college years, I was an active member of my college’s Young Republican chapter, and upon my return to Baltimore from law school began volunteering for Republican candidates, including Mac Mathias, Glenn Beall, Helen Bentley, Ellen Sauerbrey, Bob Ehrlich and Wade Kach.

I served as general counsel for the party for about 20 years, as chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Party and as executive director of the state party.

In 2014, I successfully ran for a state delegate seat and in 2018 and 2022 for the State Senate. Not many Marylanders have devoted so much time and effort for so long on behalf of the party as I have.

Hard times

Certainly, the Maryland Republican Party has fallen on hard times. In 2022, for the second gubernatorial election in a row, the Democrats had the upper hand. Republican candidates lost many elections that they should not have lost, often by slim margins. As Gov. Hogan leaves office, he leaves behind a party that is demoralized and defeated.

The immediate source of the party’s difficulties was the losing candidacy of Dan Cox for governor. In a state in which Donald Trump only garnered 32% of the vote two years ago, Mr. Cox branded himself as the “Trump endorsed” candidate and engaged in a personal feud with Gov. Hogan marked by Mr. Cox’s effort to impeach Mr. Hogan and Mr. Hogan’s retaliatory admonishment of Mr. Cox as a “QAnon whack job”.

The combined effect of Mr. Cox’s fight with the governor and his Trump branding was to limit his political appeal to just Trump voters. When Mr. Cox only won 32% of the votes, the same percentage as the former President won just two years ago, most political observers were unsurprised. What was surprising is that Mr. Cox publicly stated that he had confidently expected to win until late on Election Night, when the votes were tallied. Clearly, Mr. Cox had been living in some sort of campaign bubble.

So, what are the lessons to be learned from the 2022 campaign, and what different approaches should the Maryland Republican Party adopt that will lead to more success in the elections to come?

Stop the infighting

First, the political infighting has to stop. Note that during my years of active involvement with the Party, I worked hard to elect both U.S. Sen. Mac Mathias and Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, two candidates at opposite ends of the Republican political spectrum. Where they registered on the ideology meter didn’t matter to me. They were Republicans in a state overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats. The differences between them were a whole lot less than the differences between them and most Democrats.

First, let’s define infighting. It doesn’t include robust primary campaigns. During primaries, one expects the candidates to point out deficiencies in their opponents. Nor does it involve honest post-election assessments of why candidates lost. Infighting is the day-to-day disparagement of fellow Republicans who don’t happen to share views which perfectly match the views of the disparager.

These days, much of the energy in the Maryland Republican Party is directed at disparaging and defeating fellow Republicans. Some more moderate Republicans call their more conservative Party members “right-wing extremists,” and some more conservative Republicans call their more moderate Party members “RINOs.”

The infighting has been pursued with gusto, all the way up to and including the Governor’s Office. This circular firing squad alienates many who otherwise would be willing to get involved in party affairs. Politics is the science of addition, not subtraction. In order to win elections, candidates need to add more and more supporters until they constitute over 50% of the voters. Trying to purge the party of people more conservative or more moderate than you merely wastes time, creates festering animosities and makes the accomplishment of election victories more difficult.

Each Republican Central Committee and political club should set up a tip jar, and every time someone at one of their monthly meetings attacks a fellow Republican, the offender should be directed to place a dollar in the jar. The accumulated money can be used in the next election to support Republicans with viable strategies to win elections. Speaking of which….

Adopt strategies to win

      Second, our candidates need to carefully assess the political winds that are blowing and adopt a political strategy calculated to win elections. As Mr. Cox discovered this year, wrapping yourself in the mantle of a candidate who only received 32% of the vote just two years earlier is not a winning strategy. Many of our candidates learned this past year that losing an election is awful.

All of that time and effort and money spent is seen as wasted, and the losing candidate must resign himself to spending four long years pondering his loss. So just filing your candidacy and starting to knock on doors is insufficient.

Our candidates must carefully analyze the lay of the land and figure out a path that can lead to victory and then move forward in a disciplined way to follow that path. The State Republican Party can assist our candidates with campaign schools designed not to teach them ideological conformity but rather to help them avoid political malpractice by adopting winning strategies. And speaking of political malpractice, ….

Vote by mail, vote early, not just on Election Day

Third, so long as the state of Maryland has made voting by mail as easy as pie and has established early voting, Maryland Republicans are just crazy to discourage their supporters from availing themselves of these voting methods.

When I was chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Party in 1998, I raised $40,000 and, instead of parceling the money out in dribs and drabs to our candidates, I spent the money to send out a mailing to every Republican household in the county explaining how important it was for every Republican to vote. The mailing had vote by mail application forms attached to it, pre-filled out with all required information. All the voters had to do was sign the application forms and then send them back to the County board of elections.

