Commentary: GOP needs to return to core principles

I have been a Republican my entire life. Notice, I did not specify my adult life, but my entire life.  From crying myself to sleep at the age of 10 when seasoned statesman George H.W. Bush was unseated by a philandering, pot-smoking draft-dodger, to working my first political campaign for the late, great Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.), the conservative values of limited government and dignity for human life were instilled in me by my parents. Those values found a voice and foundation, to one extent or another, in the Republican Party and so that’s where I, too, would be found.

As an adult, I was honored to serve two years as chairman of the Bridgewater College Republicans and to co-sponsor the Central High School chapter of the Teenage Republicans during my three years on faculty under local Republican legend, the venerable Carole DeVoe. In short, my Republican credentials are solid. So why then was I barred from election as a delegate in the Shenandoah County GOP convention on April 1? Because I dared to publicly support a candidate not endorsed by the local GOP establishment.

In October 2015, I wrote a letter to the editor which the Northern Virginia Daily was kind enough to publish. In that letter, which by definition was not an endorsement as letters of endorsement are not permitted by this publication, I contrasted the considerable experience and record of success of the current commonwealth’s attorney with that of her Republican challenger. Differentiation between the two was provided and my concerns as to why the GOP felt the need to challenge the candidacy of an accomplished, conservative public official when Democrats have been permitted to run unopposed were addressed. This letter, which I would gladly write again as it was, and is, a depiction of the truth as I see it, was apparently a violation of the draconian rules that govern the Republican Party of Virginia.

As a result of Virginia voters not registering by party, political organizations are desperate to find suitable mechanisms to ensure that “outsiders” are not permitted to influence their partisan processes. One such mechanism, the one which I violated, requires that all delegates commit to support no candidates other than the ones put forth by the Republican Party. Admittedly, the desire to confirm allegiance to the Republican creed is an understandable concern, as what good are political parties if they stand for nothing and cannot ensure integrity of membership. However, when these regulations become so debilitating as to discourage, or outright deny, long-standing Republicans from meaningful engagement in the political process, the party’s days of prominence are nearing an end. Quite possibly, in Shenandoah County at least, the end may have already arrived.

In a highly conservative community with identifying Republicans outnumbering Democrats by a margin of 3-1, one would expect the GOP to dominate local elections. But that was certainly not the case this past November. Quite the contrary, Republicans lost as many elections as they won. To add even more gasoline to this fire of confusion, those independent candidates who won were largely more conservative than their Republican opponents! The Shenandoah County GOP has reached a point where the most conservative candidates are affiliating elsewhere.

The solution to this is certainly not to further alienate conservative voters, but rather to return to the core principles upon which the party was founded, requiring allegiance to philosophy, not candidacy. To be clear, I do not place sole responsibility for this on the local Republican committee. The county leaders were merely enforcing archaic, counterproductive rules developed by state party officials in Richmond. I was treated respectfully, permitted to appeal the decision to deny my seating to the credentials committee, and allowed to remain as a convention observer. But at the end of the day, I was excluded from service while others, many of whom are likely less conservative and with far shorter track records of Republican commitment, were not. And if the local Republican party hopes to regain some semblance of relevance, that’s a problem.

Dr. Matthew Pandel is a psychologist and educator residing in Woodstock.

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