- - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

As Kevin Costner contemplated what to do in the iconic “Field of Dreams,” a voice from on high gave him advice he would follow throughout the film: “Go the distance.”

It was good advice then and now, particularly for the men and women vying for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Too many candidates give up too soon and leave us wondering what might have been if they’d followed Mr. Costner’s example and “gone the distance.” In 2016, quitting early may prove particularly foolish because changes in the GOP’s rules make possible a surprise outcome at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

So, “Go the distance,” candidates for president. Start running for president and never stop. No concession speeches after Iowa or New Hampshire. No dropping out after Super Tuesday or when your money runs low. Instead, take all of your delegates that you will have earned and go to Cleveland to be heard. Millions of Republicans will work for and believe in you and they deserve to know that the fight is until the end.

This week, the Republican National Committee meets in Phoenix, Arizona. When I first became a member of the RNC, I was awed and honored to be one of the governing body that leads the Grand Old Party. Over time, however, I realized that the 168 RNC members have little power or influence over the national party. Instead, leadership in the GOP is too often more responsive to big, outside money and interests than to conservative principles and the regular party members they supposedly represent.

How does all the money and secretive power impact the presidential nominating process? The current nomination process is consciously or unconsciously fixed. It relies on massive amounts of money controlled by the political-media-establishment — the political consultants, insiders, big-money special interests and the media. Fueled by their desire for cash and, therefore, the campaigns’ need for cash, the nomination process includes new “invisible” primaries and “donor” primaries, which provide a rich opportunity for political influence among wealthy individuals and special interests anxious to curry favor with a future president.

The current nomination process — call it the “kingmakers’ plan” — is pretty straightforward: State primaries that allow low-information and even non-Republican voters will decide who wins and loses, and winnow the Republican field. To do this, big money will be spent on TV and radio to convince these primary voters that the kingmakers’ choice deserves their support and is the “most likely to win.” Outside groups (e.g., super PACs) and the media will serve the cause by tearing down any conservative challengers and pushing them out of the race.

The kingmakers’ candidate in 2016 can count on hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign cash and a millions more in outside money spent to undermine his opponents. It is how Mitt Romney won in 2012. To the upstarts that deign to challenge the kingmakers’ pick, two fates await: destruction by ads and media, or quitting with a promise of future favors.

By pledging to go the distance, these upstarts can disrupt the kingmakers’ plan and arrive in Cleveland with delegates and influence. In fact, it is even possible — no, probable — that they will be able to deny the kingmaker’s‘ chosen one the ability to clinch the nomination on the first ballot. You see, the GOP has compressed the primary schedule and adopted rules changes that will allow more states than in past cycles to award their delegates proportionally. As a result, many states will bring delegations split among several candidates to Cleveland.

If enough Republican candidates go the distance, the GOP could have the first meaningful national convention in decades. Instead of backroom deals by political consultants and massive ad buys in early states, the Republican rank-and-file will have their say. Perhaps a man or woman not running now could be even be drafted — that’s how Rep. James Garfield became our 20th president back in 1881.

Even more will be at stake at the convention than the presidential nomination. The Republican Party Platform will be decided and the convention will set the rules governing our party for the next four years. We can protect our platform and reform our party if our candidates “go the distance.”

The nation’s voters will be watching what happens in Cleveland. An open, honest, competitive convention contest decided by elected delegates rather than kingmakers will give voters a chance to see joy, excitement and disagreement as a united party selects a candidate everyone can rally behind to take on Hillary or whoever the Democrats’ kingmakers put up.

Ed Martin, president of Eagle Forum, is a former Missouri GOP chairman. His blog “Choice or Echo” can be found at WashingtonTimes.com.

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