How a sub-party took over the GOP

Can a sub-party strategy, as outlined in previous posts, actually change the character of our political system? It isn’t a theoretical question. I’m pressing this concept because I watched it executed successfully in the South, as a bridge across which frustrated Dixiecrats could cross over to the GOP.

Today’s post at Forbes finally names names. It describes in some detail the tactics and methods used by a sub-party in Texas to replace the state’s relatively moderate GOP leadership with Southern Conservatives. That same process could be leveraged again to create broader diversity of opinion in both parties.


  1. One thing I don’t understand is this:
    If you take over a moribund second party (like the Democrats in Texas) how do you compete for votes in the state when your affiliation with the national entity that is the Democratic party will likely turn off huge numbers of voters. How do you build a viable second party while shaking off the association with the national party? How do you convince voters to vote locally when their media habits are more than ever driven by national concerns?

    1. I think the point is that you take action, not in the dead-men-walking Democratic Party, but rather in the alive-but-hijacked Republican Party.

      Take action(s) to mobilize the business people of the community to take back their party from the demagogues who have steered it off the tracks.

      Start working at the precinct level, getting sensible people to stop turning their back on what used to be (it seems so long ago) their sensible party. Get them involved in the arduous task of taking it back, one precinct at a time, from the know-nothings.

      1. GOP wants RGB’s seat. bad. They went through all this trouble to literally defy the constitutional authority of a President to steal one seat, and if they can get a puppet 5-3 majority in the Supreme Court, they can run roughshod over most of the country on state and local legislatures alone.

    2. You do what thousands of enlightened Texans are doing – join with other people who share your concerns and mobilize. There are resistance groups functioning all over Texas. Granted, these are not structured organizations, but they communicate and educate and boy do they speak out and protest!

      You do it by actively involving people who are concerned about what is happening to their state and country and teach them how to participate in the democratic political process at the local level.

      You do it on the basis of issues more than party. The Democratic Party has many shortcomings structurally but its core platform is head and shoulders better than what the GOP is offering. I’ll be the first to admit that that isn’t good enough, but we’re dealing in democracy by the hour here. You work with what you’ve got. Get involved locally. Join a group, register people, vote in every election, share your knowledge, pick a candidate and work in their campaign. Run for office. Always, always, vote.

    1. Maybe. I have a concern about these guys. They appear to be trying to Maine-ify elections across the country by tossing independents into races, creating the worst of all possible worlds. Instead of building local parties, or party-like institutions that can fill the gap in places where there is only one viable party, they are running mostly in attention-grabbing, top of the ticket races. If they continue down this path they’ll just Naderize the whole system without solving any problems. They could end up feeding our celebrity politics problem.

      On the upside, that strategy is bound to fail in the medium term unless they pivot to form something like a local third-party organization. Without getting people elected to city and county positions, they’ll just run out of steam.

      1. I think there are a number of interesting points made in the politico story and frankly wonder if the timing for such a gambit might not work – even if all it achieves is to roil the process. After all, that’s what Trump and Sanders did – (and it bears thinking about why Trump was successful and Sanders wasn’t given they both appealed to populisism). The effort appears to have attracted some interesting people – both as potential candidates and as functionaries. It remains to be seen whether the effort develops the strength it will need to be competitive.

        If I am interpreting your posts correctly, you believe that the traditional party structure works, but acknowledge that it is broken, principally because of those who lead them and their abdication of traditional values. Going back to some of your earlier thoughts about having many parties who form around core principles mimicking the parliamentary approach – why doesn’t this independent concept have potential if managed properly by quality people? They are absolutely correct about the need to appeal to the Millennial and Gen-Xer populations as the next voter frontier, and this large voter group has already tagged itself principally as “independents”.

        Am I incorrect that the steps you have articulated in your posts for re-capturing one’s party fundamentally retains the existing structure of the parties but changes leadership and thus different platform priorities? It would seem that this is the goal of people mentioned in the Politico article, with the tantalizing difference that it may not call itself Democrat or Republican.