On election night in November, one of my candidates was ahead by a few votes, and another was behind by about 200 votes. I went to the county election board to protect my candidates during the count of the mailed ballots and saw hundreds of applications on our form. When the votes were counted, both imperiled candidates won their elections comfortably.

In 2022, the Party seemed to have forgotten the lesson of 1998 that we can win elections by increasing voter turnout through mailed ballots. Instead, despite no evidence of election fraud involving mailed ballots and despite the fact that every election board in Maryland had a Republican majority, some of our leaders claimed that mailed ballots would never be counted and therefore encouraged Republican voters not to vote by mail but instead to wait until Election Day. (One statewide candidate is reported to have urged GOP voters not to vote until after 6 p.m. on Election Day!)

So, if the weather is bad on Election Day or if Republican voters are infirm on Election Day and can’t get to the polls, they don’t vote at all. It was so dispiriting this year to see GOP candidates by the score end up ahead of their opponents on Election Night but then fall behind as the mailed ballots heavily favored the Democrats. Simply stated, Maryland Republican candidates lost many elections this year because Democrats encouraged their party members to vote by mail while Republicans leaders did the opposite. Unless the Maryland Republican Party wants to continue to lose elections all over the state, this policy must change.

Find issues that unite Republicans

Fourth, the State Party should identify several key issues which unite all Republicans and help the party’s elected officials to formulate strategies to communicate to Maryland voters why the Democrat position on these issues is wrong and why the Republican position is preferable.

Take crime for example. Maryland has a very high crime rate, and yet year after year, Democrats in the General Assembly have actively opposed bills designed to reduce our crime rate. For example, bills to put repeat, violent, gun-toting offenders in jail for longer sentences have failed to be passed year after year due to Democratic opposition.

In 2022, Maryland Republican candidates should have adopted a united strategy to put Democrats on the spot for their constant torpedoing of legislation designed to reduce the state’s crime rate, but we let that opportunity just pass us by.

Another example – two years ago, Democrats passed landmark legislation to target the state’s police officers. Every Republican legislator voted against these bills and the vast majority of voters support their local police, but this year the Republican candidate for Governor blew off his chance to press his case with the state Fraternal Order of Police, and so the FOP endorsed the Democratic candidate for governor, thereby killing the policing issue for Republican candidates. Along the same lines, …

Party leaders must coordinate with elected Republicans

      Fifth, there needs to be much closer coordination on messaging and other matters between the leadership of the Maryland Republican Party and the party’s elected delegates and state senators. During the past four years, I served as a state senator, and I cannot remember a single instance in which the leadership of our state party arranged to sit down with Republican state senators to formulate a consistent, resonant message about any important issue. State party leadership and General Assembly GOP leadership have been like two ships passing in the night. We can’t build a successful party if this situation continues for four more years.

Reach out to Latinos, Asians

Sixth, according to the Pew Research Center, 12% of Marylanders are Latino. Latinos make up 6% of Maryland Democrats and 5% of Maryland Republicans, and the Democratic lead is shrinking. Why? Because Latinos are natural Republicans. They didn’t come to the United States for a government handout; they came to work hard and get ahead. And they do work hard. The vast majority of Latinos keep their noses to the grindstone, work hard, pay their taxes, go to church regularly and raise their children to love freedom and the opportunities this country provides.

The Maryland Republican Party needs to stretch out a welcoming hand to Latino residents. The same is true for our Asian population. We ignore these potential future Republicans at our peril. The Maryland Republican Party needs to become the working class, conservative party, and that includes both Latino citizens and Asian citizens.

Raise funds constantly, not just election year

      Seventh, the Democrats work in a coordinated and highly successful manner each year to hold fundraisers which fill the coffers of their candidates with massive amounts of campaign cash. Republicans by contrast mostly sit on their hands and can’t be bothered with fundraising until the next election is impending.

It’s like the fable of the grasshopper and ant played out in real life. The state party should shoulder the burden of working with Republican officeholders to raise significant money annually. Once-a-year Lincoln Day dinners sponsored by the local party organizations are just not sufficient.

Folks, this is not rocket science stuff. It’s Practical Politics 101. If the Maryland Republican Party intends to be serious about winning in 2024 and 2026, it needs to change its course right away. It should put the sort of planning set forth in this message on paper and then arrange in-person meetings with the Party’s key donors to convince them that the Party is committed to backing out of the dead-end cul-de-sac in which it currently finds itself and to embarking on a new road which will lead to winning future elections.

Remember, there is no education in the second kick of a mule. Maryland Republicans received our first kick in 2018, our second kick two years later in 2020 and our third kick in 2022. Do we really want to be on the receiving end of a fourth kick in 2024 and a fifth kick in 2026? Maryland is worth fighting for, so let’s be smart about how we fight.

About The Author

Chris West

chris@senatorchriswest.com

State Sen. Chris West represents District 42 in central Baltimore County. He has been the Republican Party chair there, and the general counsel and executive director of the Maryland GOP.

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