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EXCLUSIVE: Inside RNC, a rules fight brews over lawyer’s tactics
Question of the Day
For most of the past two decades, Ben Ginsberg has been a brusque, hard-driving lawyer who has won the admiration of some and disdain of others as one of the Republican Party’s behind-the-scenes legal fixers.
He helped lead George W. Bush’s legal team that won the Florida recount battle in 2000, defended the Swift Boat veterans whose 2004 ads attacked John F. Kerry’s Vietnam War record and was among the first to predict that the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling would create a campaign finance free-for-all.
Even President Obama grudgingly turned to Mr. Ginsberg this year to serve as co-chairman of a bipartisan effort to protect voting rights — to the alarm of some liberals.
Mr. Ginsberg’s power play inside the Republican National Convention last year, however, rankled many by imposing rules changes that undercut states’ rights to pick their own delegates. In a chaotic pre-convention fight, some initially feared the rule changes opened the door for Mr. Ginsberg’s boss, Mitt Romney, to name his own nominating delegates. But it was soon determined that the rules applied only to 2016 and later.
Nonetheless, the fight became a tipping point for many Republican loyalists, who in years past kept private their distaste for Mr. Gingsberg’s take-no-prisoners style.
Now, days before the Republican National Committee’s annual summer meeting in Boston, some of these loyalists are sounding off publicly as they launch an effort to roll back the rule changes.
“Ginsberg’s work has left a bad taste in the mouths of not just newly active Republicans, but in many GOP conservatives who have been fighting these battles for a very long time,” said Carolyn McLarty of Oklahoma, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee's Resolutions Committee.
Mr. Blackwell, who served in the Reagan White House, personally wrote RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, urging him to dig in at the RNC summer meeting Wednesday through Aug. 17 in Boston. Mr. Blackwell and his supporters want the word “shall” restored to rules that mandate states choose their delegates, displacing the word “may” that Mr. Ginsberg successfully inserted last year.
“In living memory, no candidate about to become the Republican presidential nominee had ever used his power to generate wholesale changes in the rules of the Republican party at the convention which was about to nominate him,” the veteran Virginia Republican National Committee member wrote in 1,890-word letter to Mr. Priebus that was obtained by The Washington Times.
Asked to comment, he replied, “I have nothing to say off the record and therefore you have nothing from me on the record.”
“It’s hard to put into words what Ben Ginsberg means to the Republican Party,” said Rich Beeson, Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign political director. “It’s like asking what Michael Jordan did for basketball.”
Mr. Ginsberg’s critics chafe at his style and say his actions last year warrant a slap.
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About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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