        We old timers well remember the folly of Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential campaign which gave us GW Bush. (For the record, Al Gore was not a very inspiring candidate but he would have been a safer president in terms of his cabinet and positions on a number of issues that were/are important to me.) Disruptive politics is fraught with danger and unintended consequences. For all its boring, controlling nature, the two-party system is a known quantity. We can worry that independent efforts such as this one may destroy a more solid effort to replace these flawed parties, but, should that be a concern? Could this be precisely what is needed?

        I asked earlier about whether Trump’s campaign was an example of a top down revolt and you stated it was not; rather, that it was a revolution. Few would argue that Trump’s presidency has been a disaster, nor that the GOP has aided and abetted his abuse of our democratic institutions for self-gain, but no one can argue that power has not been seized and used. They “won” with this pitiful candidate and this dangerous agenda. Maybe it’s time for a little disruption.

      2. After reading this analysis from 538, the math is terrible for Dems in mid-terms…Even more discouraging, it’s terrible for our nation because there is literally no incentive for conservatives to change their agenda. They appear to have a “lock” on both the House and Senate. Add a dangerously incompetent and uncaring president to the mix and you end up with potential for a sea change in our nation’s policies, laws, and courts in the space of a few years. Sobering.

      3. >]

        After reading this analysis from 538, the math is terrible for Dems in mid-terms…Even more discouraging, it’s terrible for our nation because there is literally no incentive for conservatives to change their agenda. They appear to have a “lock” on both the House and Senate. Add a dangerously incompetent and uncaring president to the mix and you end up with potential for a sea change in our nation’s policies, laws, and courts in the space of a few years. Sobering.

        Yeah, so what? We can either get all depressed about the odds or get out there and fight. We don’t have much in the way of options here, y’know.

      4. Ryan, it’s important to understand the demographics. I understand that turnout and hard work can turn races, but the odds are formidable. One “solders on”, as you state. I would love to post a more positive outlook, but absent a huge wave election (which “could” happen), mid-terms are going to be tough for Dems under the best of circumstances.

      5. I’m not posting a positive outlook, far from it, but the only other outcome is that Republicans retain control, Trump stays in the WH, and we’re subject to everything that comes with that. I’m not particularly fond of such a thing, so it’s up to us to do everything we can to find a way to win.

        I understand the odds and how difficult it is, but again, so what? You do not gain a single thing (Not. One. Damn. Thing.) from getting depressed and objective.

      6. I don’t know Ryan. Your advice sounds very akin to the old joke about being too busy chopping wood to sit down and sharpen your axe.

        Simply exhorting more effort without taking stock of the circumstances you’re in and the strategy you’re using isn’t really a recipe for success. The Democratic party went all out in the House race in GA. We invested 10 times more money, effort, etc. than they will ever be able to muster for races in 2018. We lost. Simply calling for more effort isn’t likely to improve our chances.

        When Mary points out that the 2018 landscape is very unfavorable to Democrats, I don’t think she’s saying just give up and go home. But it can mean a difference in strategy. For example, at this point, my strategy in the Senate is to forget about shooting for a majority. It’s playing defense to avoid getting close to a Republican filibuster-proof majority. We will be lucky if we only lose 2-3 seats next year, even with a Democratic wave.

        Strategically speaking, I’d rather do enough to ensure we don’t slip to less than 55-45 in the Senate, and spend more energy on local statehouses and governorships in 2018, with an eye to the 2020 census and the resulting map for the 2022 elections.

        Whether we should plan an all-out battle to take the House is a good question: I think we should, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to argue that given current gerrymandering, it’s a waste of energy and will fail, and that the effort is better spent on local races in order to control redistricting in 2020.

    2. So-called “centrists” without a power base behind them or even a broad set of principles with which to constrain them once in power are ripe for corruption and abuse.

      Our Tweeter-in-Chief is the perfect example. He’s not a Republican and, contrary to the insistence of Joe Scarborough, he was never a Democrat either. He’s our very first Independent president in American history, and that’s what makes him so frightening. Beholden only to himself, the only thing that restrains him is power that he can’t do anything about, because if he could, he’d do whatever the hell he wanted to. I’ll leave it to your imagination what that unmitigated chaos would look like.

