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Ron Nehring

How to Choose a New California Republican Chairman

The campaign to lead the California Republican Party is under way.  While the election itself will take place at our party convention in February, the campaign for Chairman is an important process during which the views of the grassroots delegates of our party are heard as candidates travel the state working to build support.

In the wake of serious losses in the 2018 election, there will be much to discuss.  One of the challenges facing delegates will be separating out what a California Republican Party Chairman can and should do from issues that are of concern but beyond the ability of the CRP Chairman to effect.

Having served as Chairman of the California Republican Party for the maximum of two terms, and before that as Vice Chairman, President of the County Chairmen’s Association, and a county Republican chairman I’ve experienced first hand the difference between subjects for grandstanding, and what the party itself can actually effect.

We all want to reposition the Republican Party for success.  Yet, political parties are defined nationally.  The Republican Party and its brand will be defined by President Donald J. Trump for every single day he is in office, and no chairman can change that reality.

So, what can a Republican Party chairman control?

PERSONNEL

After a difficult initial shakeout period, during my chairmanship we ended up with a team of professionals committed to doing the work of the party with integrity and dedication.   Chairman Jim Brulte has done the same.  The CRP today operates smoothly in no small part because of the team of professionals he has assembled.  Yet times are changing.  Many talented Republican operatives have left the state, or have gone into other businesses.  A candidate for chairman can and should be judged by his or her ability to assemble and manage a team that will carry out the daily work of our party effectively, professionally and without bias for or against any candidate or group within the party.

FINANCE AND FUNDRAISING

This is never as easy as any chairman candidate thinks.  There is no magic, simple formula for keeping the CRP in the black.  It requires enormous, daily effort to raise the funds for basic party operations, much less waging a campaign. Equal effort is required to make the often unpopular decisions to keep party spending in check.

Unfortunately, under our system, we elect a new board at the dead bottom of the two year fundraising cycle.  Chairman Brulte and I will be the only two chairmen in the last 15 years to leave the party without debt.  I point this out not out of hubris, but rather to underscore the incredible difficulty involved with balancing all the political demands from candidates, elected officials and consultants to spend money the party doesn’t have.  If someone comes along claiming to have a magic formula to raise millions of dollars effortlessly in their first term, I suggest being skeptical.

The single most important financial challenge for the CRP going forward is to build a robust small dollar contributor program capable of fully funding basic party operations through the mail and online.  It is the small dollar contributor, giving once or perhaps a few times a year, who will pull the California Republican Party forward.

Let’s be candid.  Most major donors are going to wait a while before investing in the CRP.  When I became Chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County in 2001, at a time the party was in debt and had suffered a string of losses, the major donors took a wait and see attitude.  The grassroots small contributors, reached through the mail, stepped right up.  The major donors came on board, but it took some time to first regain their trust.  Today, the Republican Party of San Diego County is the best funded county Republican Party in America, powered by small, medium and large gifts from donors of every giving ability.

PROGRAMS

The third area a party chairman can control is programs.  During campaign time it’s obvious what the party must do: voter persuasion and turnout.  Yet, three fourths of the next two years will be outside the traditional campaign time.  During my eight years on the CRP Board, we tried an array of programs.  Many worked well, some didn’t.

Based on this experience, perhaps the single most important political function for the California Republican Party is to vastly expand the number of women, Latinos, African Americans, Asian-Americans, and young people involved in the Republican Party.

What gets measured gets done.  Let’s count exactly how many women are in our Republican women’s clubs, and work to double it.  How many members are in our Young Republican clubs?  Let’s double that.  How many Asian-Republican activists do we have in California today?  Double it.  How many precinct captains do we really have in California today?  Let’s get that number as high as we can to be sure we have a presence in every neighborhood in California.  You get the idea.

Such an approach is achievable with the resources the party is likely to have and, unlike many political programs, success can be measured.  There are many other good ideas that can make the leap from idea to program to results that help strengthen our party.

Voter registration is of course important because a voter’s party affiliation strongly correlates with the ballots he or she casts.  But let’s be candid about this too. The California Republican Party could spend $10 million to register 1 million new Republicans and it would not put a dent in the situation we find ourselves in statewide, especially considering that the Democrats do voter registration too. We must register new Republicans, but even more important we must learn how to win when the registration numbers are stiffly against us.

This is not impossible.  Republicans are outnumbered by 3 to 1 in Massachusetts, and Republican governor Charlie Baker just won a second term, and he is the most popular governor in America.

The balance a party chairman must find implementing political programs is not easy: elected officials sometimes have parochial focus on their personal re-election and races in their chamber, while others in the party often propose a long list of pie in the sky projects that are fatally flawed as unworkable, unfundable, or just nuts.

If the California Republican Party entered the fall of 2020 with twice the number of women, African-American, Asian and young activists, our party will have built an activist army capable of maximizing our victories by shoring up key weaknesses we know exist today.  This is the kind of measurable, achievable and valuable political program the CRP should implement for the next election cycle.

WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE US

This is a time for our party to look forward.  We honor those Republicans who stepped up and carried our banner in 2018.  We honor the CRP leaders, delegates, county chairmen, county committee members, volunteers and donors who came before us, dedicated to a cause greater than their self-interest.

Now, it is incumbent upon us as delegates to the California Republican Party to elect leaders who can best meet the new challenges that have been placed before us.

Ron Nehring served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011.  He was Chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County from 2001 to 2007.  In 2014 he was the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor of California.