HOLLYWOOD - Republican National Committee members failed to reach a compromise over rules changes pushed by the party’s grass-roots activists, defeating on a 28-25 vote a proposed amendment that would return more decision-making power to the state Republican parties.
The defeat angered conservative GOP activists who complained that changes pushed through last year by the campaign of 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney were a “power grab” that concentrated too much power in the party’s central machinery, whose priorities include nominating a candidate considered wealthy enough and moderate enough to win a national election.
This week, RNC Rules Committee member Morton Blackwell pushed an amendment to party rules that would reverse all of last summer’s actions. Those rules changes sparked an angry floor protest from conservatives, including supporters of libertarian candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas when they were adopted at the party’s Tampa, Fla., national convention last summer.
Wednesday’s vote “had inflamed the grass roots — my Facebook page exploded on Wednesday” — because the grassroots saw it as the Republican National Committee failing to restore to them the power the Romney campaign took away in August,” said FreedomWorks Vice President Russ Walker. But by Thursday his Facebook page had quieted down on the rules issue.
Among the rules in dispute was a modification pushed last summer by Mr. Romney’s representatives allowing the RNC to alter the party’s rules on the presidential nomination system in the four years between official party conventions, including on how delegates are awarded to candidates from state caucuses.
A deluge of vituperative emails to conservative leaders and social-media postings by irate rank-and-file Republicans resulted from Wednesday’s vote.
“It didn’t have to happen this way,” said Rules Committee member Solomon Yue of Oregon, who had participated in last-minute efforts to reach a compromise deal. “Our side could have restored at least 85 percent of the grass-roots power.”
RNC Special Counsel Jim Bopp, RNC General Counsel John Ryder and Mr. Yue had tried to construct a compromise proposal that would revert back to previous rules on most issues, but Mr. Blackwell, supported by Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker and other conservatives, rejected it as insufficient.
“I wasn’t elected Iowa party chairman to come here to compromise on principles,” Mr. Spiker said.
The compromise was presented to the two sides as having been approved by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. But even his imprimatur wasn’t enough to carry the day for those seeking to avoid the open warfare that the final vote invited.
“I’m deeply disappointed because, had we been able to get the chairman’s offer accepted, the most egregious instances of power grabbing would have been undone,” said Mr. Walker of FreedomWorks.
RNC General Counsel John Ryder took the microphone from the floor during the rules changes debate to argue that all the amendments in the Blackwell proposal should not be decided at one meeting, because if it passed, it would be “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”
Mr. Ryder, a Tennessee RNC member, cited rules changes that he considered worth preserving but that Mr. Blackwell’s amendment would junk.
The Blackwell changes would have, for example, allowed states to decide how or whether to bind delegates to candidates who had won caucus or primaries and how to apportion delegates to the party’s presidential nominating convention.
Conservatives felt they scored a success with the election of Arizona RNC member Bruce Ash as chairman of the RNC Standing Rules Committee on a 32-20 vote over Utah RNC member Enid Michkelsen, who had supported last year’s rules changes.