      “But, Ryan,” you might reasonably retort, “what about Independents like Michael Bloomberg and Bill Walker? They’re sensible, responsible people that you can reason with.”

      True as that is, a few good apples don’t make the whole bunch. Are you really willing to entrust the role of leader to untested Independents in what’s an effective crapshoot? If for every Bloomberg and Walker, you get a LePage or Trump, that’s a failure by any stretch of the imagination.

      This is why sub-parties are infinitely superior. With grassroots organization and a local power base, accountability will come far easier and when leaders are elected, either locally or to federal offices, they’ll damn well know what the people who sent them there want and expect.

  2. Alternate title for the Forbes article: What the heck happened to the party of Eisenhower and Dirksen?

    Which makes me think…the development of a “sub party” that could begin the arduous task ought to begin where Ike and Everett might still hold sway. Where separation of church and state is still a respected principle. Where the whole Bill of Rights is still revered, not just The Second and the nine dwarfs.

    How about New England, where Republicans still have some serious clout? How about the upper Midwest, where Republicans may or may not be in control from one election to the next, but where they are still a force in every election? How about in the big states in the geographic band from Illinois to New York?

    I’ve not traveled the country doing polling, but I have traveled a bit, and my observation has been that the many relatively conservative friends and acquaintances I’ve made in those areas would welcome the chance to rejoin the party of Ike and Everett.

    If I were trying to establish a beachhead (or several beachheads) that’s where I’d be working. There are a lot of “natural Republicans” there who would love to have the chance to take back their party.

    1. Prime territories for a counter-revolt inside the GOP: Houston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Nashville, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego.

      Assemble a core group willing to take on precinct positions and fight for control of the county leadership. Organize them around a pro-business platform, leaning libertarian but without all the conspiracy bullshit. Go out of your way to include black and hispanic business figures (avoiding the professional black conservative TV talker cranks). Completely disregard abortion, gay-baiting and all the bible-thumping. Once you get minimally organized, collect serious $$$ from chamber of commerce types, then run the tables across the old sunbelt. Yea, I think that could work.

      1. Dan Patrick is practically daring the CoC wing to do just that in TX. He keeps pushing that stupid and unnecessary “bathroom bill”. The business oriented faction speaks out against it, but are they willing to do more than talk?

        This Indy is quite willing to cross over to the GOP primary next year if there are reasonable people to vote for over the likes of Lt. Dan.

      2. Fly, I think all of us would like to get back to the time when we could vote the candidate, not the party. That’s hard for me to consider right now given the agenda and leadership of the GOP. That said, TX House Speaker Joe Straus and TX Legislator Sara Davis are two Republicans for whom I have deep respect. My choices up in my neck of the woods aren’t, shall we say, compelling.

      3. I believe that the only short term solution here in the Houston burbs is for folks to vote in the primary elections. If some sane folks could get traction in GOP primary races, it might encourage others to run.

      4. Believe me, I’ve been practicing the primary dissonance route for a lot of years. It’s the best tool in the box for those of us who lean left. Still, I’d prefer to have a real choice and see a real campaign where two parties could actually compete for votes. I believe the momentum is there but in my county – Montgomery – it’s going to be a tough slog…However, I continue to persist….or, is it, resist (-;

      5. This is a selfish question, but what would your recommendations be for creating a *Democratic* sub-party in the cities? First, I think for the forseeable future, it’ll be far easier to reform the Democratic party than the R’s. Second, for all the one-party dominance the Democratic party enjoys in cities, plenty of Dems are interested in how to improve govt services (as opposed to R’s these days who don’t believe in govt services at all). We’re not just blind followers.

