John Tsarpalas: This podcast was recorded with the premise that it would be launched in the week just before Christmas of 2015. I thought I would just do something simpler and a topic that isn’t necessarily about campaigns, but I think the world needs to understand. If you are an activist, you need to understand. That is how does the GOP really work?
Quite frankly, I didn’t know until I became the Executive Director of the Illinois Republican Party how the structure worked, how it was supposed to work, and the fact that it doesn’t work very well. I think it is important that people understand how all these parts fit together, who controls them, and what their purpose is. I think that’s going to be key here, how you as an activist can best affect the GOP.
By the way, the Democrat Party is structured very, very much the same. So that’s important, too. You need to understand both parties have their dysfunction in how they are structured. Or I see it as dysfunction. Those in the GOP hierarchy might not think so because it protects them. That’s why they like it.
So welcome to this week’s Commonwealthy, Republican Party Structure, Commonwealthy #37.
Let’s start at the very top and that’s the Republican National Committee. When you think of the Republican Party, that’s probably what you are thinking of to start with. These are the people that put on the primary debates for president. They host the convention every four years in which delegates attend, elect, and support the new nominee for president.
This is the group you are probably thinking of. They are the ones that most people consider to be the Republican Party. They also control sort of the franchise name. They give the right to use the word Republican in your name to different groups. It has to come from then.
So who controls the Republican National Committee? Well, first of all, every state and territory has three members to the Republican National Committee. They have a national committeeman, a national committeewoman, and the state party chairman from every state or territory is also a member of the Republican National Committee, the RNC.
They get together twice a year. They have meetings and they talk. Basically the bigger job for these people is to try and raise money within their state for the RNC. But they also provide feedback from the state organizations and from the constituency within their states.
Now how are they elected? Well, the state party chairman is one way and the Republican National Committeeman and Committeewoman are a whole other route. It happens like this: For instance, I will talk about the rules in Illinois because I know the rules here having been the former Executive Director.
Every state has slightly different rules. The rules are usually posted on the website for the state party. So you can go look up what your state’s rules are. By the way, at the end of this, I am giving away a free guide to the GOP. In it is a link to every group and every state organization so that you can get there quickly and see these different groups and see what you need to find. And there is a bit of an explanation about how all of this works in the table of contents here as well.
So back to the Republican National Committeeman and Committeewoman and back to the state parties. In Illinois, there are 102 counties. Every county has a county chairman. Cook County, the county in which Chicago resides, has completely different rules than the other 101 counties.
In the other 101 counties, every precinct has a Precinct Committeeman. That person is elected by Republican voters in the primary for president and/or for governor. They elect a Precinct Committeeman from their precinct. People go out, get signatures, get themselves on the ballot, campaign, and run. If no one is running, then the county chairman can appoint to fill the vacancies.
But let’s back up. Okay, so those Precinct Committeeman are elected in the primary. They then come together by county and they caucus. In that caucus, they elect the County Chairman. Now, the County Chairman gets to fill the empty seats.
Where there are vacant precincts in a county or a township, they can be filled by the County Chairman or Township Committeeman. However, the votes for those vacant precincts are now divided up amongst the candidates that are running on an equal basis.
A few years back, the county chairman got to use the vote from the vacant precincts to be his own vote. That gave them too much power. That was recently changed here in Illinois.
Cook County is different. Because it is such a dense county because Chicago is there and the suburbs, they do it by township. So every Township Committeeman is elected by the primary voters in their township. They get on the ballot by passing petitions and they run a campaign. They are elected by those voters. The Township Committeeman then come together and they vote for the County Chairman in Cook County.
The other thing that is happening on the county chairman level and by township level in Cook County is that the County Chairmen come together in a caucus by congressional district. From that congressional district, those County Chairmen (or if it is in Cook County, those Township Committeemen) come together and they vote for their representative to the State Central Committee of the Illinois Republican Party.
Something else I need to spell out for you is that each precinct votes with a weighted voted. They have one vote per every Republican vote cast in the last Republican primary. That is true when the County Chairmen come together to vote for State Central Committeemen. They are also casting a weighted vote based on the number of voters in their county that voted Republican in the primary.
So there are eighteen State Central Committeemen because Illinois has eighteen congressional districts. And they are selected by those County Chairmen.
Also what happens is that person that is selected to the State Central Committee gets to choose their co. Each State Central Committee member then gets to choose a member of the opposite sex to be their back-up or alternate. So the State Central Committee is made up of those eighteen members and then the eighteen alternates if you will.
When they choose the member of the opposite sex, these people are then called Deputy State Central Committeemen. So when the board meets, there are thirty-six people meeting, but only eighteen get to vote. If one of those eighteen is missing, then their back-up gets to vote.