        Let’s take city schools for example. I’m a former Chicagoan so I still follow my hometown news, and it ain’t pretty. It’s a concern both for poor minorities in the South and West sides, and rich white folk in the North side. All of them Democrat. Even as a yellow dog Democrat and Bernie supporter, I’m willing to consider just about any reform short of private charter schools (I don’t believe the profit motive in this realm will improve anything, and frankly, I don’t trust the people — mainly Republican politicians — to actually care about the kids). But for me, everything else, including reforming the teachers union (as long as it’s to improve education and not out of spite about “rich teachers who only work 9 months”-type BS) is on the table.

        Similarly, I remember being appalled when reading that the new runway in O’hare is being built and it will cost $500million. Think about it: 2-3 miles of concrete for runway, plus maybe another 10 miles of concrete for taxiways. $500mil??? You might argue that it goes to all the environmental studies, lawsuits, etc. etc. Except that in O’hare’s case, all that stuff was done years ago. Environment studies, suburban lawsuits, land acquisition, everything was settled years ago in the earlier phases of the project. Even FAA final approval was done years ago. That $500 mil is literally to pour the final few miles of concrete. A private company can construct a 50-story tower in the middle of busy downtown for the same money it takes a public contractor to lay 10 miles of concrete on flat land. I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties of construction in an active, busy airport, but come on!

        The bottomline is, if you want to form a subparty focused on more effective governance (including governance of private enterprise i.e. regulations), it’ll likely work better with the party that at least believes such a thing is even possible.

      6. And as an alternative to taking over the Republican Party, you can look at what the Working Families Party has done in NYC and the wider region. They operate as a sub-party of the Democratic Party, but they have their own distinct party organization and brand. They endorse candidates and run their own branded candidates in Democratic primaries. It has worked very well.

      7. These pieces were actually inspired by the situation in Chicago with the Democratic Party. Almost half of Chicago’s wards have no Republican representation. They are ripe for a takeover from frustrated minority conservatives. I’m already talking with some people in Chicago about the blueprint I outlined, based on the example of Camden. Chicago may actually be more one-sided (and ripe for disruption) than Camden.

      8. I like your article about Camden, and it reads like a very good blueprint for taking over a local party infrastructure.

        One thing I would add to it is that in the early stages, your candidate, the public face of your campaign, matters hugely (bigly?)! You’re asking voters to trust a candidate in the absence of the traditional markers of trust: a history of being in office, ties to a unified party and its historical policy objectives, etc. Even worse, you’re fighting the long history of only cranks and weirdos running on that empty party’s ticket.

        In Chicago, you can vote for a faceless alderman you’ve never met as long as he has a (D) behind his name because you know he’s been at least minimally vetted by the machine, he’ll generally go along with the Mayor’s platform, and City Hall will keep him in line should he decide to go rogue. Not so with someone from the (R) party (and vice-versa in the rural South).

        That makes the personal qualities of your candidate even more important than usual. There’s very little else in the early stages to distinguish you from any other weirdo who manages to get 83 votes.

        To this end, I think of Rauner, the IL Republican Gov. as a good cautionary tale. He essentially took the subparty route, albeit at a higher level than what you’re advocating. While the IL Republican party is far from dead, it had been reduced to nominating a crazy out-of-town carpetbagger named Alan Keyes to run against Obama in the 2004 Senate race after their main guy Jack Ryan dropped out (Don’t underestimate the damage to its legitimacy as a serious party that stunt did).

        At any rate, Rauner was able to easily dispatch the establishment Republicans in the primaries using his own personal fortune to do so. And in the general, he ran on the exact platform you advocate: pro-business, less taxes, fiscal stability (i.e. pension reform), clean out corruption (not insignificant when 2 of the last 4 govs were imprisoned for it), and leave the culture wars alone. He won. Voters, plenty of them Democrats, trusted him based solely on his words, with no record to go by, and took a chance on him.

        After 3 years of the worst political infighting, gridlock, and ineffective governance the state has seen, most of those Democrats, and plenty of Republicans, who voted for Rauner are having regrets to the point that many say “Never again”. He has so poisoned the well against outsiders (to Republicans), and Republicans (to Democrats), that he will likely face a primary challenge next year, and plenty of Dems, while still disgusted by Madigan and his henchmen, won’t risk voting for a Republican again, no matter how reasonable he seems. Heck, one of the Democratic candidates, Jay Pritzker, is facing resistance merely because he’s a finance / private equity guy like Rauner was.

        A guy like Rauner has essentially made it impossible for an outsider to run in either the Republican or Democratic side, probably for a few elections until his memory fades. If an establishment guy like Blagojevich turns out to be an idiot, people are willing to overlook it since the establishment has a history and a deep bench. If an outsider or outside party makes a fool of himself / itself, that burns your chances with the electorate for a generation.

        Bottomline: choose carefully!

      9. In place of “candidate”, substitute the word “friend.” What the WFP did in NYC is build a street-level network of like-minded people. To this day they still don’t have a marquis personality. Think of two, maybe three people in your town who might be willing to cooperate with you on a political campaign. Then imagine that they could each connect with a few more people.

        Add to that expanding network a handful charismatic characters who might be able to add 10-15 each. In a city of 100K people, a network of 100 voters who mostly trust each other and can work together toward a goal can rock a local political system. Armed with a Facebook page and willingness to volunteer 6-8 hours a month, and you’ve got a political party.

      10. @WX Wall: Shit happens. What else can be said?

        Whether it’s a national political party or a localized sub-party, sometimes you’re gonna get a crap roll and things go south. In such cases, what’s important is that you keep the grassroots involved, making sure to hold that person to account as best you know how, and then to kick their butt out by the time the next election comes around.

        A lot of people were holding out hope for Rauner, Chris included. He totally blew it, and that’s gonna have repercussions that people are just going to have to deal with. If it poisons the well for people with a similar background to Rauner, well they’re just gonna have to work twice as hard to connect with people and make the case that they really are different.

        Politics ain’t beanbag.

  3. That was a great article, with a lot of detailed history from someone who probably watched it all go down from the inside.

    I’m curious if you think there have been any instances in history of the revolution starting from the top down? That is, storm a party’s stronghold, knowing that if it falls, the rest of the party is yours? Not saying that’s a better strategy, just curious if anyone has successfully tried it, as that would have been the Bernie Sanders strategy (which of course, notably failed).

    Anyway, another great article in the series!

    PS. I love your characterization of the TX R platform.

    PPS. a serial killer who’s driven by his hatred of mandatory pet IDs? “How dare you put the mark of the beast on my poor Fluffy! Prepare to die!” Now that’s a hollywood movie I’d pay to see! 🙂

    1. Actually yes. And a top-down revolution tends to be the most bloodless kind. The transformation of the Chinese Communist Party under Deng Xiaopeng is a classic example. Also the economic liberalization of India from 91-96 under Rao. Modern Germany, Turkey and Japan were all shaped by dramatic revolutions led by leadership figures rather than the masses.

      1. Would you consider Trump’s campaign win an example of a “top-down take-down”(however tawdry/hopefully brief) ?

        In years to come, historians will likely have some thoughts on this subject that are impossible to formulate presently -both because of denial from the GOP – and ongoing shock from the DNC. Living through this time has been an experience, to say the least. I continue to personally resist the hostile take-over of our democracy in every way I can, while holding on to hope that our democracy can survive.

      2. I applaud your thoughtful ideas to offer a path forward out of the political quagmire in which we find ourselves. They are practical and they will work. I wonder, however, if such efforts – however important – will be enough, soon enough – to save us from the damage and danger of this presidency. Without a doubt, Republicans could do more than they have to contain the carnage to our institutions and to international stability. Without being defeatist, it is important that those who think deeply on our political affairs, be very, very alert to how quickly things could change. We got a hint of the lurking danger in the recent Vanity Fair piece by Michael Lewis.

        From The Weekly Standard comes this scathing piece that excoriates the Trump administration and ever so carefully nudges the GOP to accept their responsibility to protect our country and world. Who is the real villain here? Those who commit the atrocities or those who allow them?