Those eighteen State Central Committee people then elect a State Party Chairman. The State Central Committeemen also cast a weighted vote when a vote is taken in the Republican Party meetings. Again, based on the number of Republican voters in their district.
Back to the State Central Committeemen, male or female. They just call them Committeemen. It’s their job within that congressional district to oversee what is happening for the party, raise money, build support, grow grassroots enthusiasm, attend all the dinners, and be the representative from the state party to the local area.
They are also supposed to go back then to the National Republican Committeeman or Committeewoman and the State Party Chairman and let them know what’s happening in those districts. Those people can then report to the Republican National Committee.
Okay, who heads the Republican National Committee? Well, there is a Chairman again. And there is a Co-Chair, which is the opposite sex. Those two are elected by the members of the RNC, which is those Republican National Committeeman, Republican National Committeewoman, and the State Party Chairman from every state and territory.
National Committeeman and National Committeewoman are voted on by state party delegates at the state party convention. The system that those delegates are chosen varies from state to state. Often they are appointed in certain areas or each county is given a certain number of people they can bring. Then they get to cast the vote at the convention for the party platform and for the National Committeeman and National Committeewoman.
However, when a vacancy comes up for National Committeeman and National Committeewoman before there is a state party convention going to be held within a reasonable time, it can go before the State Central Committee. They get to choose to fill that vacancy until the next convention. Okay?
Confused? I was for years. I understand. That’s why I have created this guide. If you just go to commonwealthy.com, you’ll see on the side where it says, “Free GOP Guide.” Just through your email in there and we will send it to you.
And by the way, I may be gathering emails. I will not be spamming you. I don’t send a lot of email as it is. And when I do it, it is only pertaining to things having to do with Commonwealthy.
Okay, so there you have the Republican National Committee. And you’ve got the chain of command. It starts at the county level, actually at the precinct committeemen.
Oh, there is one thing I forgot to mention. In Cook County, where the township committeeman is elected, the precinct captains are appointed by the township committeemen. There is no election at that level. It’s just too confusing. There is too much density and too many people. So they are appointed.
And by the way, the job of a precinct committeeman, or a precinct captain as they are called in Cook County, is to go out door-to-door, connect with the voters in their district, and if they are Republican, make sure they are turning out to vote and registered. And if they are independents, get them information on the candidates. If they are Democrats, give them a little bit of a taste of what the Republican Party is about. But you are not necessarily going to win them over.
That is their job. Do most of them do it? No. About a third of the precincts in America are not filled. They get people appointed to them. About a third have precinct committeemen that don’t do their job. And there is a third that actually work hard.
I was once the president of the New Trier Township Republican Organization. We had a pretty good organization. We had more than two-thirds of our precincts filled and I would say more than half of our members were very motivated. With motivated precinct captains, we won elections. But if you don’t have motivated grassroots support, it’s very difficult to win elections.
I want to make sure you realize that I was a Precinct Captain for many years. Being Precinct Captain was fun! First of all, you get to attend a lot of Republican events and you get certain rewards and perks if you’ve got a good County Chairman or township committeeman like I did.
If you are doing a good job, they will get you invited to different things that are a lot of fun and meeting people- different fundraisers and things that you don’t necessarily have to donate to, but can be there because you are a heck of a great volunteer.
But it’s fun to go door-to-door and talk to voters. I had Winnetka precinct 13 for many, many years. I enjoyed talking to those people. One of the things a lot of precinct committeemen and precinct captains do wrong is they wait until just before the election to get out.
I used to go out every summer, talk to the people in the district, get to know them, and say the election was coming. If it was just before the election that summer, I would talk about the slate and what was going on. But then I would go back in the fall and they knew me.
It made it so much easier to talk to people in the summer because they might be standing out their gardens sprinkling or at least they’ve got the screen door there, not the big door closed. In the winter and the fall when it is cold, it is harder to get people to open the door.
Being a Precinct Committeeman or Precinct Captain is really valuable. It gets you thinking about how the voters are thinking. It gets you to know people. It’s just a really great experience.
So I would suggest that you step up and run for Precinct Committeeman in your precinct if that is possible. Or if you are in an area where it is appointed, I’d go in, talk to the leadership, and see if you can get appointed.
It’s worth it. It’s a good experience. If you are ever thinking about running for office, this is a way for you to go door to door and get an idea of what that is like and what people are like when you talk to voters.
Alright, so back to the structure. The other thing that is happening out there is you have the National Republican Congressional Committee, the NRCC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. These groups are in charge of electing congressmen for the NRCC and senators for the NRSC.
Who are the voting members of those groups? Those are the incumbent congressional members. The senators run the Republican Senatorial Committee and they elect the chairman. The same thing happens with the House.
This is why I am asking you to be careful. Those groups will give money in a primary against a candidate that is not the incumbent because the incumbent’s a member of their committee. He is going to say, “Send me money. I am under attack.”
So be careful that when you send money to the NRSC or the NRCC that your money will not be used in a primary if you think that you are going to be supporting a candidate that is going to be running against an incumbent Republican.
Also be mindful that the national Republican Committee will also get involved in primary elections. The RNC, the Republican National Committee, usually handles the grassroots efforts. They often call them victory centers, where they have people making phone calls and people going out door to door.
The NRCC and the NRSC tend to handle the mail, the TV ads, and those things going on with congressional and senatorial candidates. The RNC goes out and sets up these grassroots operations. That’s part of what their job is.
The RNC is supposed to coordinate all the campaigns within a district where they’ve set up a field operation. They are sort of the overseer of everything. Everything has to go past them. But they work very well with these different groups.
Now there are also groups for the state levels. There’s the Republican Governor’s Association. Recent chairman of that was Mitt Romney before he ran for president. After that was Chris Christie. It is often someone who is thinking of running for president that becomes the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Who are the members? All the incumbent Republican governors. And they elect a chairman. Usually the person who steps up is someone who is looking to have some pay back later when he is running for president.
There’s the Republican Attorney General’s Association, the Republican State Leadership Committee, the Republican Lieutenant Governor’s Association, the Republican Secretary of State Committee, and the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, which handles state legislators.
All of them raise money separate and have separate membership and leadership. They all try to work together and coordinate, but each one of them is separate. So if you want to complain about your congressman to the Republican Party, you need to complain to the RNCC, the Republican National Congressional Committee. If you want to complain about your governor, you need to complain to the Republican Governor’s Association.
If you get them a lot of mail, they’ll realize maybe something is up. But it takes a lot to move these people because they are the incumbents and they are not feeling very threaten.
There’s a whole other level of Republican organizations. Those happen out there based on gender and age and also by certain ethnicities. The Republican National Committee authorizes certain groups. So there’s the National Federation of Republican Women. They are supposed to go out and build the Republican brand with females.
There’s the Teenage Republicans, better known as the TARs and the College Republican National Committee, better known as the CRs. Actually, it is really the CRNC, but they call them the CRs for college Republicans. And then there is the YRs. Those are the younger people who have graduated from college and they are in their late twenties to somewhere up to their thirties is the cutoff.
Then you have groups such as the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, which is a very conservative group votes Republican. You have the Republican Liberty Caucus, which is for the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party. You have Republicans Overseas and Republicans Abroad.
And then as I said there is ethnic groups: the National Black Republican Association, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, the Federation of Hispanic Republicans, the Republican Jewish Coalition. And then for gay, the Log Cabin Republicans. That’s what kind of comes from the top down.
There are also some state Republican organizations. We already talked about, for instance, the Illinois Republican Party and it’s structure and how it gets a chairman. Every state has one.
Also on the state level, there is a senate legislative leadership and a house legislative leadership. For instance, here in Illinois, it’s SRO for State Republican Organization and HRO for House Republican Organization. How’s the members? Well, the state reps are the members of the House Republican Organization. They elect their leadership. The same thing on the state senate level.
That’s kind of the nutshell of this place is structured. If you want to know more about each group, it’s members, a full list of members, their websites, who their chairmen are, etc., then feel free to go to commonwealthy.com. On the right hand side, you will see the GOP Guide. Just click on that and sign up. I am happy to send you one.
I hope you found this interesting. I hope it wasn’t too confusing because it can be! As I said, I was confused about this for years. But I think if you come to understand the party, you can affect it by becoming a Precinct Committeeman. So I say step up in your precinct and run.
You can affect the party by being your township or county chairman. I was a President of a township. I had a huge affect and a lot of interaction with all of my elected officials. I could get my opinion across to them in one on one.
The party does listen, but it is huge and it has trouble communicating through it’s different branches and different parts. So there is a lot of dysfunction there. But it tries! And sometimes it even wins elections.
Actually it is doing pretty well. Most of America is red. I’d like to see it redder and I’d like to see more backbone in the leadership. But that’s up to you and me to push them and to get them to see what we are about, what we believe in, and what they need to be doing.
I also just want to say thank you. Thank you for listening to Commonwealthy this year. I really appreciate it. I hope you are getting something from this. Have a really great holiday season. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah. Whatever you are celebrating, may you have a good year.
In 2016, consider stepping up for that local office. We really need you. This country needs every able bodied person of good mind and good spirit who understands the benefits of limited government to step up. Thanks for listening!