        The editor, Stephen Hayes, closes with this quote: “Short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was an utterly forgettable political hack. But he said one thing before he was dismissed that’s worth reflecting on: ‘There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. Okay?” Scaramucci was right about that. We know these people, and we admire them. We wish them every success.'”

      3. Scaramucci’s parting comment – “There are people inside the adminsitration that think it is their job to save America from this president…” is a sobering segue to this piece from Stat. I wonder how long these Obama holdovers will survive?

        Shrinking government is a long-heralded conservative goal – and not totally unjustified in certain situations. Under Trump, the lack of appointments may be a double-edged sword: it reduces the danger of new appointees who would/could do harm, and it makes it harder for the few who remain to do their jobs…yet, it appears they persist. The negative thinking that government service is filled with people who can’t make it in the business world pales when you read pieces like this and learn about those who stay on out of civic duty – and those who may take their places and lack any semblance of their qualifications. I assume I am not alone in being grateful that appointments have been slow to materialize…When you compare a Rick Perry with a Ernest Monitz …you rapidly come to the conclusion that relative to appointments under Trump, “less is more” and that vast experience and progress has been lost.

      4. To Chris, re: “This was a grassroots revolt. I wouldn’t even call it a revolution, since it has no real direction, ideology or clear purpose. It’s more like an electoral riot.”

        I’d say it’s a movement, in Arendt’s sense of the term.

        Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism talks about the difference between a ‘movement’ and a ‘party.’ Among the various differences she describes, probably one of the most important is that a party has specified goals meant to be achieved with distinctive actions; theoretically a party could ‘succeed’ at a task and their purpose for being actualized. A movement is meant to be ever-running, with each next step a step forward to the next step which creates a reaction for the next step and so forth.

        Conservativism and progressivism are movements. And as such, the conservate ‘movement’ has to directly react to each and every step regardless of what that step is with further fight for ‘conservativism.’ Even if the conservatives took full control of the government, they’d then need, by definition of being a movement, a conservative revolt against that system, and then a conservative revolt against that one, and so forth, with each just another excuse to expand the number of ‘out-groups’, the number of traitors to the cause, the number of things making society go in the wrong direction; and attacking each in kind, where they would succeed they would continue to expand to the next.

        Right now it’s Muslims, Mexicans, and Globalists, but if they have their way there’s plenty of people to revolt against next. They will always and forever be revolting.

        Pun intended in that last sentence.

  4. Perhaps relevant to your interests, found while I was researching Ms. Harris, who won decisively in our blanket primary. Unlike my state senator election, this was a landslide, where the other democratic candidate failed to get any traction:


    A SJSU professor emeritus believes it tilts California towards one party rule, and undermines representative democracy. This is probably right under standard partisan analysis, but…

    Maldonado, the GOP architect of this under Schwarenegger, seems pleased:

    Abel Maldonado, California’s Republican former lieutenant governor, is the architect of the top-two primary system. He doesn’t seem worried: The Senate race “is not exciting because there is one candidate that is lacking the funds to get her message out,” Maldonado says, referring to Sanchez. “But I look at the race as a Republican and say to myself, ‘How nice that you get to vote for candidate that has a chance of winning in California,’ versus the olden days where you were a Republican voting for a Republican that could never win.”
    “In two years, we’re going to have one hell of a general election in California,” Maldonado said late last month “And if it is two Democrats running, the winner is going to be the person who can better communicate with all Californians, [including] Republicans and Independent voters.”

    An old GOP operative suggests that Harris’s more-GOP-aligned opponent, Ms. Sanchez, didn’t have the resources to do GOP outreach well, so it’s not representative.

    Ms. Sanchez’s strategist said: “We’re going to have a dynamic really quickly where we’re going to have multiple Democratic parties,” says Carrick. “But the bottom line is that we’re in the first inning of this top-two primary business, so we don’t know if we’re learning permanent lessons right now, so this this a unique experience.”

    Of course, per Political Orphan’s raison d’etre, fragmenting stale coalitions is the entire idea.

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